Bolanle C. Simeon-Fayomi, a professor at Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria, brings a unique perspective to Global Citizenship Education: the tradition of oral storytelling. In her community, she is known as the “Nana” (mother of stories). She advocates for the usage of stories from all corners of the world that incorporate tenets of GCE to educate in both formal and informal settings.
What brought you to Global Citizenship Education, and what does it mean to you?
I think the first part is who brought me to GCE. Several years ago, I ventured into indigenous education and innovative teaching methods with Prof Monica Fedeli at the University of Padova, Italy. It was with her I started using thematic plans and creative arts to execute the curriculum. Together, we blended our innovative teaching methods in Transformative learning and had the opportunity to teach with the legend himself, Prof Ed Taylor. Soon after, I met Prof Katarina Popovic who set me on the path of GCE. She is a great friend and was the one who propelled me into the adventure of global citizenship education. She is an ardent advocate and a passionate promoter of global citizenship. She taught me you can have deep friendship across many seas, share the same aspirations with someone at the end of the rainbow and reach across each other’s bridge without inhibitions, making this world indeed a global village. Prof Katarina Popovic is global citizenship personified!
So what brought me to GCE? Not a simple question to answer I will say, however, I think it was initially the quest for change, knowledge, and personal development. Presently, being in GCE means diverse things to me. I have worked in the interesting field of Adult Education and Lifelong Learning for many years. Sometimes, doing the same thing, year after year, can be monotonous, especially in the world of the didactic and theories. It becomes lethargic and predictable; after all, theories rarely change! It can only be improved upon mostly. In GCE, I soon realized I found a new pathway for the use of indigenous education and innovative teaching methods which is inherent in all cultures and requires no special system or space for learning. My coming into GCE means a new horizon. Like an oasis in a desert. It is a refreshing link to the theories. GCE reveals and establishes the efficacy, applicability, functionality of the theories of lifelong learning to real-life situations.
You mentioned a refreshing link to the theories but GCE is sometimes criticized for being excessively abstract. Where do you think is this connection between GCE and real-life situations most noticeable? Do you build on it in your work?
Most of the precious things in life are intangible. For instance, you cannot see the wind but you can see and feel the impact. Love, character, peace, good education, equality, and equity; which are all part of the foundations of GCE; are invisible and very abstract. However, the presences of these qualities in individuals are real. GCE could be well observed in human capacity, human capital, and human relations. I focused on these three areas mostly in my storytelling.
These experiences are not physical and are not measurable many times with quantitative statistical tools; this, however, does not mean it cannot be measured. Actually, the most appropriate way of carrying out research or evaluation of GCE programmes is to capture the essence of humanity and the totality of human experiences. GCE endeavours are towards understanding and improving the social reality of individuals, groups, and cultures. It also brings all the people around the global world together as nearly as possible to understand and feel the others in their world and work on living together despite our differences. Social scientists and scholars in the humanities know how to measure the effectiveness of these.
You are known for incorporating tenets of GCE into folk tales and stories. How is oral storytelling still relevant in modern times?
Yes, I am particularly interested in the creative genre of the presenting GCE to the world. The significance of storytelling and other performing arts in exploring the principles of GCE is invaluable. The main focus of Global Citizenship Education is to promote active citizenship and aid education that emphasizes a sustainable future of global existence.
Storytelling evokes imagination, memories, and nostalgia. It transcends the realms of the real and instructs from inside rather than outside. Through its pictorial attributes, we provide amusement and at the same time, we make available learning paradigms that help redirect and reshape our collective future. It is like three worlds meeting and merging in a single space. I give an illustration of this story opening I performed.
“The echoes of the call of the storyteller reach every home in the community in the ensuing silence of the dusking evening. Time is indispensable. The village square is lighted by the moonlight and by the embers of fire being stroked by the sage. Sometimes it busted into little flames and send up shimmering sparks of fire dusts. They quickly die and settle again as ashes on the bed of glowing coals. Soon the square, under the well-swept ‘iroko’ tree, filled up with many prancing dancing little feet and even the more patient and soft steps of older ones to listen to the storyteller. Their older feet have become more tolerant and enduring of the passages of time. The storyteller, many times an old woman who has been told stories by her mother, her grandmother, and maybe her great grandmother; wise and enchanting with her shock of grey hair and the totem necklaces which makes her more mysterious in the fading light of the night. This was where my ‘mothers’ learned their stories and carried them in their hearts. My ‘mothers’ because in the African community; you are born by one mother but raised by many mothers.” (Nana, 2019)
How does this opening of a story connect to GCE?
There are some unique features of GCE inherent in this opening.
Generational learning: The ages of the learners in this introduction differs. It emphasized the connection between the span of ages in learning all over the world. Four generations were brought together in one space.
Time: Time and temporalities are emphasized and blended. The past, the present and the future are fused into space under the “iroko tree” (which emphasized the place of nature or the environment as a space of convergence and the relationship of humanity to mother Earth). The evening and dusk were highlighted with the sparks of light. The fading light of the night stirs up knowledge of the coming dawn. GCE is particular about the essence of time in which the present is to work towards achieving the future of enlightenment.
Uniqueness: The unique features of individuals are highlighted. The prancing dancing feet of children, ready for adventure and bliss, the patient and soft steps of adults who have learnt through life experiences to be more stable and without haste. Citizenship is unique in age and distinctive in characteristics
Communality: Stories propel togetherness. Story sharing develops and grows the community and the spirit of oneness.
Peace: The scene created is tranquil, calm, serene and peaceful excluding dangers.
The modern time needs the past to be retold to give hope for the present and the future. Dynamic participation is also encouraged and enabled by the storytelling in the informal, non-formal and formal setting of education. Once we can come together, whether virtually or physically, we can tell the stories of our experiences and learn from it.
In the past year, we have seen several GCE projects that involved storytelling and also attempted to incorporate innovative ideas and approaches. Is there enough innovation present in GCE?
In the development of any concept, there can be no limit. Innovation itself is supposed to be a reoccurring phenomenon, not a ‘one time finish all’ occurrence. Presently, yes, GCE has been pushing frontiers and opening up new borders by giving recognition to talents, academic/intellectual ideas, and multidisciplinary approaches on the area from different part of the world. Of course, critical thinking on GCE continues to evolve and more efforts with partners are ongoing which will over time produce more selection of innovative ideas.
How do you think we should approach GCE in the times of the pandemic?
Perhaps nothing else has emphasized our humanity and equality like this pandemic. The times have been hard, with so many losses of human lives, livelihood and loved ones. The blending of any valuable knowledge to the reality of this period is very essential. One of the great techniques to advance GCE during this pandemic is to use the power of storytelling. It is crucial and indispensable.
I have said this before and it is still my thought, that... “Storytelling as an age-long practise has always been used as a motivator. The influence of stories and narratives makes us reflect on our assumptions, make knowledgeable choices; live by such values and thereby creates change in an intriguing and simulative way. One important part of storytelling is the people's part. Storytelling evolves around the existence of man in different realms. It recounts acts of heroism and the positive attitude of individual towards communality.”
With storytelling, we create the world to come, the victory we expect over the pandemic, as we teach us how to live together in a safe world afterwards. The soul of storytelling is the creating of imagination and images in temporalities which eventually transcend the space of unseen to reality. Using this tool, we soften the harshness of the plague, set tranquillity in the hearts of the learners and give hope for a better future.
You can listen to a story told by Professor Simeon-Fayomi (as a part of an event organized by World Village Radio in May) here:
About the Author
Bolanle. C. Simeon-Fayomi
Bolanle C. Simeon-Fayomi is a professor at the Department of Adult Education and Lifelong Learning in Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria. Besides teaching, research, and promotion of cooperation among universities, she also advocates the performance and the oral tradition of storytelling from all lands and nations. This is done in formal and informal settings for participation, enlightenment, civic education, and the development of soft skills in a cross-national theme of learning through creative arts. She uses stories, music, games, and dances in her classrooms across the nations and promotes dialogues and conversations in the classroom as a problem-solving technique.