The North-South Centre of the Council of Europe organises interesting Global Education e-courses several times per year. This time one of the courses focused on the Intercultural Dimension of Global Education. Five AFS volunteers and members of the EFIL Pool of Trainers participated in the course, focusing not only on their personal learning but also on what we as EFIL/AFS can learn from the contents and methods applied there.


On the methodological level the attendees got reminded about the importance of the visual and technical side of e-learning. The fact that the course platform was not modern or appealing made it harder to navigate and engage in the content. Another key learning was the value of facilitation in online communication between participants – not enough advantage was taken of the group competence and diversity. At the same time, a good practice to learn from is numerous and interesting reflection questions asked after each content input. An interesting improvement could be using these questions in interactions between participants – either still online, or through an added in-person seminar (this is where blended learning comes into play). This could also contribute to better sustainability and impact of the learning outcomes. In the light of the upcoming e-learning initiatives in EFIL and AFS we should certainly consider these lessons in the course design processes.


However, on the content level the course can give enormous food for thought to AFS/EFIL.

To start with, a point was made regarding the differentiation between intercultural learning and intercultural education, a difference that AFS/EFIL does not make: namely intercultural learning as educational experience a participant takes part in – the actual educational practice and process they go through, and intercultural education as framework within which the intercultural learning practice and process takes place – it refers to the educational policy and system that encompasses different forms of learning having objectives that could be considered intercultural. Both have objectives, whereby those of intercultural education tend to be broader and more general, referring to the transformation of societies through educational work, whereas those of intercultural learning tend to be more specific, determining the learning experience people go through and what they gain in terms of personal insights into intercultural issues. According to this definition, AFS indeed practises intercultural learning. However, at least in this e-course, both areas should be political, better said, cannot avoid being political if they are practiced in the framework of global education. A key point here is that if we want peaceful, tolerant and diverse societies, we must aim at influencing the system.


Even though the AFS international website says that AFS is “a global movement to develop and activate global citizens”, in practice, AFS continues being reluctant to being political in working with our students. We say we do influence our societies by providing people with intercultural learning experiences, but many points in this course testify against us:

–       we don’t work towards understanding political contexts we operate in,

–       we don’t provide education that clearly explains why diversity is good,

–       we don’t work towards understanding of power relations underlying intercultural encounters (such as racism, white supremacy, privilege, wealth gap…),

–       we don’t talk about economic, social and cultural rights,

–       we don’t focus enough on transferring the intercultural learning experience abroad to questions of daily life in the host society, to questions like social cohesion, minorities, tolerance towards other-minded people, etc.

AFS engages a lot in celebrating diversity and cultures, and uses the potential our participants bring with their backgrounds very little to mobilise critical reflection of political practices from an intercultural perspective. We do not really aim to develop what Paulo Freire describes as critical consciousness: the ability to analyse, pose questions, and take action on the social, political, cultural and economic contexts that influence and shape one’s life. These points are clearly missing in our ICL curriculum for student exchanges. However, if we truly want to develop citizenship and global responsibility as the North-South-Centre envisions it, we cannot bypass talking about (political) structures.


The overall ideology of the course was that of human rights and it was interesting to see how one can politicize cultural practices using the lens of human rights. It might be helpful for us to include this perspective more in our work with students.


The challenges in societies have changed since the conception of the AFS intercultural learning programmes. The lesson from the course is that if we want to address issues relevant to our mission, we should aim stronger at exploring individual identities in relation to different ideas of culture (national, democratic, personal, family, political…), coming to terms with diversity within societies, looking globally at inequality (including between those who can engage in learning mobility and those who can’t) and reflecting on nationalism that emerges from globalisation and efforts to preserve the “cultural”/ “national” identity.
This content stimulation will certainly be considered in the upcoming 2018 initiatives of EFIL: the Expert Meeting “New angles in intercultural education” and the new E-learning Course to be designed as a follow-up.


Examples of reflection questions used in the course:

  1. To which extent does culture represent a key factor when looking at the underlying power relations in the society you live in?
  2. In many societies migrants and minority groups are perceived by the majority society as groups defined by their cultural characteristics, although they are also social and political actors. What do you think about this situation? What are its consequences for the society where you live (your habitat)?
  3. Are there in your habitat initiatives promoting intercultural dialogue? If yes, who is leading such initiatives?
  4. Do you think intercultural dialogue is an effective mechanism for addressing the inequalities among different groups in your society? Does it reach the right people and group representatives that are capable of decision-making and promoting change?
  5. In what ways is intercultural dialogue relevant as an instrument of cohesion and peace promotion at a global level?


Example of course graphic problematising intercultural learning:

ICL graphic



Article based on the input by: Emilija Gagrcin, Lea Schaumann and Mary-Paz Gonzalez

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