13 January, 2009

School Education and Globalisation – Problems and Prospects

By C. Radhakrishnan
A paper submitted & presented at Vidyodaya Institute of Education and Management, Cochin for Award for Excellence in Teaching - 2008 (Final Round)


Globalisation is no more a recent phenomenon in the world's socio-economic system. In popular discourse, it is often synonymous with internationalisation, referring to the growing interconnectedness and interdependence of people and institutions throughout the world. Influences of a global scale touch aspects of everyday life. For example, the spread of democracy as 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. Influences of globalisation 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 at present and the consequences of widely available schooling are a large part of the globalisation process. With regard to the role of schools, globalisation has become a major topic of study.

The Role of Education
As the major formal agency for conveying knowledge, the school features prominently in the process and theory of globalisation. In globalisation, 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 globalisation alters the content and contours of education, as schools take on an increasingly important role in the process.

Indian Perspective
The impact of globalisation has been uneven and responses to it are varied in terms of its positive and negative dimensions the world over. While it has speeded up the pace of development in some areas, it has led to certain absurdities in others. Therefore, it is necessary that steps should be taken to reduce, if not remove, its baneful fall out. Globalisation has a multi-dimensional impact on the system of education. It has underlined the need for reforms in the educational system with particular reference to the wider utilisation of information technology, giving productivity dimension to education and emphasis on its research and development activities.

Education is an important investment in building human capital that is a driver for technological innovation and economic growth. It is only through improving the educational status of a society that the multi-faceted development of its people can be ensured. In the post-industrialised world, the advanced countries used to derive the major proportion of their national income not from agriculture and industry but from the service sector. Since the service sector is based on imparting skills or training to the students and youth, the education sector is the most sought after. It must provide gainful employment so that the sector is developed in a big way. It has advocated privatisation of school and college education without realising the danger of making the system a commercial enterprise.

Market driven schooling:
Much of the focus on the role of school education in globalisation has been in terms of the structural adjustment policies of the World Bank and other international lending organisations in developing countries like India. These organisations push cuts in government expenditures and user charges for and privatisation of public services such as education. Consequently, changes in schooling are increasingly driven largely by financial forces and gradually school education gets neglected in the government sector.

In regard to schools, these market driven policies apparently reduce public bureaucracies that obstruct the delivery of more and better education. By reducing wasteful expenditures and increasing responsiveness to demand, these policies promote schooling more efficiently. However, this policy denies standard schooling for millions of students in our country and widens the social gap between English educated with others. The question we have to ponder again and again is; for how many children is it possible to afford costly CBSE, ICSE, IB or IGCSE schooling?


As part of the globalisation process, the spread of education is widely viewed as contributing to democratisation throughout the world. Schools prepare people for participation in the economy and polity, giving them the knowledge to make responsible judgments, the motivation to make appropriate contributions to the well being of society, and a consciousness about the consequences of their behaviour. Along with mass provision of schools, technological advances have permitted distance education to convey modern concepts to the extreme margins of society, exposing new regions and populations to knowledge generated by culturally dominant groups and helping to absorb them into the consumer society.

A policy of using schools as part of the democratisation process often accompanies structural adjustment measures. However, encouraging user fees to help finance schooling has meant a reduced ability of people in some economically backward areas in our country and of the world to buy books and school materials and even attend school, thus enlarging the gap between rich and poor and impeding democracy. Even in areas displaying a rise in educational participation, observers have reported a reduction in civic participation. Increased privatisation of education in the name of capitalist democratisation could invite greater participation of corporate entities, with the prospect of commercialising schools and reducing their service on behalf of the public interest.

Ground Realities: Sadly, the Human Development Report of UNDP indicates that India had the largest national population of illiterates in the world. Even the Article 45 of the Indian Constitution that promised for free and compulsory education within the first decade of our Independence, achieved very little, partly due to its non-judicial character. The simple calculations of free and compulsory education were never gone into though all realized that the total cost would be enormous. Obviously, the Indian Education Commission (1964-66) under the leadership of D. S. Kothari and J. P. Naik as the Chairman and Member-Secretary that laid the foundation of post-Independent India’s national education policy. Thus, the Commission had recommended that 6%, as against 3%, of the national income be allotted as government expenditure on education.

Decades of under-investment in education have created shocking shortages of quality teachers, buildings, laboratories, libraries, sanitary facilities and even drinking water and sanitation facilities in the nation’s decaying school education sector. Though the finance minister cites shortage of investible resources for implementing the 6 percent proposal, it is common knowledge that given political will, additional resources can be deployed into education only by trimming non-merit subsidies to the middle class, and reducing defence expenditure. In the final analysis a national consensus has to be built immediately by the Union ministry on the premise that school and higher education outlays are important investments in the nation’s future. Besides, the emerging political consensus that seeks to reform India’s traditional education, based on mere memorization rather than development of problem-solving and conflict-resolution skills requires immediate attention in the current globalised world.

Recent Trends:
In the wake of globalisation process and to cope up with the changing priorities of the people, the planners are bound to revise their strategies in the education sector. Thus, several specialist committees, involving the elites and captains of industry and education, constituted by the Union ministry are engaged in the process. Whereas, the public interest demands a wider domain for the national debate on syllabus and curriculum reform among other related aspects. The common educational reforms that were endorsed by some of the eminent industrialists and academics include:

Liberalise and deregulate the education system to encourage promotion of new schools and decentralize syllabus design. Central and state governments should change their roles within the education system, re-inventing themselves as facilitating and supervisory organisations. Teacher training, infrastructure and syllabuses need to be urgently upgraded.

Further, because of strong hold of the English language in MNCs and corporate circles, the divide between rural and urban is almost complete in the field of education. In consequence, this great reservoir of skills and expertise offers the opportunity to utilize them for the spread of quality education through several technologies. Again the pace is set by a variety of private ‘educational entrepreneurs’, otherwise known as, ‘edupreneurs’, who have promoted internationally recognized schools such as the Ambani International, Mumbai; Indus International, Bangalore; Birla Schools; Park-wood International, among others. Besides, some Indian ‘edupreneur’ are venturing overseas. These are all certain recent trends that undermine the very social obligations of our governments.

Initiatives of Central Government:
This urgent flood of activity within the existing lethargic education sector has ensured that the vital importance of qualitative education has permeated down to the lowest income groups across the country. Incidentally it was Rajiv Gandhi who was instrumental in laying the foundations of a scheme known as the Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas. Simultaneously it has focused public attention upon hitherto mysterious subjects such as syllabus design and curriculum development and shifted national attention from ritual to really quality education. Suddenly mere degrees are not as important as skills that school leavers and college graduates must acquire within their institutions of learning.

However, official indifference and unwillingness to engage in constructive debate, a characteristic of our governments is glaring. But there is a glaring evidence of the rising tide of anxiety about the quantity and quality of education being noticeable, as is indicated by the unprecedented provision made in the Union budget in the last two years. Thus, Union finance minister P. Chidambaram committed to imposing a two percent cess on all Central taxes and by promising to raise the annual education outlay to 6 percent of GDP. This may help to raise the additional funds for education. The additional revenue expected this year seems to be used to upgrade education levels in the country. Additional safeguards that the ministry taking to ensure optimal deployment of the incremental revenue for primary education are still mysterious.

Social Obligations:
In fact, the economic reforms have resulted in freezing the public funds to many institutions and in stagnating, the expenditure on education. Thus, educational sector has been more commonly described as, not service sector, but education industry. The free market philosophy has already entered the educational sphere in a big way. Commercialisation of education is the order of the day. Commercial schools have come up everywhere. In view of globalisation, many corporate schools, both foreign and Indian, are encroaching upon our government schools. Once these schools get foothold, their prices would be benchmarked against their global counterparts, which would be affordable to the same top layer of the society. As the job markets become acutely narrow, the polarisation between the elite and non-elite would be clearly noticeable. Meanwhile, various kinds of price barriers would be imposed to prevent the entry of the non-elite like the downtrodden and poor communities.Further, Corporatisation has transformed the schools into an enterprise for profits.

Thanks to Dr. Ambedkar, the government policy of reservations in education and employment spheres has played a remarkable role for Dalits and Adivasis. Now, due to the globalisation policies the winds of change in the name of ‘Economic Reforms’ has slowly shaken the very foundations of the Dalits. In consequence, more than any one else it is Dalits who would be the first ones to be affected very adversely in terms of ‘no reservation in private sector’.

Conclusion: Finally, these reforms envisage the withdrawal of state from its social obligations once for all. Thus, each country should decide about the nature and extent of globalization that can be constructively introduced in their socio-economic and educational systems. While it is difficult to resist the temptation of falling in line with the international community, it is necessary that while doing so, the paramountcy of national interests should be kept in view. This is more so in the field of education, which is intimately connected with the development of human capital. Ultimately, any hasty involvement in the global educational market can end up in harming the vital interests of students, and particularly of poor and downtrodden for generations to come.