The Guardian September 20, 2000


Globalised "education market"

As the various community groups and trade unions focus on the meetings 
of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Melbourne and IMF/World Bank in 
Prague, JOHN McCOLLOW, a research officer with the Queensland Teachers' 
Union, raises some questions about the implications of globalisation for 
education.

The WEF consists of the heads of the world's top 1000 corporations and 
(carefully) selected politicians and academics.

Like the WTO, it promotes the global adoption of neo-liberal economic and 
political policies that increase the power of multi-national corporations.

The debate about the neo-liberal version of globalisation has centred on 
"free trade" (unrestrained, open markets) versus "fair trade" (linking 
trade to certain social, labour and environmental standards).

It is important for teachers to appreciate the direct and indirect effects 
of globalisation (of the type being fostered by groups such as the WTO and 
WEF) on schools and education generally.

What are these effects?

Restraint and indeed cutbacks in government funding for education under the 
rubric of fiscal responsibility have clearly had an effect on educational 
provision.

The link between these fiscal policies and the purported need to be 
economically competitive in the global market is explicit. In the recent 
Queensland Budget papers, for example, much was made of the absolute 
necessity of maintaining Queensland's "triple A" credit rating.

Thus we have the context within which decisions about educational provision 
are made being set, not by elected government but by a private credit 
rating agency.

The philosophy of neo-liberalism or economic rationalism being fostered by 
the WEF has been so successfully promulgated that it is now seen as 
desirable that schools themselves be subjected to the forces of the market.

Under the rationale of "enhancing parent choice" schools are encouraged to 
compete with each other for market share.

Schools expend considerable time and energy developing and implementing 
marketing strategies and parents are bombarded with promotional materials.

As a means of both promoting competition and reducing government 
expenditure, the Commonwealth Government has been actively encouraging the 
expansion of private schooling.

The Government argues that by fostering parental choice it will force 
schools to lift their games and provide better quality education.

Parental and community concerns about the quality of schooling are thus no 
longer to be pursued via the mechanism of public debate but by the 
mechanism of consumer demand.

Schools are seen as offering a commodified service to consumers much in the 
same way as any private, for-profit organisation. Schooling is now seen as 
a commodity.

The voice of teachers is silenced, the voice of "industry" cultivated and 
education policy is driven by market forces.

As Professor Simon Marginson of Monash University points out, treating 
education as a commodity profoundly undermines the ideal of universal 
provision of high quality education because unequal distribution of 
benefits is required in a market.

Furthermore, "the dominance of neo-liberalism in public policy has led to 
an under-recognition of the long-term public good contribution of public 
education to the provision of an educated workforce, literacy, democracy 
and public culture".

In the United States, private corporations themselves have become involved 
in schooling, not through any philanthropic motive, but to make a buck 
through sponsorship and marketing deals.

Students whose schools subscribe to the privately owned Channel One 
educational network are required to view television commercials 
presented along with educational programs by the network's sponsors.

Some schools have signed deals with soft drink companies that include a 
clause that requires school teachers to encourage students to drink the 
particular brand of soft drink".

In other American communities, private, for-profit organisations have taken 
over schooling systems.

Teachers may be surprised to learn that the General Agreement on Trade in 
Services (GATS) applies to education.

This means that Australia could be compelled to allow private, multi-
national education corporations to compete with government and private 
schools and give them the same subsidies that private schools receive, on 
pain of penalties and trade retribution.

Recent years have seen a move to devolved managerialist leadership styles 
in schools to make school organisation more attuned to market demands.

This has been accompanied by enhanced central accountability and 
surveillance regimes, in particular the growth of standardised testing.

Recent years have also seen the elevation of the instrumental and 
vocational dimensions of education consistent with the idea that the 
economic dimensions of schooling are the most important.

The narrowing of the curriculum due to standardised testing and 
vocationalism has left less space fro critical analysis of social, 
cultural, political and economic issues. The recent disgraceful and 
sustained attack by The Courier-Mail on the Study of Society and the 
Environment syllabus is an example of how efforts to promote a socially 
critical approach to teaching are being undermined.

The attack on socially critical approaches is assisted by the creation of 
manufactured crises around issues such as literacy and numeracy and 
curriculum standards.

This is not to say there are not real problems to be addressed in our 
schools. It is to say that these crises are defined in such a way that 
greater testing and greater emphasis on instrumental purposes of education 
are seen as the only solutions to these problems.

All is not lost however.

While schools are less important today than 20 to 50 years ago in social, 
and cultural formation of children (due to the influences of mass media, 
the internet, etc), they are still important.

What's more they are one of the few agencies of social and cultural 
formation not directly controlled by capital.

Teachers still have the capacity to challenge the ideology of economic 
rationalism and foster socially critical views amongst their students.

A recent book, Teachers' Work in a Globalising Economy by Professor 
John Smyth and his colleagues at Flinders University provides some useful 
ideas on how this can be done.

Groups such as the WTO and WEF portray globalisation as an irresistible 
force that can only take a neo-liberal form. But globalisation also 
provides opportunities for international understanding and solidarity.

In preparing this article, for example, I made use of a website devoted to 
addressing social justice issues in education created by teachers in 
Milwaukee, Wisconsin (Rethinking Schools, 
www.rethinkingschools.org).

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Queensland Teachers' Journal

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