Education for Community Cohesion
Social integration: Despite the use of the term cohesion interchangeably with integration, they refer to different subjects. While integration refers to the conditions required to make cohesion possible, cohesion is the social consequence of integration.
Social cohesion: Social cohesion is widely used in the European community although its ideals and practices vary between states; three main approaches can be identified (Green et al. 2009). The first is based on the belief that solidarity must be followed by a common identity, culture, and civic virtues. The second focuses on values such as equality, fairness, collectivism, and solidarity and in the development of social movements. The third emphasizes values of freedom, rights, and responsibilities and focuses on limiting individualism and competition (Green et al. 2009). Social cohesion and community cohesion have in common certain characteristics. First, they can be intended as processes required to live together in harmony (Jenson 1998). Second, they both value diversity and difference for the development of relationships between diverse groups (Hulse and Stone 2007). Nonetheless, social cohesion refers exclusively to human beings, and community cohesion involves living populations including other than humans. Additionally, while social cohesion emphasizes economic processes, community cohesion underlines cultural processes (Holden 2013).
Community resilience: Community resilience refers to the abilities of a group of people to prepare for, withstand, and recover from adversity. The term emphasizes how community members behave after hazards and disasters, in ways that demonstrate altruism, innovation, and strength. The term is considered an acquired capacity to reduce potential harm through interventions before, during, and after an event (Bean 2014). Community cohesion is a condition that contributes to community resilience, but there are other conditions needed, for example, strong and sustainable public health care and emergency response systems (Bean 2014).
Multiculturalism: Multiculturalism refers to the challenges associated to cultural and religious diversity; its proponents reject the ideal of the “melting point” where people from minority groups can maintain their collective identities and practices without being overshadowed by dominant groups (Malpas and Davidson 2009). Multiculturalism is a phenomenon that can be seen as an obstacle or opportunity for community cohesion. An obstacle, when the diversity it encompasses accentuate conflicts and jeopardizes harmonic social interactions. An opportunity, when diversity is valued and cultural identity is valued in order to reunite for a social common good.
Global citizenship education (GCED): It refers to UNESCO’s response to human right violations, inequality, and poverty that threaten peace and sustainability in the increasingly interconnected world (UNESCO 2018a). Education for community cohesion is necessary to achieve the goals of GCED, because it prepares humans with the skills, attitudes, and values that will enable them to act locally toward a global common good.
Key competencies for community cohesion: It is the interplay of cognitive and non-cognitive components acquired through education processes that bear a wide focus, pooling different competency classes (e.g., domain-specific competencies), and point out the most relevant competency fields (Barth et al. 2007). These competencies have a common point; they enable individuals to participate in an active, reflective, and cooperative way to foster sustainable development (Haan 2006). These also enable students to recognize they are part of a society with shared values and to act in coherence with a common vision and sense of belonging enriched by diversity (LGA et al. 2002).
Origins of the Concept of Community Cohesion
The idea of educating for community cohesion arises from the understanding of the need of a synchrony between education and the set of goals established by the United Nations in the 2000 Assembly Forum (UNESCO 2000) even though at the time the concept community cohesion did not exist. The Millennium Goals, which later became the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), exposed the need for a global call for action that would promote prosperity while protecting the planet and ensuring the well-being of every human in the world (United Nations 2015). From this process, education is changing and can be adapted to provide the tools necessary to develop and achieve the SDG (UNESCO 2005–2014). In this context, education appears as a required process to form individuals that, within different communities, can act to consolidate communities that work as a harmonic and functional system capable of achieving the SDGs.
In terms of the concept of community cohesion, we can trace back the origin of the term to the UK. The term community cohesion was first introduced and coined by the Cantle and Denham reports (Cantle 2001; Denham 2001). The reports analyzed racial-driven disturbances and riots in ethnically diverse towns (i.e., Bradford, Burnley, and Oldham), identifying the key driver for this as lack of community cohesion (Cantle 2005). As part of the follow-up plan to address this issue, the UK government created the Community Cohesion Review Team (CCRT), which objective was to “identify good practice, key policy issues and new innovative thinking in the field of community cohesion” (Cantle 2005). The elements presented by the report exposed a profound separation and segregation in the society from the towns visited. This communities displayed a lack of contact and interaction among the various cultures which they comprised (Cantle 2005), and that could be linked to numerous changing elements from modern societies such as language, faith and beliefs, education, leisure, employment, housing, lifestyle, and social structure (Cantle 2005). Each of these elements had different values and characteristics not shared by all communities which conflicted among the different populations. Among the different subcommunities within each town, the various elements comprising their identity and their functionality were clearly different (Cantle 2005). These differences triggered changes in the mechanisms and types of interactions which were pointed as the drivers responsible for the disturbances that had taken place (Wetherell 2007). Since then, much of the UK policies were oriented toward developing and reinforcing the idea of community cohesion among the people, developing a new framework that rethought the elements of multiculturalism, in an attempt to highlight the most important elements of multicultural communities (Wetherell 2007; Thomas 2011). From this moment on, the discussion regarding community cohesion as a central element for public policies comprises two perspectives. The first embraces people that see community cohesion as a diminishment in maintaining a strong and functional ethnic diversity in countries (Thomas 2011). The second encompasses people that see the possibility of developing tools and mechanisms that allow ethnically diverse communities to work as a one, without stepping back in their own social background and dynamics (Thomas 2011).
To educate for community cohesion, different strategies can be adopted: firstly, institutional strategies that involve architecture design and school programs and policies and, secondly, pedagogic approaches that enhance the development of key competencies like systems thinking, cosmopolitan perception, transcultural understanding, and cooperation, among others.
Drivers for Community Cohesion
Identity diversity: identity refers to how a person defines themselves in relation to others. Diversity of identities is often seen as the problem in terms of communities working as a functional system (Pareckh 2007). Identities are determined by several factors including culture, religion, ethnicity, and race which are often highlighted as the main reasons of social tensions that jeopardize community cohesion. Community cohesion does not aim to deny ethnic, religious, and social identities toward the imposition of a nonnegotiable common identity (Thomas 2011). Instead, it seeks to accept and work to augment distinct communities with common experiences and identities through a negotiated process (Thomas 2011). Education for community cohesion needs to enhance social dynamics that avoid identity free zones while promoting people to identify with superordinate identities (e.g., the community in general, the nation). Avoiding identity free zones ensures that the mechanisms to create a sense of belonging are not suppressed. It is crucial to foster new senses of identity, reinforcing identity factors associated with positive community relations (Wetherell 2007).
Ideology diversity: it is intended at the individual level, as a set of intellectual beliefs of thinking that are determined by the beliefs of the society at large (Kim 2007). Ideology diversity can often be seen as a justification of social conflict, because it highlights the absence of a natural and legitimate hierarchy of ideologies encouraging people to pursue and impose their own ideology over the others. Studies evidenced that although “white” communities valued ideology diversity, they maintained a lack of support for policies aiming to bring ideology diversity to fruition (Merow et al. 2013; Smith and Mayorga-Gallo 2017).
Income inequalities: several studies evidence that income inequalities rather than ethnicity or diversity impede community cohesion (Becares et al. 2011; Letki 2008). Sometimes it is challenging to identify the main reasons for the lack of community cohesion because often economically deprived areas overlap with ethnic minorities. Income inequalities negatively influence social interactions necessary for accomplishing community cohesion by affecting levels of trust and civic engagement and increasing crime and violence. The latter phenomenon influences psychosocial processes that have an effect on social interactions, cultural norms, values, and behavior, undermining community cohesion (Constantin 2014).
Social networks and technology: when human relationships rely exclusively on online interactions, the emotional benefits of face-to-face interaction are missed, thereby affecting negatively social capital (Antoci et al. 2014). Krau et al. (1998) concluded that the increased use of the Internet is related to a diminishment in family interactions, a reduced social circle, and a rise in loneliness and depression. Nonetheless, it is worth noting that when the use of the Internet became more related to being connected to social networking sites, it entailed the engagement in social activities. In fact, the most recent studies (2007–2011) established that online networks supported the development of existing ties (Antoci et al. 2014). The biggest problem arises when ties are not present. In this scenario, social networks can intensify existing conflicts, for example, when social media is used to discuss topics that can cause controversy, such as political ideology, cultural beliefs, and religion. Conflicts arising from interactions in online networks are associated to the fact that virtual participation vanishes the individual responsibility toward the community, and it does not compromise the individual with its virtual statements. Social networks facilitate communication but not encounters, and this can compromise empathic and honest social interactions (Pinilla, personal communication, April 4, 2018).
Climate change: the prospect of human-induced climate change encourages drastic scenarios in terms of the many potential consequences for the physical environment which ultimately can lead to a large number of possible paths to conflict (Nordås and Gleditsch 2007). Climate change negative scenarios highlight the need for community resilience and cohesion, because they evidence the lack of cohesion between communities worldwide. It evidences the difficulty of human communities to act as one and mitigate the negative effects of climate change. Fast-occurring and changing processes that affect humanity’s environment test the structure and strength of the community to withstand external factors (community resilience). Desynchronized environmental policies regarding climate change evidence the lack of community cohesion from a global perspective (Giddens 2010). Climate change, differently from other drivers, affects humanity as a species.
Individual: education for community cohesion requires to define and understand the idea of the individual as a unit within a system, a unit with specific characteristics that determine its role and position within the environment. There are different perspectives that question whether education should develop the idea of individual or focus on the idea of collectivism (Bertram 2012; Darwish and Huber 2003; Federico 2006; Triandis 2002). The problem with the discussion concerning which approach to adopt in a pedagogic process (i.e., regarding the concept of individual) is that it arises from the misconception of the individual as separated from other hierarchy levels (e.g., society, community). This approach places the concept of individual in a time-dependent perspective. Education for community cohesion is a process where the individual is able to recognize itself from the others and is capable of identifying their strengths and weaknesses. Furthermore, it enables to understand that these characteristics are determined by a specific set of cultural aspects that are susceptible to change through time. This conception is instrumental, when educating for community cohesion, since it allows the individual to recognize that individuality is not a static condition. Potentially, different individuals, at some point, might share ideas, values, and qualities that they did not share before. Individuality comprises the understanding that each person, because of its cultural, political, and ideological background (Darwish and Huber 2003; Kim 2007), behaves as a specific and unique component within a community. Individuals potentially have the ability to change and become part of another community. This perspective does not mean that because of the changing nature of individuals, there are not stable and homogenous communities. In the contrary, it tends to generate a consciousness of the diversity of homogeneous communities worldwide.
Interaction-Relationship: every natural or social system has its own set of specific rules that govern the interactions within the system. Unlike most natural systems, identifying, naming, and generalizing the rules of a social system are more difficult due to the complexity of social interactions that go beyond the species survival. With this in mind, it is necessary to recognize and identify the levels of organization of the relations among humans, which allow the multicultural nature of society.
Different levels of organization in social processes comprise interactions and relationships. The former are behaviors between two or more individuals within a community (Hinde 1976), and the latter are the series of interactions between two individuals through time (Hinde 1976). Educating for community cohesion requires to identify and analyze the relationships that are perpetuated through time and that contribute or not to community cohesion. Within this framework, it is possible to enhance the development of key competencies that strengthen specific positive relationships regardless of each community characteristics.
Community: identifying what encompasses a community and therefore the system from which an individual is part off provides the most general framework to work on education for community cohesion. In this sense, more than the limits and boundaries of a specific community, the aim while educating for community cohesion has to be in terms of the “when” of a specific community. This means that the characterization of communities is not constant and it is dependent on specific factors, which change through time. Based on this characterization of community, it is possible to recognize different obstacles affecting each community and, therefore, how the individual can act and behave. Obstacles can be identified at the local level and at the global level. Understanding communities at a global level implies acknowledging that humans as species can be conceived as a unit of a bigger community which includes other species. Considering the species as a unit and its changing condition through time evidences that interactions and relations between species are also dynamic. Additionally, acknowledging species as units of a system allows to recognize the interdependence between humans and other components of the community. This later provides the scenario for humanity to think and develop the necessary tools for human’s sustainability. Many approaches have been used to account for the sustainable development such as the Human Development Index (HDI), the Human Poverty Index (HPI), the Gender-Related Development Index (GDI), and the Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM) (Dewan 2009). All of these indexes show the increasing need to quantify the rate at which humans are  developing. The problem rests, when it is evident that none of them considers humanity as part of a bigger community. This limitation can be overthrown by thinking of a community as a diverse and time-changing frame capable of including different species.
Educational Strategies for Community Cohesion
Educational institutions and classrooms architecture: the place and time where learning processes take place have an enormous influence in the ability to overcome educational challenges to achieve community cohesion. For example, the design of schools could consider the need to educate for community cohesion. The traditional spatial conception of schools that consist of endless corridors and four-wall classrooms must evolve in order to promote the interaction of the school community with their local context (people and environment) and to facilitate cross-classroom collaboration (Jarraud 2010). School design must consider the inclusion of learning spaces that promote the interaction between different members of the learning community (e.g., learner-learner and learner-teacher) (Rudd et al. 2006). Additionally, diversity of learning spaces enable the acquisition of different sort of knowledge and skills (Rudd et al. 2006).
Educational institutions as resources to educate for community cohesion: educational institutions, particularly schools, have a crucial role to help people to learn about difference. However, schools can be segregated as well. Many young people never experience cultural or social difference at their school and emerge into a multicultural world without the cultural skills to break down barriers between communities (Cantle 2017). Communities are also segregated, because usually their spatial distribution within urban and rural settings is correlated with socioeconomic characteristics. An approach to support community cohesion in this case is school linking (Cantle 2017). In this approach, partner schools are comprised of children from different backgrounds that would otherwise have no chance of meeting each other (Cantle 2017). Additionally, schools can become a resource and a site within the neighborhood for community engagement. For example, schools can be used as the space to implement educational programs aiming at reinforcing the link between families, the school, and the community (Engel et al. 2013).
Educational institutions, programs, and policies: educational initiatives to promote community cohesion vary depending on the scale at which they operate. Holden (2013) distinguishes between macrolevel strategies and microlevel strategies. The first refers to educational institutions operating in an inclusive and cohesive manner, recognizing the importance of cohesion and integrating to the curriculum issues such as equality, diversity, and integration. The second includes strategies to promote cross-cultural mixing by recruiting students and staff from different backgrounds and by having teachers able to teach about the importance of integration and social unity. Other initiatives identified by Holden (2013) include the design and implementation of school twinning projects, cultural awareness events, and citizenship education and vocational programs. In countries facing profound income inequalities, initiatives such as school networks aiming to involve students in the conservation of urban ecosystems have a valuable potential to promote collaborative work between public and private schools helping to address the current gap between social classes (Red de colegios Cerros de Bogotá 2016).
Ecojustice education: it is based on the recognition that being a human means to be part of a vast and complex system of life and that human beings depend on the education about different interrelated elements: first, to learn how to protect the systems of life (Martusewics and Edmunson 2005) to avoid drastic scenarios (e.g., climate change) that unstabilize communities; second, to learn the identification and analysis of domination patterns that unjustly catalogue certain groups of humans and/or the natural world as inferior and though promote social conflict; third, to encourage students to identify the causes and remediate the effects of social and ecological violence in their local contexts; and, finally, the acknowledgment of the interdependence of the interactions between humans and abiotic factors or with other species, which rely in the intergenerational practices and relationships among different cultures (Bowers 1997, 2001).
Place-based education: it focuses on the interactions of natural and human communities by involving students and people from the community in projects in the local environment. By getting students involved in their own communities and solving real problems, learning becomes relevant (Martusewics et al. 2015). This approach reconnects education with the well-being of the community and facilitates the development of skills and dispositions that children and youth need to regenerate and sustain communities (Gruenewald and Smith 2008). By involving students in real-life situations, place-based education emphasizes the importance of social participation. Actually Holden (2013: 251) evidences its importance: “social participation as a vehicle for the acquisition of knowledge and skills, the most relevant of which is situational learning – a model that extols the value of student participation in live settings.”
Education for sustainable development: it seeks to empower people to change the way they think and act based on sustainable development. It promotes students’ development of skills, values, and attitudes needed to become responsible actors who resolve challenges, respect cultural diversity, and contribute to create a more sustainable world (UNESCO 2018b). Competencies needed to achieve sustainability are those that lead to more sustainable lifestyles (Varga et al. 2007), and this refers to human interactions with natural resource and its actions to guarantee their and others’ well-being. The spontaneous individuals’ motivations and skills to seek other humans or species’ well-being necessarily contribute both to community cohesion and to sustainable development. For this reason, many key competencies in ESD have also a crucial role in education for community cohesion.
Holistic education: it emerges from the need to overcome educational focus on developing students’ physical, behavioral, and intellectual capacities for economic and material benefits. It seeks to surpass this need by emphasizing the need of enhancing students’ social, emotional, psychological, moral, creative, aesthetic, and spiritual natures and capacities (Darken 2009). By valuing the emotional, social, and spiritual nature of students, holistic education seeks the development of the full potential of each individual by honoring their unique talents and capacities (Darken 2009). Holistic perspective focuses on the potential of the individual within overlapping contexts of family, community, society, humanity, and the natural world (Miller 1991). This approach can contribute in education for community cohesion, because firstly it values the individuals’ identities considering all the human dimensions without trying to homogenize students based on a determined desired human “model.” In this sense, it avoids human conflict arising from the difficulty to accept and comprehend humans’ differences and diversity. Secondly, it promotes the development of humans’ dimensions such as the social, emotional, and spiritual which are crucial for the development of values that contribute to community cohesion (e.g., empathy, solidarity, and compassion, among others).
Education for community cohesion must consider that individuals’ motivations to have harmonic interactions with other members of the community vary depending on the sociocultural local context. In some contexts, the motivation is mainly driven by values such as empathy and compassion, while in other circumstances as regards the understanding that we are all part of the same system and what affects the other will necessarily have a consequence on me. The consideration of key competencies, values, and attitudes for community cohesion can guarantee that regardless the specific characteristics of the local contexts, there is a common framework shared by educators to achieve the harmonic and dynamic functioning of communities.
Some key competencies associated to education for sustainable development have also the potential to strengthen community cohesion. In fact, as mentioned before community cohesion and sustainable development are intimately related. Acquiring competencies is a more complex process than learning. The later process refers to acquiring knowledge, while competence acquisition involves cognitive and non-cognitive elements that go beyond knowledge acquisition (Weinert 2001). This implies, firstly, the development of higher stages of consciousness regarding the individual and the community that evidences increased cognitive complexity and, secondly, the acquisition of non-cognitive components that involve learning of values and its interiorization. This last process implies that the learners must be able to recognize their values system and understand its adequacy to reality (Barth et al. 2007). In the context of education for community cohesion, the acquisition of non-cognitive components and the interiorization of values have an enormous importance. They have a strong influence in the individual’s ability to change societal living and to act fostering community cohesion. Finally, competence acquisition implies the student awareness of its existence and agency (Pinilla, personal communication, April 4, 2018).
Systems thinking: refers to the ability to understand the way living systems and human societies function (Kunsch et al. 2007). It enables to analyze complex systems across different domains (i.e., society, environment, economy) and across different spatial and temporal scales (Wiek et al. 2011). Once the individuals are aware of the complex interdependence of the components of living and social systems that compose communities, they are aware of the relevance of acting to reinforce community cohesion. Systems thinking might also contribute to understand the legitimacy and relevance of difference to achieve the common well-being.
Cosmopolitan perception, transcultural understanding, and cooperation: refers to the capacity to expand the perception of the context, inviting to transcend the horizons of individual’s perceptions and judgments while striving for a global view. Cosmopolitan perception, transcultural understanding, and cooperation imply the development of the curiosity and interest regarding other regions of the world and the desire to learn from them (Haan 2006). This competency enhances the individuals’ capacity to recognize identity diversity and to value it. It enables to understand that despite cultural, ideological, or biological differences, we all share the same need and motivation to live as a harmonic and functional unit.
Capacity for empathy, compassion, and solidarity: refers to the ability to engage in situations that call for justice and require competence in transcultural communication, cooperation, as well as empathy. This competency enables individuals to act and communicate with a spirit of global solidarity. It encourages to work together, to find solutions to shared problems, and to find ways to achieve more justice (Haan 2006). Situations that evidence unbalance such as injustice, privileged and disadvantaged, and poor and rich trigger social conflicts that jeopardize community cohesion. The acquisition of capacity for empathy, compassion, and solidarity can counteract the action of “social difference” as a driver accentuating the lack of community cohesion.
Distanced reflection on individual and cultural models: refers to individual’s ability to recognize and critically analyze their own interests and desires, and to understand these is culturally determined. This competence determines the individual ability to take a position in the debate about global justice while approaching cultural models in a detached and objective manner. Distanced reflection on individual and cultural models enables individuals to recognize its cultural identity, recognize and reflect other cultural models, and to have the critical thinking skills to act seeking for global justice, for which community cohesion is required (Haan 2006).
- Leadership: this competency implies the need to overcome the misconception that leaders are individuals provided with unique capacities. Leaders should not be conceived as individuals that must be followed by others because they have extraordinary skills that people usually do not have. In the context of education, every individual is a potential leader, and educational institutions must be able to transcend the individualistic conception of leadership to a shift into a communitarian approach. This will enable individuals to recognize themselves in a positive way among others and to understand that leaders develop among other potential leaders (Silva, personal communication, March 5, 2018). To enable all the students to develop leadership competencies, educators could:
Be able to be life accompanying for the students, not only of their cognitive processes (Silva, personal communication, March 5, 2018).
Be able to provide safe spaces that promote the participation of all the students not only the students with better academic performance (Silva, personal communication, March 5, 2018).
Be able to expose students to solidary reparation situations, not individualistic.
Be able to provide high control and support and guarantee the balance between the two (Silva, personal communication, March 5, 2018).
Be able to enhance the acquisition of values such as empathy and compassion (Silva, personal communication, March 5, 2018).
Be able to promote the development of cooperation skills (Silva, personal communication, March 5, 2018).
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