National governments and policy makers do try to maximize educational quality and achievement within their own countries, I like to believe. That may be my overly optimistic view, but for today let’s hold on to that Pollyanna attitude. In a traditional way, these leaders try to affect change from the perspective of their understanding of the role of education in their societies. Nicholas Sun-Keung Pang (2013) outlines this view of the role of education nicely as follows:
“Education has essential functions of enhancing the development of individual, society and country. Education provides opportunities for individuals to develop physically, intellectually, morally, socially, aesthetically and spiritually, to maximize their potentials and prepare them for the future. Education facilitates the strengthening of a civil society, and enhances social justice, equity and cohesion. Education helps a nation inculcate civic and social responsibility among its citizens, develop capacity building, promote national integration, and enhance national competitiveness. Each country in the one world strives to establish an education system for the well-being and development of its younger generation, the society and the nation.” (p. 17)
This fits neatly into a former world order where education served the national interest, rather than a wider international or global interest. We find ourselves in the 21st Century world of global communication, commerce, economy, and technology, but not yet with globalized education. International education abounds, but not global education.
It would be instructive here to discuss differences between internationalism and globalism. Internationalism, as explained by Futao Huang (2007), is the idea that national governments are the leading actors guiding the world order while keeping intact national boundaries and defined societies. Globalism, on the other hand, is the view that speedy, cheap, and frictionless communication through technological advances has reshuffled the world order in way that governance and policy must come from above the national level to attain beneficial outcomes for all people, regardless of traditional national boundaries or cultural divides. (p. 49) Pang describes this as the new “One World” where “economic, political, and cultural factors” are crossing through formerly robust barriers of national borders, societies, time, and distance. (pp. 18-19)
This 21st Century globalization requires an educational framework that prepares citizens of any country for full participation in this global society. Society is growing beyond national borders, however, as we become more connected across the world in international global initiatives, international governance, international commerce, work, economy, and education. However, Susan Robertson and Roger Dale (2017) argue that enhanced globalism is not at the expense of the national in a zero-sum exchange, but rather the nation-state can be the “major force in advancing regional and global projects.” (p. 861) How can students reach their full educational potential in the global world we live if limited by national frameworks that are not focused on a global perspective? National policy makers are retargeting.
The rise of neoliberalism in the 20th Century streamlined national and international industry and commerce with a focus on productivity and efficiency and a fealty to market forces. Lubricated by technological and communications advances, the international was elevated to the global. Fazal Rizvi and Bob Lingard describe a similar effect on education underway and cite the rising involvement of extra-national organizations such as the World Bank and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in shaping educational policy. (Nagahara, 2011, p. 372) Has business and the global economy exerted enough force yet to raise international education into a truly global education paradigm? No, not yet, though those same players stand to benefit a great deal from education moving towards preparing global citizens for participation in the global economy.
Nonetheless, it seems national leaders are left behind the conversation and trying to refocus their priorities towards the new global targets. Global neoliberalism – enhanced competition, streamlined efficiency, focus on productivity – in education is breaking down international political boundaries between countries. Education is attempting to prepare students for an internationally sensitive, globally-oriented service economy, but policy, until recently, was left behind in national and sub-national priorities. (Robertson & Dale, 2017, p. 860) There is a need for international data to compare educational policies and programs across borders to find the best practices and establish global education to prepare global citizens for a global economy. There is some dissonance, however, in the utility of the international assessment data available as the assessors tend to be those same business interests mentioned by Rivzi and Lingard who stand the most to benefit from the world following their leads on educational priorities. International comparisons are problematic with the data we have, because some people draw the wrong conclusions and the data itself becomes the desired outcome.
“This illustrates another aspect of the kinds of comparison carried out by PISA [Program for International Student Assessment administered by the OECD]; what are compared are outputs, in the form of test scores generated by PISA itself, not the different educational processes that led to them, nor the criteria used to produce them.” (Robertson & Dale, 2017, p. 865)
This rise of international assessments and comparisons is also mentioned by Pang (2013) as one of the fundamental changes to education resulting from the push towards globalization. The other effects he describes are increased spending on education; focus on math, science, and English; inclusion of IT, computers, and the internet in the classroom; reorganization of work and the type of work we’re educating towards (the service economy, for example); and the demand for complete secondary education leading to post-secondary training and tertiary education. (pp. 20-21)
In higher education, Huang (2007) tells us this influence from economic interests and global competition is evident across the world, though in various phases of development in different areas. He describes the situation as follows:
“As for driving forces, policy and practice concerning the internationalisation of higher education in individual countries are not only affected by their national policy, character and identity, but are also influenced by calls and pressures from international, regional or global organisations. Various factors, especially the rapidity of economic globalisation, the advancement of information technology, and the introduction of market-oriented mechanisms, exert an increasingly significant influence in individual countries.” (pp. 50-51)
While higher education in developed countries is highly influenced by economic factors, less-developed countries express their internationalism through research trips and efforts to enhance the curriculum, teaching, and learning. Standardization of diplomas, programs, and content becomes “quality assurance at a global level.” (Huang, 2007, p. 52) Former national education initiatives or programs are being replaced by international versions, standards, and exchanges. Increasingly private money is entering through partnerships and study funding, as in the West. Still “…in most non-Western countries, government-oriented policies and links or co-operation between governments and institutions are still strongly emphasised.” (Huang, 2007, p. 52)
The world is in flux right now as national education policies are being reorganized to an international view, while economic and business globalism exerts further pressure towards a global paradigm. As Robertson and Dale tell us, the national leaders are not redundant, but as the policy makers, they must be cognizant of globalism, carefully balancing economic interests and national interests. Education must now prepare individuals for international competition, not just national, with the globally competitive leaders’ success reflecting positively on their home countries, increasing the countries’ power and influence on a global level. (Pang, 2013, p. 19) Nations and global business leaders are dancing around each other in the boxing ring of international educational power, policy, and influence.
Huang, Futao. (2007). Internationalisation of Higher Education in the Era of Globalisation: What have been its Implications in China and Japan? Higher Education Management and Policy, 19(1), 47-61.
Nagahara, Minori. (2011, May 21). Fazal Rizvi and Bob Lingard: Globalizing education policy [Review of the book Globalizing Education Policy]. Springer Science+Business Media, 371-377.
Pang, Nicholas Sun-Keung. (2013). Education in One World: Perspectives from Different Nations. BCES Conference Books, 11, 17-28.
Robertson, Susan & Dale, Roger. (2017, July/September). Comparing Policies in a Globalizing World: methodological reflections. Educação & Realidade, Porto Alegre, 42(3), 859-875