Globalisation or market domination?

Stories by S. INDRAMALAR

A POPULAR issue that kept cropping up in many of the sessions at the World Education Market 2003 was globalisation and its effects on education. Whether in the conference programme, the TV Forums or the Agora E-Village presentations, the emphasis on globalisation was obvious. Foreseeing this, a special interactive debate session titled Globalisation Issues and its Impact on Higher Education was scheduled in the conference programme.  

The organisers did well in selecting two speakers who not only knew the topic well but shared opposing views on the matter, thus providing for an interesting debate that incited much participation from the crowd.  

Speaking in favour of globalisation was Prof Michael Gibbons, the secretary-general of the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU), UK. Based on his academic background as well as his present function in the ACU, Prof Gibbons believes that no institution can afford not to be part of the globalisation process without the danger of being left on the wayside.  

His opponent (at least for the duration of the debate) Roberto Carneiro, on the other hand, cautioned participants against the ill effects of globalisation. As Portugal's former Education Minister, Carneiro, who is presently president of Grupo Forum, a publishing house in Portugal, emphasised that he was not knocking globalisation indiscriminately, but was merely calling for a “balanced globalisation”.  

His views were representative of the developing nations who saw globalisation as a threat – either as a cloak for market domination by the developed world or a sure fire way to make education and nations monolingual and devoid of cultural diversity. 

Moderated by Canadian journalist Paul Stacy, the session addressed many aspects of globalisation and prompted many a private discussion among clusters of participants outside the conference hall. Below are the excerpts of the debate, with some of the more salient points.  


What is globalisation? 

Prof Michael Gibbons: Globalisation is now a buzzword (used in the education world) but no one knows what it means exactly. In my view, globalisation is an extension of the ongoing process of industrialisation that has been going on for a very long time; only now, the number of participants is just growing. I am definitely very pro-globalisation and I believe it is not something that any institution can afford not to participate in. 

An important transformation that has taken place because of globalisation is the change in what it means to do good quality teaching. Teachers can no longer sit back with a cabinet of big wonderful ideas that will be passed on year after year. 

Now, it’s all about research-based learning -- in terms of the methodology, psychological perimeters, evaluation testing, etc. No one in the universities does this. 

Roberto Carneiro: I am fully aware that I am outnumbered, as there is this overwhelming WEM trend towards globalisation. I am not against globalisation but call for a cautioned globalisation -- a balance. Globalisation undoubtedly affects people from all walks of life and like anything else, it has its good and bad points. What we need is a balance. 

We need to ask ourselves a few questions.  

Firstly, is education for public or private good? Our common aspiration seems to be moving away from an industrial delivery of education. We must shift from (looking at) education as an industry to education as a service. Education is not solely about knowledge but about human relationships, etc. 

Next question: can the increasing treatment of knowledge goods as commodity address and encourage diversity in the world, that is, can a multicultural society find appropriate education support in an increasingly standardised and uniformed provision of education?  

Also, technology and markets convey efficiency. But are we comfortable having efficiency as the overriding quality of education? How can we address the divide between countries that are tech savvy and those that are not?  

Are there any other paths or is this the only scenario we can conceive of? 

Is there freedom of choice on the path we want to take or do we all have to walk on the same global and technology savvy path? 

Impact on communities 

Gibbons: We have to keep in mind that globalisation is a diversity generating process. Some may believe globalisation creates cultural homogeneity but that’s not what globalisation is all about. It is diversity creating.  

Globalisation has also, for the first time made it imperative for a course to include the cultural context in which it is taught. It is nothing short of a standoff to look at education as it is being offered around the world -- something that, for instance, came straight out of Cambridge university is copied around the world. Globalisation will put pressure and force teachers to change the way they behave.  

What we have had till recently was cultural imperialism. Look at me ? I am a survivor of the highest rank. I am a Canadian but studied from a British textbook from a French tutor! The pressures of globalisation, which relies on differences, will make imperialism impossible.  

Carneiro: Let me put it like this. There is opposition that is called for and can be healthy. I am not against globalisation but only development that does not cater for diversity. 

The realm of education is human-to-human relationship which should not be substituted with a human-machine relationship or even a distant relationship. 

There is a lot of e-learning in the world but ultimately there will have to be a good mix and the hi-tech should not replace hi-touch. 


Public or private good?  

Gibbons: The question on whether education is for private or public good is a very profound one and is increasingly coming under close scrutiny. The more deeply engaged universities are with their societies, the more socially responsible they become. Look at universities today – every academic has set up a little consultancy or something because the pay is bad. People say this practice (academics starting independent consultancies outside) is not good as it is against the good of the university. However, how can doing more research, albeit outside the university, be bad? What is bad is if academics were stuck in the same place. If universities don't work closely with industry or look at the market they will definitely be stuck in a rut.  

Therefore, to answer the question on whether universities are for public or private good – the answer is both. The private sector more than anything else needs universities’ constant niggling and you can't do that by being backbenchers. 


TV and music 

Carneiro: If you look at what has happened with TV and music, it will contradict what Michael has just said because in these two areas we can clearly see an overwhelming American presence all over the world. 

While edutainment has made learning fun and children more proactive, it could turn out a massive development of products from the more developed world. There is also language imperialism because everything is in English and the globalisation trend will not cure this trend of monolingualism. 

Gibbons: This is not true. In terms of language, globalisation will produce products that are more language sensitive and good courses will be offered in various languages. As they say, 'the taste of good scotch or whiskey is in the blend'. That is what we are talking about ? a blend. 

Carneiro: But there are examples showing otherwise, for instance, lessons in Macedonia are taught in English, with the material all in English. 

Participant from Romania: For us, 10 years ago, 90% of the population spoke Romanian, English and German but now, 95% speak English. 

Gibbons: Globalisation is regulated, maybe not enough.  

Carneiro: I do not believe in the “nation state”. All markets have to undergo some form of regulation but this should be publicly elected. We have been very much inventing a mass education system but not a mass learning system that recognises every school and does not oppress schools and students with one system of learning. Perhaps we can only dream of a system that is balanced.  

Gibbons: Globalisation is going to produce the resources we need for continuous education and life long learning. It is a continuous process of upgrading one's skills and experiences. It is essential if not to force developing countries down the path we have. If they cannot afford it, globalisation will provide other ways to go about it. 

Carneiro: In the beginning of this session, I thought I would be representing the minority but my minority has caused some reverberations here. Education is primarily a local market and the global market makes sense if it is built from many local markets.  

My dream is that we overcome this 'clockwork orange' of mass education systems and that the kind of education that will come out of this age will be as Michael promised, value based built on cultural beliefs. 

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