Transnational flows of educational knowledge and research are fundamentally guided by the global geopolitics of knowledge—the historically constituted relations of power born out of the continuing legacy of modernity/coloniality. In the early nation-building stage of the 19th century, state-funded education was at the core of states’ pursuit for economic and social progress. Newly formed nation states actively sought new educational knowledge from countries considered more advanced in the global race toward modernity and industrialization. The transnational lesson drawing in education at the time was guided by the view of modernity as originating in and diffusing from the West. This created the unidirectional flow of educational influence from advanced economies of the West to the rest of the world. Central to the rise of modernity in Western state formation is the use of education as a technology of social regulations. Through the expansion of state-funded education, people were turned into the people, self-governing citizens, and then the population that was amenable to a state’s social and economic calculation and military deployment. But this development was embedded in the geopolitical context of the time, in which Western modernity was deeply entangled with its underside, coloniality in the rest of the world. Various uses of education as a social control were tested out first in colonial peripheries and then brought back to the imperial centers.
Today, the use of education for the modernist pursuit of perfecting society has been intensified through the constitution of the globalized education policy space. International organizations such as the World Bank and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) act as the nodes through which transnational networks of education policy actors are formed, where the power of statistics for social and educational progress is widely shared. Both developed and developing countries are increasingly incorporated into this shared epistemological space, albeit through different channels and due to different factors. The rise of international academic testing such as OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) has certainly changed the traditional pattern of education research and knowledge flows, and more lesson drawing from countries and regions outside the Anglo-European context is pursued. And yet, the challenges that PISA poses to the Eurocentric pattern of educational knowledge and research flows are curtailed by the persistence of the colonial legacy. This most clearly crystalizes in the dismissive and derogatory characterization of East Asian PISA high achievers in the recent PISA debate. Hence, the current globalization of education knowledge and research remains entangled with the active legacy of coloniality, the uneven global knowledge structure.