Saturday, December 07, 2013

The Shape of Global Education: Searching for An Alternative Model

The current model of Higher Education is inherently local. 

Indeed, the credentialing system, the degrees, are conferred under authority from national or regional authorities, and are primarily set in context of the local schooling system. The sensibilities are rooted in the local connections, interests and priorities of the faculty. 

The growth of Global Higher Education, both of mobile students and virtual instruction, is a narrative of exporting one country's, or region's, knowledge, values and ideas to another. This indeed is problematic if the nature of work for the learner is local. This is the cautionary tale of the Foreign Educated who works in the inside economies of the countries, FMCG, Retail, Insurance, Logistics, Banking sectors etc., but are dismissive or contemptuous of the norms and practices and live in a futile pursuit of doing things in a 'better' way. But it is equally problematic for those whose work is global, in the trades and practices of service industries, be it developing an app or taking a global brand to inside markets, because the rooted sensibilities of a certain better way may come to prevent the understanding of the moving contexts that must accompany such work.

Indeed, one can take the view that global culture is an illusion, and even CNN or MTV are really export mechanisms of a certain dominant culture, but this will be to deny the hybrid cultures emerging across the world. The local refuses to die, and even solidify with prosperity and contact with outside, but the emergent local sensibilities, both in desires and values, consumption as well as production, are not the same as the 'traditional local', the way things used to be. And, indeed, this understanding - that there is no 'global culture' but 'global cultures' - is the key not just to global work but the success formula even in local work and contexts.

Emergence of such cultures present not one but two challenges for education. First, to be successful in the work contexts, which would, in one way or the other, but almost invariably be rooted in this hybridity, one needs an understanding quite different from the imperious assumptions rooted in most of the export-brand education systems of the world. The hybrid, 'global' cultures of work is not just about dominant cultures changing a traditional one, but in this age of ascendant individual creativity and expression, it is a dynamic that works both ways. At a very generalised level, this means shifting our focus from the mechanics of transmission - how one culture affects the other - to the underlying architecture of participation - how individuals pragmatically drawing on the contexts and cultures to create, enable and advance their own lives. This, however, remains a foreign context in education, which is still rooted in knowing than participating. In fact, rather paradoxically, the suggested cure, the other fashionable view that knowledge does no longer matter in education, overlooks and undermines the participation, and promotes instead the hegemony of practice, obscuring, rather inadvertently, the power and the possibilities of individual creation of knowledge and ability to shape the practices through participation.

Second, indeed, is the challenge in terms of values and the great temptation of indulging in relativism at the time of emergent hybridity. But this is not necessary: That even deep values stand on certain assumptions about life can be an useful starting point for any good education, and the process of education may, at its core, involve challenging and reaffirming these values (not all, but some that may indeed be reaffirmed). Indeed, one may call the process of coming to terms with oneself the core of education, the sense of being/becoming that educators root their practices on. This is both different from teaching 'better' cultures, and the unashamed fetish with change, that nothing must hold at the time of progress. For the learner, this is about developing 'global dexterity', as some commentators call it, a system of rooted, examined values, which may then inform practice and participation in hybrid and morphing contexts. Again, the current attempts to change education practices through technology often run counter with this aim, because most such endeavours work as handmaidens of education transmission, and not a purveyor of examining beliefs. 

So, here is the challenge: We are at a vantage point of experiencing rapid transformation of cultures and emergent hybridity. This makes local work globally sensitive, and global work locally influenced. The education system we have, which is essentially locally grounded even when transmitted across borders, fails to meet the twin challenges of such a world: Its transmission ethic come in the way of understanding pragmatic participation, and at the same time, the approaches to globalism become either patronising or relativistic. The current attempts to change the education system for the global age, the emergent global cultures, often reinforce the tendencies that may be most antithetical to global participation: The commitment to a given practice undermine the possibility of participation, and the notions of progress often indulge in rootlessness. In conclusion, 'global' education today represent the culture of global capital, transmitted from the centre to periphery and a celebration of relativism.

However, this does not have to be. The underlying architecture of participation, facilitated by the same technologies, possibilities and connections that the above-mentioned brand of global education rely on, creates the possibility of a new global education, which could be constructed to be locally responsive and participative. It can be based on a new epistemology, one where rules of the game are set by participation rather than transmission, a global wiki-education of sorts responsive to generative hybridity. At the same time, this may also represent the educators' finest moment, a chance to bring about reaffirmation of values and restoring it to its centrality again in the great scheme of education. This global education may be less global in performance but responsive to the possibilities of change, empowering for individuals and located in the deep values that make us human.    

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