Thursday, October 30, 2014

Studying Global Education

I study global education. 

However, I am not one of those who are studying transnational education and the rise and fall of international student mobility. Or, for that matter, not one who believe that the world has become truly flat and the phenomenon global education is about the creation of huge global multinational educational institution(s). 

For me, the study of global education is the quest for an idea, a study in the tension between the idea of unity of all human knowledge and the essentially local nature of all human activities. In a way, my obsession with global education reflects an interest in direct opposition to the globalisers: I use education as a sector where the global-local tension is perhaps the most prominent, and I want to learn the underlying intellectual history of the idea of global education.

This, I acknowledge, means many things, but I believe the essentially technocratic obsession with the 'tools' of global education - institutional partnership, branch campuses, student mobility - is informed by an implicit post-imperial view of the world, the assumption that knowledge is still created in the metropolitan centres and disseminated in the post-colonial societies through these tools, and fails to interrogate sufficiently what global education might be for. And, by limiting itself to this simplistic structure of production and distribution, such discussion fails to see the dynamics of desire as created in these societies, the power equations that such education sustains and consequently the resentment it stirs. 

The celebratory views about transnational businesses in education are equally motivated. Coming out of the global education consultancies, who stand to gain when investments are made in internationalising education, the rallying call for this camp is for dismantling the regulatory barriers that exist in different countries. The proponents of this view, guided by own interests, seek to gloss over many inconvenient facts, such as the apparently burdensome legislative barriers may actually be doing a good job of protecting students and taxpayers from predatory practices, and project only a simplistic view affirming the superiority of metropolitan centres in producing knowledge. Again, the tone of these discussions is mostly technocratic today, limited to the mechanics of global brand expansions, disregarding any nuanced analysis of the impact on the host societies.

My interests are, however, exactly that - what impact does 'global' education have on the host societies? This is closer to the discourse on globalisation itself, indeed, and if we stay within the same paradigm, this will mean some of the host societies becoming overwhelmed by those metropolitan centres of the world who have 'comparative advantages' in knowledge production, save for the regulatory barriers. And, would that be desirable? Or, is the empirical case really the opposite, that the regulatory barriers impoverish, rather than protect, a country's educational system, as the globalisers claim?

Overlapping this discussion around the impact of globalisation, there is the question of the nature of knowledge. We have come to accept, at least for now, that knowledge grows through connecting rather than protecting, and therefore, those barriers should hamper knowledge creation in host societies. However, the empirical case may point to the opposite: That the fetish about the knowledge coming from the developed world hampers, not helps, the independent inquiry in many societies. In fact, this seems to happen more in the societies which has embraced English language, the language of global expansion of education, than those which stayed outside it, but that is perhaps further proof of impoverishment of knowledge activities through connecting.

Further, the final element in my thinking is about the human agency, or the human subversiveness as one may call this, that the students create their own path to knowledge anyway regardless of what the institutional climate may be. That opening up to global education will or will not improve the knowledge climate in a society is somewhat limited discussion because this is informed by a view of the world that ignores any role that the student may play, with or without the aid of information technology. In a society where global education may be prohibited, the student may access global information sources through the Internet; on the other hand, the students' local experience may be intensive enough to keep him interested in local lives and cultures. One is tempted to think that this may even open up along the disciplinary boundaries - scientific and technical disciplines being of the footloose variety and the humanities more connected - but that too is perhaps too prescriptive a view and undermines the students' agency.

So, in summary, I study the culture of global education. My work puts me in the middle of the discussion about global education. However, my questions about the nature of knowledge - is it really a commodity produced at great cost only to be afforded by the developed countries - and a sense of violation - that such assumptions still relegate all other cultures, to one of which I belong, to an inferior status just as in Macaulay's ignorant quip about the Sanskrit and Arabic literature - make me continue to study global education from an independent standpoint from what I do. 

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