IntroductionAs survival in the global economy has come to dominate the political agenda around the world, unprecedented attention is being focused on education. The effect has been to increase ‘command and control’ policies from central governments and to neutralise the school as an independent and democratising institution. This book argues that the policy is based upon an economic theory that is fundamentally unsound and that is denying students the independent and flexible education that the future demands.
Chapter 1 - The Diminished SchoolThis chapter describes the effect of education policy in the second half of the twentieth century - from an era of confidence to one of uncertainty - from a time when the consensus in education has been replaced by an adversarial relationship between policy makers and practitioners. One major outcome has been the deprofessionalisation of teachers and a diminution in the function and potential of the school.
Chapter 2 - Economic Orthodoxy and Public PolicyThis chapter examines current economic assumptions and illustrates their political and social effects - including persistent poverty for the majority of the world's population and an increasing gap between rich and poor within the affluent West. It demonstrates that continued acceptance of the neo-liberal economic theories espoused by politicians and dominant elites constitutes a major obstacle to educational and social progress and argues for an alternative approach.
Chapter 3 - The Nation State, Globalism and DemocracyThis chapter describes how the new millennium will be marked by the continuing resurgence of nationalism set within increasing globalisation. There is an analysis of the nature of political and cultural nationalism and the influence of globalism on every aspect of contemporary life. It is asserted that the outcome of globalisation, including the loss of power of the nation state and the crisis over personal identity, poses critical problems to which there can be a dynamic response. However, educators must participate in the response if they are to address commercial and political manipulation and make an informed contribution to the maintenance of democracy.
Chapter 4 – Education and the Global FutureWhen almost one in five persons alive today is either a pupil or a teacher in a formal education institution, the global potential of the education service is immense. In industrialised countries, the attempt to mirror the market in terms of the education service has led to the use of simplistic data in the pursuit of a competitive ideology. International agencies such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund also export such models to developing countries. A new policy is proposed that places the school in the centre of the education process. It is one that is focused on education as a major force for democratic renewal and of critical debate about the main issues facing individuals.
Conclusion - The Reflexive SchoolIt is asserted that the capacity of people to cope with global, national and economic change is not dependent upon the imposition of detailed control by a centralised and ideologically united bureaucracy, but upon the encouragement of infinitely varied and dynamic institutions within the texture of society. The reflexive school, able to critically and reflectively review its own processes and practices, is the most universal and potentially the most influential of those institutions.
This monograph is about the attempt by some leading governments and by major international development agencies to deliberately neutralise the school as an independent and democratising institution. Political, social and cultural functions have been diminished at a time of unprecedented challenge from the forces of globalisation. As signs of global alienation and insecurity multiply, the growing pressure to control and limit education threatens to rob societies of a vital resource for sustaining democracy and for developing the creative and varied responses that will be called for in an increasingly uncertain future.
The received view is that a formal education system is fundamental to success and progress in the modern world. Economically it is charged with the main responsibility for ensuring the success of the nation state as it operates in a highly competitive world market. Politically, it is regarded as essential for the maintenance of an informed and participant democracy, and for the purposes of social control. Socially, education is expected to enable individuals to realise their potential and to live cooperatively and effectively in society. Culturally, it is concerned with what defines humanity, as well as with the idea of the nation.
In the latter part of the twentieth century, national governments have focused unprecedented attention on education, and public interest has never been stronger. However, as success in the global economy has come to be seen as vital for national survival, the economic purposes of the school have come to dominate the political agenda. In China and South East Asia, reform of the national education systems has been regarded as crucial to economic progress and in the former Soviet Union, fresh education policies have been seen as essential for the survival of the newly independent countries in the market-place. The World Bank, International Monetary Fund and UN Agencies increasingly insist that aid and loan packages to developing countries should be tied to the use of education for competitive participation in the global economy. In developed Western democracies, governments have come to see the school as primarily an instrument for economic success.
In China, South East Asia, Eastern Europe, and in many developing countries, the shift to an education policy dominated by economic criteria has been made by governments accustomed to a tradition of central control over schools and in many cases over higher education. However, advanced democracies have tended to regard independent educational institutions as an essential feature of a democratic society. Now, the new economic priorities have resulted in many more advanced democracies imposing external demands on educational institutions. The growing link between economic orthodoxy and political policy has resulted in the development of varied strategies for central control. While the trends have been evident in such countries as the USA, Australia, New Zealand, and the Provinces of Canada; it is the United Kingdom and, particularly England, that has emerged as the dominant international example of the transformation of an independent and professionally led education system into one that is dominated and controlled by a highly centralised government bureaucracy. The ‘control and command’ ideology is growing and the English experience has a powerful influence on education policy in other parts of the world.
Following the collapse of the Berlin Wall the great majority of individual governments around the world have been required to share the ideology of the free market and the associated belief in the abiding importance of competition. All are concerned to ensure that their populations have the necessary skills to meet the challenge of rapidly changing patterns of employment, but for some, the attempts to enforce the theory of the market economy on to the education system goes well beyond the encouragement of greater vocational relevance. There are signs that the common concern with market success will be expressed in an increasingly uniform approach to education, with governments reflecting the extreme policies that have emerged from some of the world’s leading economies. While the world has become increasingly unified by the pursuit of commercial success in the market-place, it has become even more separated by the rapidly growing gap between rich and poor at both global and national levels. The resulting marginalisation and the associated struggles for recognition and power, make it particularly important to explore the nature of the prevailing economic assumptions that are currently driving political policy towards education and other public services. An analysis of the underlying concept of free market economics shows that the pursuit of unbridled competition is theoretically unsound and particularly damaging when applied to education. The outcome in relation to many social institutions, especially the school, has been a profound loss of capacity to fulfil the political, social and cultural functions that have previously characterised their role in a democratic society.
Ironically, as governments attempt to assert greater control over education, many of the most vital aspects of future life for pupils now in school will be influenced by global rather than national factors. The advance of globalism greatly increases the pace of change and contingency in many aspects of life, and children facing the new millennium will need the intellectual and emotional capability to live securely in an age of unprecedented opportunity and risk. The conditions created by the advance of globalism lead to fresh opportunities for inclusion and participation, as well as to marginalisation and anomie. Above all, globalism has placed a premium on the enhancement of the individual’s sense of personal identity and the capacity for creative response. The achievement of such an outcome requires the encouragement of independent and self-confident educational institutions in the maelstrom of the globalised economy and the politics of late modernism.
Therefore, the sustained attempt by some national governments to control the education system and limit the independence of the schools is deeply mistaken. Only the most flexible and democratic response by decentralised and revitalised schools is likely to provide students with the education the future demands. Schools need the opportunity to critically and reflectively review their teaching and the achievements of their students. To do so, they need to be set broad objectives and the independence and freedom to pursue them. Internationally, this amounts to the encouragement of the practice of reflexiveness in the setting of participant democracy. It is such an approach that will best enable schools to educate for the global future.