Reimagining Globalisation and Education
The past few years have witnessed the rise of a strident form of nationalism around the world. This has clearly been evident in the unexpected electoral victory of Donald Trump and the Brexit vote; but also in the nationalist political tides in countries as diverse as Philippines, Turkey and India.
To explain the global rise of this nationalism, many commentators have pointed to the idea of globalisation itself. They have argued that this historical shift represents a major backlash against the various forms and effects of globalisation, and that ordinary people no longer believe in what they now regard as its false promises.
What implications does this anti-globalisation sentiment have for the internationalisation agenda to which many systems of education are now committed? In what ways do they now need to re-imagine the relationship between globalisation and education? How might we now need to rethink the ideas of global learning and global citizenship education?
It is of course no longer possible to deny the contention that recent global transformations have resulted in much economic anxiety, social unrest and political angst. Recent economic shifts are at least in part responsible for unsustainable and unacceptable levels of inequality, both within and across national borders.
Politically, globalisation has spawned a new world order in which power is in the hands of a transnational elite. The rise of transnational corporations and the influence of intergovernmental organisations have squeezed out the democratic voices of citizens within their own communities. It has led to a democratic deficit.
And, culturally, a growing number of people believe that cross-border migration, encouraged by global economic processes, has unsettled the deeply held values and traditions that had given them and their communities a sense of meaning and purpose. Distrust of migrants and refugees has increased markedly.
These voices of discontent are clearly linked to the uneven distribution of opportunities resulting from globalisation. While in some countries, such as China and Korea, it has created new opportunities in others it has exasperated social inequalities. Even in those countries that have benefitted from it, gaps in people’s life chances have widened.
In Europe and the United States, both the industrial cities and rural areas have carried much of the burden of global economic transformations. Job security has vanished, forcing people to move to places where the new jobs might be, away from their communities. They have had to retrain for new jobs, but lifelong learning is often privatised and requires an investment that many are not able to afford.
There is a growing realisation that the issues of environmental sustainability and global peace cannot be adequately addressed without acknowledging the ontological realities of ‘one world’
At the same time, welfare provisions have been cut. Governments have increasingly objected to them on ideological grounds. They have argued that state subsidies and programmes encourage inefficiencies, making people dependent on handouts. A relentless ideological campaign has celebrated the logic of the markets, suggesting that each individual should be, responsible for his or her own future.
It is these sentiments – some justified others exaggerated or false – that have arguably given rise to a class of people whom the sociologist Guy Standing aptly calls the ‘precariat’, an agglomerate of several different social groups that include young educated but underemployed people, those who fear losing their cultural privileges, and those who have fallen out of the old-style industrial working class.
This new class of people is not only worried about job insecurity but is also concerned about loss of cultural identity, and especially its long-established cultural privileges. Not surprisingly therefore it is susceptible to the siren calls of political extremism, including those enunciated by expedient politicians who are not reluctant to stoke the fear of immigrants, refugees, indigenous peoples and other vulnerable groups.
In the context of these developments, ethno-nationalism’s appeal is perfectly understandable. But is it justified? To what extent is globalisation responsible for the economic, political and cultural conditions that have exasperated social inequalities? And is it possible to abandon globalisation in favour of a nationalism that can bring back prosperity and cultural certainties?
These are profound questions, of deep relevance to educational policy and practice. This is so because education is simultaneously about the present and the future: about how things are and should be. In a world characterised increasingly by cynicism, distrust and pessimism, educators face the challenging task of helping young people to understand the sources of their confusions and discontents, and imagine the possibilities of a better future.
This pedagogic task clearly demands an appreciation of how global interconnectivity may not in fact be the main source of the contemporary problems, but the ways in which it is interpreted and articulated; how a particular way of thinking about it has been grounded into our popular imaginary; and how many of our major institutions have been re-shaped in line with its ideological assumptions.
Collectively these assumptions are widely referred to as ‘neoliberalism’. Neoliberalism assumes that a society is best imagined as a sum of individuals, each pursuing their own self-interest. It rests on a belief that the public sector is necessarily inefficient and presents a barrier to individual freedom, economic productivity and national development. It suggests therefore transferring the control of public institutions to the private sector, opening them up to global competition.
Most communities have already been transformed by the global flows of people. Cultural diversity, exchange and hybridity have become a fact of life . . . and cannot simply be wished away.
In this way, the ideas of globalisation and neoliberalism are viewed as inextricably linked. However, recent nationalist movements do not view globalisation in economic terms only, but more seriously as a major source of cultural concerns. They thus present a most diffused and often contradictory account of globalisation. Perhaps their success lies in their ability to bring under one ideological umbrella a range of conflicting ideas, political interests and cultural prejudices.
What they fail to consider however is that it is the automation of work and the privatisation and corporatisation of institutions that might have arguably contributed more to the economic distress of the precariat than the facts of global mobility and exchange. If social inequalities are not inherently an outcome of the global flows of people then it is perfectly possible that their causes lie in the excesses of the global corporations and the transnational elite.
In recent decades, the neoliberal reading of globalisation has involved the contention that globalisation is a force to which there are no alternatives. Accepting the neoliberal logic, nations around the world have accordingly reconstituted their major institutions, including education. In the process however they have failed to manage the contradictions of the neoliberal logic of the markets, and also redistribute the benefits of global trade in a more inclusive manner.
Yet what is intriguing now is that while recent anti-globalisation rhetoric has been strong among the new nationalists around the world, they have not abandoned a commitment to neoliberalism. Indeed, under the Trump Presidency, neoliberal policies have been promoted with even greater vigour. In India, its neoliberal assumptions have driven the Modi Government to further open the Indian economy to global competition, even as its nationalist rhetoric has become stronger.
In the United States, private and charter schools have never been supported with greater conviction. The notion of public higher education has been undermined by the withdrawal of a great deal of state funding, especially for programmes that promote the equality of educational opportunity. The idea of individual self-reliance has become the key driver underpinning policy shifts.
These contradictions will of course play themselves out over the next decade or so. But it is hard to imagine national systems anywhere once again separating themselves totally from global forces and opportunities. There are some aspects of global interconnectivity that now appear ontologically fixed. Developments in information and communications technologies have, for example, rendered inevitable the global flows of ideas, images and ideologies. They have intensified transnational connectedness.
. . . the challenge facing education is not to reject the facts of global interconnectivity and exchange, but to redefine globalisation, beyond its neoliberal imaginary; to re-articulate the meaning of global interdependence
Most communities have already been transformed by the global flows of people. Cultural diversity, exchange and hybridity have become a fact of life in both America and Europe, and cannot simply be wished away. Economies have increasingly become service-oriented, with a growing recognition that such industries as tourism, education and retail rely invariably on global mobility and cultural exchange.
At the same time, there is now a deep awareness, especially among the young, that many of the most serious problems facing humanity are global, requiring collective action. Indeed there is a growing realisation that the issues of environmental sustainability and global peace cannot be adequately addressed without acknowledging the ontological realities of ‘one world’. In these and other ways, many aspects of globalisation are thus here to stay.
If this is so then the challenge facing education is not to reject the facts of global interconnectivity and exchange, but to redefine globalisation, beyond its neoliberal imaginary; to re-articulate the meaning of global interdependence. This meaning should not only refer to economic exchange but should also view interdependency as an opportunity to build a more just global community. This should be seen as a moral and political issue. It is also an educational issue, for it involves young people imagining their future, beyond the neoliberal terms in which economic, political and cultural exchange is currently defined.
Globalisation is not only about the material structures of power, but it also constitutes, and is constituted by, a particular way of interpreting and representing the world, a ‘common sense’. One of the unexpected benefits inherent in the rise of nationalism might yet be its unmasking of the ‘common sense’ generated by neoliberal social imaginary, in which education clearly has a role to play.
This unmasking should show students how the benefits of neoliberal globalisation are unevenly distributed and how it has disempowered many communities. Students need to recognise that in order to empower themselves and their communities, they need to develop a new common sense of globalisation that does not ignore the ontological realities of globalisation but interrogates further the neoliberal assumptions upon which its hegemonic understanding has been framed, as a way of better understanding the effects and discontents it has produced.
They need to explore ways of rescuing globalisation from the clutches of neoliberalism, and imagining a conception that is not wedded to its deeply ideological structures. At the same time, they need to be alerted to the risks associated with nativism, the dangerous form of ethno-nationalism that has in recent years been promoted widely by the popular media and is often exploited by expedient politicians.
The task of education is to show students how economic and cultural nationalisms are unlikely to deliver the economic and social benefits they promise. Instead they will intensify a cultural politics based on a permanent state of fear, resentment and conflict. The future of young people cannot be well served by such a politics.
Fazal Rizvi is a Professor of Global Studies in Education at the University of Melbourne, as well as an Emeritus Professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Fazal has written extensively on issues of identity and culture in transnational contexts, globalisation and education
policy and Australia-Asia relations. A collection of his essays is published in: Encountering Education in the Global: Selected Writings of Fazal Rizvi (Routledge 2014). Fazal is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Social Sciences, a past Editor of the journal, Discourse: Studies in Cultural Politics of Education, and past President of the Australian Association of Research in Education. He is a co-author of Class Choreographies: Elite Schools and Globalization (Palgrave 2017), and of a major report, Australia’s Asian Diaspora Advantage, produced for the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA 2016).