Global Citizenship Education as a Force to Change the Course and Transform Education

Education as a tool for transformation

How many times a day are we exposed to news of the alarming realities that many of our fellow brothers and sisters face? The protection of individuals’ dignity, the commitment to ensuring basic rights, and the safety and health of our common home are all at risk. We live in an increasingly connected world yet, sometimes, it is hard to connect and empathize with each other’s realities. Seeing past ourselves and accepting our interdependencies as strengths can help us take our place as agents of change for a more humane world. To stand in solidarity in the mission of justice and reconciliation and realize our role as Global Citizens, we first need to see the possibility of change.

The choices we collectively make today will determine our shared futures. One of these choices, perhaps the most important, is how we are educating the leaders of tomorrow. Education is the basic human right, key in accessing all other rights and inevitably linked with our responsibility as Global Citizens. Yet, today more than 260 million children and youth are denied this right.

Education is a tool for societal transformation. It cultivates understanding and builds capabilities that can help us create more just and equitable societies. Education mobilizes knowledge to help us navigate a transforming and uncertain world. Global Citizenship Education (GCE) takes this to the global stage. It has the power to connect us with the world, encouraging us to revisit our assumptions, be critical in our analysis of current issues, engage in collective action, and include others in possible solutions. GCE exposes us to new possibilities, leading us in changing the course and transforming education.

The “La Silla Roja” campaign, Magis Americas’ annual GCE campaign, encourages students to take action locally and globally, transforming their mindsets and educational experiences. Every year, the “La Silla Roja” campaign works to defend the right to an equitable and inclusive education. In 2021, the campaign led students and youth through a process of reflection, awareness, and action in which they ultimately made a Promise to Education (#APromise2Education). Students took on their responsibility as Global Citizens and realized that #APromise2Education is a promise for opportunities, agency, and the contribution of creating a more inclusive and just world.

Global Citizenship Education in Action

At least eight high schools within the Jesuit School Network participated, in this year’s campaign, all in different forms. Here are some examples and takeaways from students and teachers.

St. Peter’s Preparatory

“Introducing students to ‘La Silla Roja’ was an incredibly rewarding experience….I believe in the transformative power of education as a tool to empower students and broaden their perspectives and engaging with this campaign edified that belief as I watched my students apply their knowledge for the betterment of our world.” – Salvatore Veniero, Director of Global Initiatives

The St. Peter’s Prep Global Ed Club took the initiative to bring “La Silla Roja” to their school. The board members of the club went through the three phases of the challenge, and decided their Promise to Education would be a series of activities for fellow students to get involved and learn more:

  1. Presenting the “La Silla Roja” campaign to the freshman and sophomore classes
  2. Painting red chairs to place around the school
  3. Participating in a “La Silla Roja” scavenger hunt
  4. Letter writing to congress
  5. Tutoring students from a Fe y Alegría school in Peru

James Popadick, Senior
“I participated in the ‘La Silla Roja’ campaign because I wanted to be able to make a direct impact on not only my school community but also the community of individuals who currently lack the access to education that is essential in the lives of all people.”

Joshua Pascale, Senior
“My biggest takeaway from this program was gaining a greater sense of gratitude for everything I’ve been given in my life.”

Evan Merkov, Sophomore
“’La Silla Roja’ campaign [gave me the] wonderful opportunity to give back to my global community, and it is an experience I will keep with me for a long time to come.”

Jesuit High School, Tampa

“This year’s ‘La Silla Roja’ campaign was an impactful experience for our students. They were able to learn about how the pandemic has increased educational inequities and the concrete ways Fe y Alegría is working to bring quality educational experiences to those most in need. The ‘La Silla Roja’ campaign not only made our students aware of the problem, but also inspired them to take action to promote educational opportunities for all.” – Dr. Cristina Delano, Foreign Language Department

The La Gente Club took the lead in painting two chairs red and placing them around the school. Throughout the fall semester, a series of Spanish classes went through the challenge and students made their Promises to Education.

Archie Teller, Class of 2022
“’La Silla Roja’ is a great metaphor for the need to improve education, and the activities with it that I have done have helped me do my part for this cause. The biggest action I have taken so far was giving a speech in front of my whole school about the ‘La Silla Roja’ campaign, what it means, and what our school can do to help.”

Diego Cubas, Class of 2023
“Painting la ‘Silla Roja’ allowed me to reflect on the social crisis of kids who are deprived of school. I believe it was a great way to help bring awareness to the people around the school.”

Sam Forman, Class of 2023
“While participating in the ‘La Silla Roja’ project at school, I learned about how lucky I was. In the activity, the issues regarding education and health in countries like Peru and Ecuador were brought to my attention, which is something that had never been done before. This activity helped to inspire me to contribute to my own community by helping teach the children at my local religious school.”

St. Xavier High School Ohio

“We investigated the various reasons why some children do not have access to quality education and how organizations like Fe y Alegría work to provide this fundamental human right to the world’s youth. Magis Americas’ ‘La Silla Roja’ project fit perfectly with our unit, and when I introduced the project to the class, students responded with enthusiasm. In fact, they even generated some of their own ideas to augment the project.” – Therese Bower, English Teacher & Global Education Coordinator

The Global Perspectives class went through the ‘La Silla Roja’ challenge, and in addition to painting a red chair, students suggested a couple of ideas of their own to increase the impact of the project:

  1. They placed red tape across 29% of the desks in the school’s classrooms to represent the percentage of children worldwide who do not complete secondary school
  2. They also 29% of the student body to wear red shirts on a designated day, and then arranged to deliver an education-themed Examen during homeroom.
  3. They did research on the issue
  4. Met with the school principal
  5. Made posters for the display in the main stairwell
  6. Composed and shared an Examen to the school community

Connor M
“Through the ‘La Silla Roja’ Project, I have learned that finding ways to help with global issues is important in my development as a global citizen.”

Andrew S:
“‘La Silla Roja’ really made me appreciate the opportunity that I have been given to attend such a great school and to receive an amazing education. It also taught me how to work as part of a team. We all had different roles, from talking to the principal, to making posters, to writing and reading an Examen for the entire school.”

Brooklyn Jesuit Preparatory

“It is important to have campaigns like this because it allows students to become aware of the hardships others face around the world. It allows them to understand how fortunate they are. These campaigns give students a world view and pop the bubbles that some may be living in. It gives students the true meaning of becoming men and women for others.” Maryellen Doino, School Counselor

The Student Government was responsible for taking the ‘La Silla Roja’ campaign to all homerooms at Brooklyn Jesuit Prep. Students reflected on the importance of access to education shared their thoughts in open discussions as well as organized a dress-down day to support Fe y Alegría.

Safaira Kelly, 8th grader, Student Government President
“This is important because everyone deserves an education”

Gervais Gors, 7th Grade, Student Government Representative
“It was important to learn this because it shows that we should be grateful that we have school because others might not be able to go to school and they can’t achieve what their parents want them to or what their parents couldn’t”


Students took part in contributing to solving the dual challenge we face as a society of (1) fulfilling the promise to ensure the right to quality education for every child, youth, and adult and (2) realizing the transformational potential of education as a means to achieve sustainable societies.

Students changed the course and transformed their educational experiences. Each group was able to see education in a different light and through a different lens. Most importantly, not just education, but the role they can collectively and individually take in collaborating in the creation of a society in which all can access this basic right.

A Life Without Education is Not Sustainable

On January 24, we celebrated the International Day of Education, a date proclaimed by the United Nations (UN) with the aim of raising awareness around the world on the importance of education in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Specifically, SDG No. 4, which looks to ensure access to quality and inclusive education for all.

Education is one of the most important human rights, as it is fundamental for the exercise of all other human rights. Education enables individuals to rise out of poverty and develop socially, physically, and emotionally. Education not only gives us the skills and knowledge necessary to survive, but it also gives us the power and sense of self-worth to demand the fulfillment of our human rights.

Education, however, has been severely impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Millions of children have seen their education affected, leading to a lack of schooling for the most vulnerable, especially in countries where a lack of resources makes the impacts of the pandemic stronger. Although real efforts have been made to maintain access to education, quality distance education has been impossible in many countries.

The pandemic has exacerbated an already complex educational crisis. Before 2020, over 260 million boys and girls were out of school and 50% of young people in 58 of 133 countries had not completed secondary education. This situation has only worsened over the past 12 months. We find ourselves in a reality determined by health security, which forces education to occur either online or with partial presence. Education is threatened with school dropouts, a school calendar lag, the exhaustion of teachers and students and the reduction of curricular content, among others.

Life without education is not sustainable. This is the slogan of this year’s La Silla Roja campaign (The Red Chair, in English). La Silla Roja is a symbol that represents the right to an inclusive and quality education. The campaign calls attention to the impact that the lack of access to education has on individual and communal development, even more so now in times of a pandemic.

This initiative, launched in 2012 by Entreculturas – Fe y Alegría Spain, invites students from all over the world to reflect on what access to education means for them, and what their roles and responsibilities as global citizens could be.

This is how the campaign has been implemented in different countries:

With the aim of calling attention to the impacts that the COVID-19 pandemic is having on access to quality education, Magis Americas joined efforts with Educate Magis to adapt the La Silla Roja campaign to an American context. This adaptation takes into account the new realities faced by teachers and students in this new learning and educational reality.

The campaign in the US is presented in the form of a challenge, which can be implemented both online and in person, seeking to give teachers flexibility in its implementation. The challenge consists of three phases, which seek to take students through a learning process in which they consider their role as global citizens, inviting them to take action through research and reflection on the impacts that COVID-19 is having on education around the world.

The three phases of this challenge invite students to evaluate: 1) COVID-19 and the state of education, answering the question – why does the red chair only have three legs?; 2) Share stories and make experiences tangible, exploring – How is the absence of this leg represented in the real world?; and finally 3) Dream of a future in which we can guarantee #EducationForSustainableLife, finally putting the leg back on the chair.

As of today, more than 200 students are participating in about 5 schools all over the US.

Given the flexibility of the campaign, each group has defined how the implementation will be and how to carry out the challenge.

At Jesuit High School, a high school in Tampa, Florida, more than 50 students have begun to explore and share with their peers, using the Educate Magis student portal, reflections on the effects the pandemic is having on the digital divide, dropout rates and innovation in education, focusing on the realities of countries where Fe y Alegría is present.

At another high school in New Jersey, a group of 5 student leaders are promoting initiatives that invite global citizenship by collaborating with a school in Peru to explore and compare realities of education in times of pandemic.

In Ecuador, the pandemic has affected the right to receive a quality education for 4.6 million students. (UNICEF, 2020). La Silla Roja represents hope for a better future, so that many of the children without opportunities can be educated. From Fe y Alegría Ecuador, in addition to other actions that have been carried out throughout these months, the La Silla Roja campaign continues to be promoted in schools of the Jesuit Educational Network and 49 private and public educational institutions nationwide, to reflect on the right to education.

In the Province of Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas, with the support of Districts I and II of Education, Fe y Alegría launched the campaign thanks to coordinated work with the teaching staff, psychologists, pastoralists and companions of the area. In the 300 participating educational institutions, spaces for reflection and development of educational guides were created around the theme of “Life without education is not sustainable” and “The Earth is our best school.” A discussion was also held with boys and girls from various educational centers.

Students of the U.E. Dr. Carlos Rufino Marin developed some work on the guides “Right to Education” of the Campaign “La Silla Roja de Fe y Alegría Ecuador”

Likewise, in the San Luis Gonzaga Educational Unit in Quito, January 20, in honor of our Sorrowful Mother, the “Inspiration of Solidarity” campaign was resumed, so that together we can continue to build opportunities for the most vulnerable.

“The Red Chair is like the finger. We must not turn into it a myth, domesticate it or turn it into an object of solidarity merchandising. It shouldn’t be “pretty,” but a silent reminder of a difficult and hurtful reality. It is a symbol, pointing in another direction. It is in that direction that we have to look. The chair points to so many boys and girls without a classroom, without a teacher, without books, without notebooks, without time. To whom, having a basic right to education, is not a reality. And it points, as in a mirror, towards each one of us, asking us, with urgent desire: “And you, what can you do?”

To learn more about the implementation of this project in Ecuador, click here.

The impacts of COVID-19 on education: Where do we go from here?

Earlier this year, as education systems around the world began to close as a result of the growing COVID-19 pandemic, it quickly became clear that our individual and collective responses, as with all disasters and emergencies, would occur in two phases: emergency response and recovery.

Globally, we currently find ourselves somewhere in the middle of those two phases. Europe and parts of Asia have made strides towards recovery, while the Americas, Africa and the Indian sub-continent continue to struggle. All told, though, the impacts are becoming clear: nearly 1.6 billion learners in 190 countries have had their education interrupted as a result of COVID-19. A staggering 94% of the global student population. What’s more, the United Nations estimates that 23.8 million children and youth will drop out and/or lose long-term access to education in the upcoming school year.

The educational crisis we face is undoubtedly a unique moment in our history. However, let us be clear: the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities that long pre-date this moment.

At the start of 2020, more than 250 million children and youth were out of school worldwide. Nearly 800 million adults were illiterate. Even access to school did not guarantee a quality education, as 56% of primary school age children worldwide are estimated to lack basic reading skills.

This isn’t to say that gains have not been made since the launch of the Millennium Development Goals 20 years ago. Quite the contrary, we have made huge advancements. The reality, though, is we still have a long way to go.

How we respond, though, in the emergency response phase of this pandemic is secondary to the actions we take in the recovery phase. Simply put: what happens next? How do we move on from here? How do we ensure we stay on track to achieving Sustainable Development Goal No. 4 by 2030?

In response to the current educational crisis, the United Nations has issued a policy brief outlining four recommendations to guide education during response and recovery. The Lego Foundation, in partnership with Global Partnership for Education and Education Cannot Wait launched Save Our Future, of which Magis Americas is a partner.

La Silla Roja: Protecting Education for Sustainable Lives

There’s a wonderful phrase in Haitian Creole that Fr. Emilio Travieso, SJ taught me on one of my first trips to Haiti. “Yon timoun lekòl se benefis tout moun. Chak timoun ki lekòl se responsabilite nou tout.” “A child in school is to everyone’s benefit. Each child in school is our shared responsibility.”

While these initiatives are important to setting the international agenda, they can often seem far removed from the priorities of our day-to-day lives. They allow us to distance ourselves from issues and view them as “other people’s” problems.

Education is a communal act. Not one of us was educated in a silo or by a single individual. Likewise, we all benefit from an educated society. It’s often easy to forget, but education is not a commodity or a business. It is a human right. It is the essential human right, key to enjoying all other rights. We all share a responsibility in ensuring access to quality and inclusive education.

This week we launched our annual La Silla Roja campaign, which is a global citizenship education initiative to defend the right to education for the over 250 million children and youth worldwide who are still out of school. La Silla Roja (or The Red Chair, in English) is a symbol of the right to quality and inclusive education and calls attention to the impact a lack of access to education has on personal and communal development.

This initiative was first launched in 2012 by our partner Entreculturas – Fe y Alegría Spain and has since been implemented by Fe y Alegría in several countries throughout Latin America, Europe and Africa

The focus of this year’s campaign, “Protecting Education for Sustainable Lives”, calls attention to the educational crisis brought on by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. As part of this year’s campaign, we are launching a three-part challenge with Educate Magis to encourage students and schools across the Jesuit Schools Network to learn about the impacts of COVID-19 on education, reflect on their roles as global citizens, and take individual and collective action to support their peers around the globe.

We hope you’ll join us on this journey to defend access to quality and inclusive education for all.

To participate in this year’s campaign, click here or email Mariana Palacios.

Nate Radomski
Executive Director