Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Why Globalize Education?

I am back in my usual reflective mood and enjoying it.

I was in action mode for last few weeks, which allowed me to achieve quite a bit, but this caused a sort of writing block too. Indeed, this is what I wished for - something worthwhile to do. All my stated wishes, hands-on exposure, opportunity to work on an assortment of various little projects [so that I am never bored], regular life, and a piece of action in global higher education, have all been granted: But, strangely, this has taken away my ability to write. Much to the relief of my sister, I admit, but I struggled with thoughts and words every morning. It was not comforting: The thoughts seem all too fragmented and words so ungenerous that they would not come together in a sentence. I felt laden with ideas, but all clotted up in a pre-migraine kaleidoscope of visions, not making any sense whatsoever.

However, a visit unlocked all this, and as I expected, it started with a question. I spent the day in Oxford, attending a session in Oxford Brookes University training up to be a mentor for a Bachelors programme for ACCA students. The city, the old buildings, the casual atmosphere of an university town, the sense of history, gets into one's skin the moment you set foot, though, admittedly, there was none of that in the actual, relatively modern, classroom we sat in a rather faraway village of Wheatley. In fact, the campus was useful - to put things in perspective, compare and contrast, the modernity and the tradition, the professionalism and managerialism in education and the casual colloquy of intellectual life, the industry of education and the education industry.

So, this gave me the leading question that I needed - isn't all education inherently local and is it desirable, if indeed possible, to globalize education? Indeed, in this context, I am talking about 'education' as in educational institution, particularly the universities, rather than the general idea of education, which is inherently borderless.

I know this is a dumb question, counter-intuitive and all that. Dated, even, because the accepted wisdom is that everything should be - must be - globalized. The question is also undeniably linked to some fundamental definitions and understanding of the nature of universities. It is equally possible to say the concept of university education is fundamentally global, to be a man in the society, and in the context of interconnectedness, to be a man in the world. In other ways too, we all know people who earned summa cum laude in the university of hard knocks, and education for them is a contingent reality rather than the slow and situated experience in Oxford.

However, here is a contra point: We are somewhat enveloped by our surroundings, and our thoughts and enquiries are guided by them. And, those experiences are local, situated in the physical realities of the existence, rather than global, which exists in the realm of concepts. The flatness of the world, as experienced in the stand-out billboards carrying global brand names, adds a dimension to our experience but may not fundamentally alter who we are and what we think. And, if we consider education either as a way of being ourselves, or as a person of the society, the local contexts override the feeling of globality. As it will do, inside a classroom, the teacher and his sense of [or lack of] humour, the other learners and the collaborative context - that's what counts as the education experience. The label does not matter at this level.

So, back to my favourite subject - Oxford in Lavasa, or whatever - what horror! That indeed is narrowing down the university as a sort of a production process, which can be carried around, exported and imported, and if so, presumably can be consumed. It will be interesting to ask questions like whether an University of Lavasa will be better in Lavasa.

Too many businessmen, and there is a surplus of them in the education sector these days, see universities as buildings and a collection of eccentric people who do not understand business. I spoke about the reductive power of money in the context of immigrant experience, and it is equally true for education: Oxford as a label can indeed be stuck on a set of oddly designed buildings in Lavasa and that may indeed drive the property value upwards. But that does nothing to transpose the educational experience: To be fair, it creates a different experience which is best taken as it is.

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