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The Place of Globalization Theory in Education System

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In popular discourse, globalization is often synonymous with internationalization, referring to the growing interconnectedness and interdependence of people and institutions throughout the world. Although these terms have elements in common, they have taken on technical meanings that distinguish them from each other and from common usage. Internationalization is the less theorized term. Globalization, by contrast, has come to denote the complexities of interconnectedness, and scholars have produced a large body of literature to explain what appear to be ineluctable worldwide influences on local settings and responses to those influences. Influences of global scale touch aspects of everyday life. For example, structural adjustment policies and international trading charters, such as the North American Free Trade Association (NAFTA) and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), reduce barriers to commerce, ostensibly promote jobs, and reduce the price of goods to consumers across nations.

Yet they also shift support from “old” industries to newer ones, creating dislocations and forcing some workers out of jobs, and have provoked large and even violent demonstrations in several countries. The spread of democracy, too, is part of globalization, giving more people access to the political processes that affect their lives, but also, in many places, concealing deeply rooted socioeconomic inequities as well as areas of policy over which very few individuals have a voice. Even organized international terrorism bred by Islamic fanaticism may be viewed as an oppositional reaction–an effort at deglobalization–to the pervasiveness of Western capitalism and secularism associated with globalization. Influences of globalization are multi-dimensional, having large social, economic, and political implications. A massive spread of education and of Western-oriented norms of learning at all levels in the twentieth century and the consequences of widely available schooling are a large part of the globalization process. With regard to the role of schools, globalization has become a major topic of study, especially in the field of comparative education, which applies historiographic and social scientific theories and methods to international issues of education.

Globalization Theory

Globalization is both a process and a theory. Roland Robertson, with whom globalization theory is most closely associated, views globalization as an accelerated compression of the contemporary world and the intensification of consciousness of the world as a singular entity. Compression makes the world a single place by virtue of the power of a set of globally diffused ideas that render the uniqueness of societal and ethnic identities and traditions irrelevant except within local contexts and in scholarly discourse. The notion of the world community being transformed into a global village, as introduced in 1960 by Marshall McLuhan in an influential book about the newly shared experience of mass media, was likely the first expression of the contemporary concept of globalization. Despite its entry into the common lexicon in the 1960s, globalization was not recognized as a significant concept until the 1980s, when the complexity and multidimensionality of the process began to be examined. Prior to the 1980s, accounts of globalization focused on a professed tendency of societies to converge in becoming modern, described initially by Clark Kerr and colleagues as the emergence of industrial man.

Although the theory of globalization is relatively new, the process is not. History is witness to many globalizing tendencies involving grand alliances of nations and dynasties and the unification of previously sequestered territories under such empires as Rome, Austria-Hungary, and Britain, but also such events as the widespread acceptance of germ theory and heliocentricism, the rise of transnational agencies concerned with regulation and communication, and an increasingly unified conceptualization of human rights. What makes globalization distinct in contemporary life is the broad reach and multidimensionality of interdependence, reflected initially in the monitored set of relations among nation-states that arose in the wake of World War I. It is a process that before the 1980s was akin to modernization, until modernization as a concept of linear progression from traditional to developing to developed–or from Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft as expressed by Ferdinand Toennies–forms of society became viewed as too simplistic and unidimensional to explain contemporary changes. Modernization theory emphasized the functional significance of the Protestant ethic in the evolution of modern societies, as affected by such objectively measured attributes as education, occupation, and wealth in stimulating a disciplined orientation to work and political participation.

The main difficulty with modernization theory was its focus on changes within societies or nations and comparisons between them–with Western societies as their main reference points–to the neglect of the interconnectedness among them, and, indeed, their interdependence and the role played by non-Western countries in the development of the West. Immanuel Wallerstein was among the earliest and most influential scholars to show the weaknesses of modernization theory. He developed world system theory to explain how the world had expanded through an ordered pattern of relationships among societies driven by a capitalistic system of economic exchange. Contrary to the emphasis on linear development in modernization theory, Wallerstein demonstrated how wealthy and poor societies were locked together within a world system, advancing their relative economic advantages and disadvantages that carried over into politics and culture. Although globalization theory is broader, more variegated in its emphasis on the transnational spread of knowledge, and generally less deterministic in regard to the role of economics, world system theory was critical in shaping its development.

The Role of EducationAs the major formal agency for conveying knowledge, the school features prominently in the process and theory of globalization. Early examples of educational globalization include the spread of global religions, especially Islam and Christianity, and colonialism, which often disrupted and displaced indigenous forms of schooling throughout much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Postcolonial globalizing influences of education have taken on more subtle shapes. In globalization, it is not simply the ties of economic exchange and political agreement that bind nations and societies, but also the shared consciousness of being part of a global system. That consciousness is conveyed through ever larger transnational movements of people and an array of different media, but most systematically through formal education.

The inexorable transformation of consciousness brought on by globalization alters the content and contours of education, as schools take on an increasingly important role in the process. Structural adjustment policies. Much of the focus on the role of education in globalization has been in terms of the structural adjustment policies of the World Bank and other international lending organizations in low-income countries. These organizations push cuts in government expenditures, liberalization of trade practices, currency devaluations, reductions of price controls, shifts toward production for export, and user charges for and privatization of public services such as education.

Consequently, change is increasingly driven largely by financial forces, government reliance on foreign capital to finance economic growth, and market ideology.

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