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date: 28 June 2017

Globalization and Education

Summary and Keywords

Few would deny that processes of globalization have impacted education around the world in many important ways. Yet the term “globalization” is relatively new, and its meaning or nature, conceptualization, and impact remain essentially contested within the educational research community. There is no global consensus on the exact time period of its occurrence or its most significant shaping processes, from those who focus on its social and cultural framings to those that hold global political-economic systems or transnational social actors as most influential. Intersecting questions also arise regarding whether its influence on human communities and the world should be conceived of as mostly good or mostly bad, which have significant implications for debates regarding the relationship between globalization and education. Competing understandings of globalization also undergird diverse methodologies and perspectives in expanding fields of research into the relationship between education and globalization.

There are many ways to frame the relationship of globalization and education. Scholars often pursue the topic by examining globalization’s perceived impact on education, as in many cases global convergence around educational policies, practices, and values has been observed in the early 21st century. Yet educational borrowing and transferal remains unstraightforward in practice, as educational and cultural differences across social contexts remain, while ultimate ends of education (such as math competencies versus moral cultivation) are essentially contested. Clearly, specificity is important to understand globalization in relation to education. As with globalization generally, globalization in education cannot be merely described as harmful or beneficial, but depends on one’s position, perspective, values, and priorities.

Education and educators’ impacts on globalization also remain a worthwhile focus of exploration in research and theorization. Educators do not merely react to globalization and related processes, but purposefully interact with them, as they prepare their students to respond to challenges and opportunities posed by processes associated with globalization. As cultural and political-economic considerations remain crucial in understanding globalization and education, positionality and research ethics and reflexivity remain important research concerns, to understand globalization not just as homogeneity or oppressive top-down features, but as complex and dynamic local and global intersections of people, ideas, and goods, with unclear impacts in the future.

Keywords: globalization, economic integration, education borrowing, mobility, curriculum, global studies in education, comparative education, education development

Few would deny that processes of globalization have impacted education around the world in many important ways. Yet the term “globalization” is relatively new, and its meaning or nature, conceptualization, and impact remain essentially contested within the educational research community. Competing understandings of globalization undergird diverse methodologies and perspectives in the expanding web of fields researching the relationship between education and globalization examined below. The area of educational research which exploded at the turn of the 21st century requires a holistic view. Rather than take sides within this contentious field, it is useful to examine major debates and trends, and indicate where readers can learn more about particular specialist areas within the field and other relevant strands of research.

The first part below considers the development of the theorization and conceptualization of globalization and debates about its impact that are relevant to education. The next section examines the relationship between education and globalization as explored by the educational research community. There are many ways to frame the relationship between globalization and education. First explored here is the way that globalization can be seen to impact education, as global processes and practices have been observed to influence many educational systems’ policies and structures; values and ideals; pedagogy; curriculum and assessment; as well as broader conceptualizations of teacher and learner, and the good life. However, there is also a push in the other direction—through global citizenship education, education for sustainable development, and related trends—to understand education and educators as shapers of globalization, so these views are also explored here. The last section highlights relevant research directions.

The Emergence of Globalization(s)

At the broadest level, globalization can be defined as a process or condition of the cultural, political, economic, and technological meeting and mixing of people, ideas, and resources, across local, national, and regional borders, which has been largely perceived to have increased in intensity and scale during the late 20th and early 21st centuries. However, there is no global consensus on the exact time period of its occurrence, or its most significant shaping processes, from social and cultural framings to those that hold global political-economic systems or transnational social actors as most influential. Intersecting questions also arise regarding whether its influence on human communities and the world should be conceived as mostly good or mostly bad, which have clear and significant implications for understanding debates regarding the relationship between globalization and education.

Conceptualizing Globalization

Globalization is a relatively recent concept in scholarly research, becoming popular in public, academic, and educational discourse only in the 1980s. However, many leading scholars of globalization have argued that the major causes or shapers of globalization, particularly the movement and mixing of elements beyond a local or national level, is at least many centuries old; others frame globalization as representing processes inherent to the human experience, within a 5,000–10,000-year time frame.1 Conceptualizations of globalization have typically highlighted cultural, political-economic, and/or technological aspects of these processes, with different researchers emphasizing and framing the relationships among these different aspects in diverse ways in their theories.

Cultural framings: Emphasizing the cultural rather than economic or political aspects of globalization, Roland Robertson pinpointed the occurrence of globalization as part of the process of modernity in Europe (though clearly similar processes were occurring in many parts of the world), particularly a growing mutual recognition among nationality-based communities.2 As people began identifying with larger groups, beyond their family, clan, or tribe, “relativization” took place, as people saw others in respective outside communities similarly developing national or national-like identities.3 Through identifying their own societies as akin to those of outsiders, people began measuring their cultural and political orders according to a broader, international schema, and opening their eyes to transnational inspirations for internal social change.

Upon mutual recognition of nations, kingdoms, and the like as larger communities that do not include all of humanity, “emulation” stemming from comparison of the local to the external was often a next step.4 While most people and communities resisted, dismissed, or denied the possibility of a global human collectivity, they nonetheless compared their own cultures and lives with those beyond their borders. Many world leaders across Eurasia looked at other “civilizations” with curiosity, and began increasing intercultural and international interactions to benefit from cultural mixing, through trade, translation of knowledge, and more. With emulation and relativization also came a sense of a global standard of values, for goods and resources, and for the behavior and organization of individuals and groups in societies, though ethnocentrism and xenophobia was also often a part of such “global” comparison.5

Political-economic framings: In political theory and popular understanding, nationalism has been a universalizing discourse in the modern era, wherein individuals around the world have been understood to belong to and identify primarily with largely mutually exclusive national or nation-state “imagined communities.”6 In this context, appreciation for and extensive investigation of extranational and international politics and globalization were precluded for a long time in part due to the power of nationalistic approaches. However, along with the rise historically of nationalist and patriotic political discourse, theories of cosmopolitanism also emerged. Modern cosmopolitanism as a concept unfolded particularly in the liberalism of Immanuel Kant, who argued for a spirit of “world citizenship” toward “perpetual peace,” wherein people recognize themselves as citizens of the world.7 Martha Nussbaum locates cosmopolitanism’s roots in the more distant past, however, observing Diogenes the Cynic (ca. 404–323 bce) in Ancient Greece famously identifying as “a citizen of the world.”8 This suggests that realization of commonality, common humanity, and the risks of patriotism and nationalism as responses to relativization and emulation have enabled at least a “thin” kind of global consciousness for a very long time, as a precursor to today’s popular awareness of globalization, even if such a global consciousness was in ancient history framed within regional rather than planetary discourse.

In the same way as culturally oriented globalization scholars, those theorizing from an economic and/or political perspective conceive the processes of globalization emerging most substantively in the 15th and 16th centuries, through the development of the capitalist world economic system and the growth of British- and European-based empires holding vast regions of land in Africa, Asia, and the Americas as colonies to enhance trade and consumption within empire capitals. According to Immanuel Wallerstein’s world system theory, which emerged before globalization theory, in the 1970s, the capitalist world economic system is one of the most essential framing elements of the human experience around the world in the modern (or postmodern) era.9 Interaction across societies primarily for economic purposes, “not bounded by a unitary political structure,” characterizes the world economy, as well as a capitalist order, which conceives the main purpose of international economic exchange as being the endless generation and accumulation of capital.10 A kind of global logic was therein introduced, which has expanded around the globe as we now see ourselves as located within an international financial system.

Though some identify world system theory as an alternative or precursor to globalization theories (given Wallerstein’s own writing, which distinguished his view from globalization views11), its focus on a kind of planetary global logic interrelates with globalization theories emerging in the 1980s and 1990s.12 Additionally, its own force and popularity in public and academic discussions enabled the kind of global consciousness and sense of global interrelation of people which we can regard as major assumptions underpinning the major political-economic theories of globalization and the social imaginary of globalization13 that came after.

Globalization emerged within common discourse as the process of international economic and political integration and interdependency was seen to deepen and intensify during and after the Cold War era of international relations. At that time, global ideologies were perceived which spanned diverse cultures and nation-states, while global economic and military interdependency became undeniable facts of the human condition. Thus, taking world systems theory as a starting point, global capitalism models have theorized the contemporary economic system, recognizing aspects of world society not well suited to the previously popular nationalistic ways of thinking about international affairs. Leslie Sklair14 and William Robinson15 highlighted the transnational layer of capitalistic economic activity, including practices, actors and social classes, and ideologies of international production and trade, elaborated by Robinson as “an emergent transnational state apparatus,” a postnational or extranational ideological, political, and practical system for societies, individuals, and groups to interact in the global space beyond political borders.16 Globalization is thus basically understood as a process or condition of contemporary human life, at the broadest level, rather than a single event or activity.

Technological framings: In the 1980s and 1990s, the impact of technology on many people’s lives, beliefs, and activities rose tremendously, altering the global political economy by adding an intensity of transnational communication and (financial and information) trading capabilities. Manuel Castells argued that technological advancements forever altered the economy by creating networks of synchronous or near-synchronous communication and trade of information.17 Anthony Giddens likewise observed globalization’s essence as “time-space distanciation”: “the intensification of worldwide social relations which link distant localities in such a way that local happenings are shaped by events occurring many miles away and vice versa.”18 As information became present at hand with the widespread use of the Internet, a postindustrial society has also been recognized as a feature of globalization, wherein skills and knowledge to manipulate data and networks become more valuable than producing goods or trading material resources.

Today, globalization is increasingly understood as having interrelating cultural, political-economic, and technological dimensions, and theorists have thus developed conceptualizations and articulations of globalization that work to emphasize the ways that these aspects intersect in human experience. Arjun Appadurai’s conception of global flows frames globalization as taking place as interactive movements or waves of interlinked practices, people, resources, and ideologies: ethnoscapes, mediascapes, technoscapes, finanscapes, and ideoscapes.19 Ethnoscapes are waves of people moving across cultures and borders, while mediascapes are moving local, national, and international constructions of information and images. Technoscapes enable (and limit) interactions of peoples, cultures, and resources through technology, while finanscapes reflect intersection values and valuations; human, capital, and national resources; and more. Ideoscapes reflect competing, interacting, reconstructing ideologies, cultures, belief systems, and understandings of the world and humanity. Through these interactive processes, people, things, and ideas move and move each other, around the world.20

Evaluating Globalization

While the explanatory function of Appadurai’s vision of globalization’s intersecting dimensions is highlighted above, many theories of globalization emphasize normative positions in relation to the perceived impact of global and transnational processes and practices on humanity and the planet. Normative views of globalization may be framed as skeptical, globalist, or transformationalist. As Fazal Rizvi and Bob Lingard note, these are ideal types, rather than clearly demarcated practical parties or camps of theorists, though they have become familiar and themselves a part of the social imaginary of globalization (that is, the way globalization is perceived in normative and empirical ways by ordinary people rather than researchers).21 The positions are also reflected in the many educational discourses relating to globalization, despite their ideological rather than simply empirical content.

Skeptical views: Approaches to globalization in research that are described as skeptical may question or problematize globalization discourse in one of two different ways. The first type of skepticism questions the significance of globalization. The second kind of skepticism tends to embrace the idea of globalization, but regards its impact on people, communities, and/or the planet as negative or risky, overall.

As discussed here, global or international processes are hardly new, while globalization became a buzzword only in the last decades of the 20th century. Thus a first type of skeptic may charge that proponents of globalization or globalization theory are emphasizing the newness of global processes for ulterior motives, as a manner of gaining attention for their work, celebrating that which should instead be seen as problematic capitalist economic relations, for example. Alternatively, some argue that the focus on globalization in research, theorization, and popular discourse fails to recognize the agency of people and communities as actors in the world today, and for this reason should be avoided and replaced by a focus on the “transnational.” As Michael Peter Smith articulates, ordinary individual people, nation-states, and their practices remain important within the so-called global system; a theory of faceless, ahistorical globalization naturalizes global processes and precludes substantive elaboration of how human (and national) actors have played and continue to play primary roles in the world through processes of knowledge and value construction, and through interpersonal and transnational activities.22

The second strand of globalization skepticism might be referred to as antiglobalist or antiglobalization positions. Thinkers in this vein regard globalization as a mark of our times, but highlight the perceived negative impacts of globalization on people and communities. Culturally, this can include homogenization and loss of indigenous knowledge, and ways of life, or cultural clashes that are seen to arise out of the processes of relativization and emulation in some cases. George Ritzer coined the term “McDonaldization” to refer to the problematic elements of the rise of a so-called global culture.23 More than simply the proliferation of McDonalds fast-food restaurants around the world, McDonaldization, according to Ritzer, includes a valuation of efficiency over humanity in production and consumption practices, a focus on quantity over quality, and control and technology over creativity and culture. Global culture is seen as a negative by others who conceive it as mainly the product of a naïve cultural elite of international scholars and business people, in contrast with “low-end globalization,” which is the harsher realities faced by the vast majority of people not involved in international finance, diplomacy, or academic research.24

Alternatively, Benjamin Barber25 and Samuel Huntington26 have focused on “Jihad versus McWorld” and the “clash of civilizations,” respectively, as cultures can be seen to mix in negative and unfriendly ways in the context of globalization. Although Francis Fukuyama and other hopeful globalists perceived a globalization of Western liberal democracy at the turn of the 21st century,27 unforeseen global challenges such as terrorism have fueled popular claims by Barber and Huntington that cultural differences across major “civilizations” (international ideological groupings), particularly of liberal Western civilization and fundamentalist Islam, preclude their peaceful relativization, homogenization, and/or hybridization, and instead function to increase violent interactions of terrorism and war.

Similarly, but moving away from cultural aspects of globalization, Ulrich Beck highlighted risk as essential to understanding globalization, as societies face new problems that may be related to economy or even public health, and as their interdependencies with others deepen and increase.28 Beck gave the example of Mad Cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) as one instance where much greater and more broadly distributed risks have been created through global economic and political processes. Skeptical economic theories of globalization likewise highlight how new forms of inequality emerge as global classes and labor markets are created. For instance, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri argue that a faceless power impersonally oppresses grassroots people despite the so-called productivity of globalization (that is, the growth of capital it enables) from a capitalist economic orientation.29 It is this faceless but perceived inhumane power that has fueled globalization protests, particularly of the meetings of the World Trade Organization in the 1990s and 2000s, in the United States and Europe.

In light of such concerns, Walden Bello argued for “deglobalization,” a reaction and response by people that aims to fight against globalization and reorient communities to local places and local lifestyles. Bello endorsed a radical shift to a decentralized, pluralistic system of governance from a political-economic perspective.30 Similarly, Colin Hines argues for localization, reclaiming control over local economies that should become as diverse as possible to rebuild stability within communities.31 Such ideas have found a broad audience, as movements to “buy local” and “support local workers” have spread around the world rapidly in the 2000s.

Globalist views: Globalists include researchers and advocates who highlight the benefits of globalization to different communities and in various areas of life, often regarding it as necessary or natural. Capitalist theories of globalization regard it as ideal for production and consumption, as greater specialism around the world increases efficiency.32 The productive power of globalization is also highlighted by Giddens, who sees the potential for global inclusivity and enhanced creative dialogue arising (at least in part) from global processes.33 In contrast with neoliberal (pro-capitalism) policies, Giddens propagated the mixture of the market and state interventions (socialism and Keynesian economy), and believed that economic policies with socially inclusive ideas would influence social and educational policies and thus promote enhanced social development.

The rise of global culture enhances the means for people to connect with one another to improve life and give it greater meaning, and can increase mutual understanding. As democracy becomes popular around the world as a result of global communication processes, Scott Burchill has argued that universal human rights can be achieved to enhance global freedom in the near future.34 Joseph Stiglitz likewise envisioned a democratizing globalization that can include developing countries on an equal basis and transform “economic beings” to “human beings” with values of community and social justice.35 Relatedly, some globalists contend against skeptics that cultural and economic-political or ideological hybridity and “glocalization,” as well as homogenization or cultural clashes, often can and do take place. Under glocalization, understood as local-level globalization processes (rather than top-down intervention), local actors interact dynamically with, and are not merely oppressed by, ideas, products, things, and practices from outside and beyond. Thus, while we can find instances of “Jihad” and “McWorld,” so too can we find Muslims enjoying fast food, Westerners enjoying insights and activities from Muslim and Eastern communities, and a variety of related intercultural dialogues and a dynamic reorganization of cultural and social life harmoniously taking place.

Transformationalist views: Globalization is increasingly seen by educators (among others) around the globe to have both positive and negative impacts on communities and individuals. Thus, most scholars today hold nuanced, middle positions between skepticism and globalism, such as David Held and Anthony McGrew’s transformationalist stance.36 As Rizvi and Lingard note, globalization processes have material consequences in the world that few would flatly deny, while people increasingly do see themselves as interconnected around the globe, by technology, trade, and more.37 On the other hand, glocalization is often a mixed blessing, from a comparative standpoint. Global processes do not happen outside of political and economic contexts, and while some people clearly benefit from them, others may not appear to benefit from or desire processes and conditions related to globalization.

Thus, Rizvi and Lingard identify globalization “as an empirical fact that describes the profound shifts that are taking place in the world; as an ideology that masks various expression of power and a range of political interests; and as a social imaginary that expresses the sense people have of their own identity and how it relates to the rest of the world, and … their aspirations and expectations.”38 Such an understanding of globalization enables its continuous evaluation in terms of dynamic interrelated practices, processes, and ideas, as experienced and engaged with by people and groups within complex transnational webs of organization. Understandings of globalization thus link to education in normative and empirical ways within research. It is to the relationship of globalization to education that we now turn.

Globalization and Education

Historical Background

Globalization and education are highly interrelated from a historical view. At the most basic level, historical processes that many identify as essential precursors to political-economic globalization during the late modern colonial and imperialist eras influenced the development and rise of mass education. Thus, what we commonly see around the world today as education, mass schooling of children, could be regarded as a first instance of globalization’s impact on education, as in many non-Western contexts traditional education had been conceived as small-scale, local community-based, and as vocational or apprenticeship education, and/or religious training.39 In much of Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and the indigenous Americas and Australasia, institutionalized formal schools emerged for the first time within colonial or (often intersecting) missionary projects, for local elite youth and children of expatriate officials.

The first educational scholarship with a global character from a historical point of view would thus be research related to colonial educational projects, such as in India, Africa, and East Asia, which served to create elite local communities to serve colonial officials, train local people to work in economic industries benefiting the colony, and for preservation of the status quo. Most today would describe this education as not part of an overall development project belonging to local communities, but as a foreign intervention for global empire maintenance or social control. As postcolonial educational theorists such as Paulo Freire have seen it, this education sought to remove and dismiss local culture as inferior, and deny local community needs for the sake of power consolidation of elites, and it ultimately served as a system of oppression on psychological, cultural, and material levels.40 It has been associated by diverse cultural theorists within and outside the educational field with the loss of indigenous language and knowledge production, with moral and political inculcation, and with the spread of English as an elite language of communication across the globe.41

Massification of education in the service of local communities in most developing regions roughly intersected with the period after the Second World War and in the context of national independence movements, wherein nationally based communities reorganized as politically autonomous nation-states (possibly in collaboration with former colonial parties). In 1945, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) emerged, as the United Nations recognized education as critical for future global peace and prosperity, preservation of cultural diversity, and global progress toward stability, economic flourishing, and human rights. UNESCO has advocated for enhancement of quality and access to education around the world through facilitating the transnational distribution of educational resources, establishing (the discourse of) a global human right to education, promoting international transferability of educational and teaching credentials, developing mechanisms for measuring educational achievement across countries and regions, and supporting national and regional scientific and cultural developments.42 The World Bank, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have engaged in similar work.

Thus, the first modern global educational research was that conducted by bodies affiliated with or housed under UNESCO, such as the International Bureau of Education, the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, and the International Institute of Educational Planning, which are regarded as foundational bodies sponsoring international and comparative research. In research universities, educational borrowing across international borders became one significant topic of research for an emerging field of scholars identified as comparative educational researchers. Comparative education became a major field of educational inquiry in the first half of the 20th century, and expanded in the 1950s and 1960s.43 Comparative educational research then focused on aiding developing countries’ education and improving domestic education through cross-national examinations of educational models and achievement. Today, comparative education remains one major field among others that focuses on globalization and education, including international education and global studies in education.

Globalization as a contemporary condition or process clearly shapes education around the globe, in terms of policies and values; curriculum and assessment; pedagogy; educational organization and leadership; conceptions of the learner, the teacher, and the good life; and more. Though, following the legacy of the primacy of a nation-state and systems-theory levels of analysis, it is traditionally conceived that educational ideas and changes move from the top, such as from UNESCO and related bodies and leading societies, to the developing world, we find that often glocalization and hybridity, rather than simple borrowing, are taking place. On the other hand, education is also held by scholars and political leaders to be a key to enhancing the modern (or postmodern) human condition, as a symbol of progress of the global human community, realized as global citizenship education, education for sustainable development, and related initiatives.44 The next subsections consider how globalization processes have been explored in educational research as shapers of education, and how education and educators can also be seen to influence globalization.

Research on Globalization’s Impact on Education

Global and transnational processes and practices have been observed to influence and impact various aspects of contemporary education within many geographical contexts, and thus the fields of research related to education and globalization are vast: they are not contained simply within one field or subfield, but can be seen to cross subdisciplinary borders, in policy studies, curriculum, pedagogy, higher education studies, assessment, and more. As mentioned previously, modern education can itself be seen as one most basic instance of globalization, connected to increased interdependency of communities around the world in economic and political affairs first associated with imperialism and colonialism, and more recently with the capitalist world economy. And as the modern educational system cannot be seen as removed or sealed off from cultural and political-economic processes involved in most conceptualizations of globalization, the impacts of globalization processes upon education are often considered wide-ranging, though many are also controversial.

Major trends: From a functionalist perspective, the globalization of educational systems has been influenced by new demands and desires for educational transferability, of students and educators. In place of dichotomous systems in terms of academic levels and credentialing, curriculum, and assessment, increasing convergence can be observed today, as it is recognized that standardization makes movement of people in education across societies more readily feasible, and that such movement of people can enhance education in a number of ways (to achieve diversity, to increase specialization and the promotion of dedicated research centers, to enhance global employability, and so on).45 Thus, the mobility and paths of movement of students and academics, for education and better life opportunities, have been a rapidly expanding area of research. A related phenomenon is that of offshore university and school campuses—the mobility of educational institutions to attract and recruit new students (and collect fees), such as New York University in Abu Dhabi and Shanghai. By implication, education is often perceived as becoming more standardized around the globe, though hybridity can also be observed at the micro level.

How economic integration under globalization impacts local educational systems has been traced by Rizvi and Lingard.46 As they note, from a broad view, the promotion of neoliberal values in the context of financial adjustment and restructuring of poorer countries under trade and debt agreements led by intergovernmental organizations, most notably the OECD, encouraged, first, fiscal discipline in educational funding (particularly impacting the payment of educators in many regions) and, second, the redistribution of funds to areas of education seen as more economically productive, namely primary education, and to efforts at privatization and deregulation of education. While the educational values of countries can and do vary, from democracy and peace, to social justice and equity, and so on, Rizvi and Lingard also observed that social and economic efficiency views have become dominant within governments and their educational policy units.47 Though human capital theory has always supported the view that individuals gain proportionately according to the investment in their education and training, this view has become globalized in recent decades to emphasize how whole societies can flourish under economic interdependency via enhanced education.

These policy-level perspectives have had serious implications for how knowledge and thus curriculum are increasingly perceived. As mentioned previously, skills for gaining knowledge have taken precedent over knowledge accumulation, with the rise of technology and postindustrial economies. In relation, “lifelong learning,” learning to be adaptive to challenges outside the classroom and not merely to gain academic disciplinary knowledge, has become a focal point for education systems around the globe in the era of globalization.48 Along with privatization of education, as markets are seen as more efficient than government systems of provision, models of educational choice and educational consumption have become normalized as alternatives to the historical status quo of traditional academic or intellectual, teacher-centered models. Meanwhile, the globalization of educational testing—that is, the use of the same tests across societies around the world—has had a tremendous impact on local pedagogies, assessment, and curricula the world over. Though in each country decision-making structures are not exactly the same, many societies face pressure to focus on math, science, and languages over other subjects, as a result of the primacy of standardized testing to measure and evaluate educational achievement and the effectiveness of educational systems.49

However, there remains controversy over what education is the best in the context of relativization and emulation of educational practices and students, and therefore the 2010s have seen extraordinary transfers of educational approaches, not just from core societies to peripheral or developing areas, but significant horizontal movements of educational philosophies and practices from West to East and East to West. With the rise of global standardized tests such as the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), educational discourse in Western societies has increasingly emphasized the need to reorient education to East Asian models (such as Singapore or Shanghai), seen as victors of the tests.50 On the other hand, many see Finland’s educational system as ideal in relation to its economic integration in society and focus on equity in structure and orientation, and thus educators in the Middle East, East Asia, and the United States have also been seen to consider emulating Finnish education in the 2010s.51

Evaluations: From a normative point of view, some regard changes to local education in many contexts brought about by globalization as harmful and risky. Freire’s postcolonial view remains salient to those who remain concerned that local languages and indigenous cultural preservation are being sacrificed for elite national and international interests.52 There can be no doubt that language diversity has been decreasing over time, while indigenous knowledge is being reframed within globalist culture as irrelevant to individual youths’ material needs.53 Many are additionally skeptical of the sometimes uncritical adoption of educational practices, policies, and discourse from one region of the globe to another. In many countries in Africa and the Middle East, ideas and curricula are borrowed from the United Kingdom, the United States, or Finland in an apparently hasty manner, only to be discarded for the next reform, when it is not found to fit neatly and efficiently within the local educational context (for instance, given local educational values, structures and organizations, and educator and student views).54 Others argue, in parallel to globalization skeptics, that globalization’s major impact on education has actually been the promotion of a thin layer of aspirational, cosmopolitan values among global cultural elites, who largely overlook the realities, problems, and challenges many face.55

On the other hand, the case for globalization as a general enhancer of education worldwide has compelling evidence as well. Due to the work of UNESCO, the OECD, and related organizations, educational attainment has become more equitable globally, by nation, race, gender, class, and other markers of social inequality; and educational access has been recognized as positively aligned with personal and national economic improvement, according to quantitative educational researchers.56 (David Hill, Nigel Greaves, and Alpesh Maisuria argue from a Marxist viewpoint that education in conjunction with global capitalism reinforces rather than decreases inequality and inequity; yet they also note that capitalism can be and often has been successfully regulated to diminish rather than increase inequality generally across countries.57) As education has been effectively conceived as a human right in the era of globalization, societies with historically uneven access to education are on track to systematically enhance educational quality and access.

Changes to the way knowledge and the learner have been conceived, particularly with the rise of ubiquitous technology, are also often regarded as positive overall. People around the world have more access to information than ever before with the mass use of the Internet, and students of all ages can access massive open online courses (MOOCs); dynamic, data-rich online encyclopedias; and communities of like-minded scholars through social networks and forums.58 In brick-and-mortar classrooms, educators and students are more diverse than ever due to enhanced educational mobility, and both are exposed to a greater variety of ideas and perspectives that can enhance learning for all participants. Credentials can be earned from reputable universities online, with supervision systems organized by leading scholars in global studies in education in many cases. Students have more choices when it comes to learning independently or alongside peers, mentors, or experts, in a range of disciplines, vocations, and fields.

The truth regarding how globalization processes and practices are impacting contemporary education no doubt lies in focusing somewhere in between the promises and the risks, depending on the context in question: the society, the educational level, the particular community, and so on. Particularly with regard to the proposed benefits of interconnectivity and networked ubiquitous knowledge spurred by technology, critics contend that the promise of globalization for enhancing education has been severely overrated. Elites remain most able to utilize online courses and use technologies due to remaining inequalities in material and human resources.59 At local levels, globalization in education (more typically discussed as internationalization) remains contentious in many societies, as local values, local students and educators, and local educational trends can at times be positioned as at odds with the priorities of globalization, of internationalizing curricula, faculty, and student bodies. As part of the social imaginary of globalization, international diversity can become a buzzword, while cultural differences across communities can result in international students and faculty members becoming ghettoized on campus.60 International exchanges of youth and educators for global citizenship education can reflect political and economic differences between communities, not merely harmonious interconnection and mutual appreciation.61 In this context of growing ambivalence, education and educators are seen increasingly as part of the solution to the problems and challenges of the contemporary world that are associated with globalization, as educators can respond to such issues in a proactive rather than a passive way, to ensure globalization’s challenges do not exceed its benefits to individuals and communities.

Education’s Potential Impact on Globalization

As globalization is increasingly regarded with ambivalence in relation to the perceived impact of global and transnational actors and processes on local educational systems, educators are increasingly asked not to respond passively to globalization, through enacting internationalization and global economic agendas or echoing simplistic conceptualizations or evaluations of globalization via their curriculum. Instead, education has been reframed in the global era as something youth needs, not just to accept globalization but to interact with it in a critical and autonomous fashion. Two major trends have occurred in curriculum and pedagogy research, wherein education is identified as an important potential shaper of globalization. These are global citizenship education (also intersecting with what are called 21st-century learning and competencies) and education for sustainable development.

Global citizenship education: Global citizenship education has been conceived by political theorists and educational philosophers as a way to speak back to globalization processes seen as harmful to individuals and communities. As Martha Nussbaum has argued, educators should work to develop in students feelings of compassion, altruism, and empathy that extend beyond national borders.62 Kathy Hytten has likewise written that students need to learn today as part of global citizenship education not just feelings of sympathy for people around the world, but critical skills to identify root causes of problems that intersect the distinction of local and global, as local problems can be recognized as interconnected with globalization processes.63 In relation to this, UNESCO and nongovernmental organizations and foundations such as Oxfam and the Asia Society have focused on exploring current practices and elaborating best practices from a global comparative standpoint for the dissemination of noncognitive, affective, “transversal” 21st-century competencies, to extend civic education in the future in the service of social justice and peace, locally and globally.64

Questions remain in this area in connection with implementation within curriculum and pedagogy. A first question is whether concepts of altruism, empathy, and even harmony, peace, and justice, are translatable, with equivalent meanings across cultural contexts. There is evidence that global citizenship education aimed at educating for values to face the potential harms of globalization is converging around the world on such aims as instilling empathy and compassion, respect and appreciation of diversity, and personal habits or virtues of open-mindedness, curiosity, and creativity. However, what these values, virtues, and dispositions look like, how they are demonstrated, and their appropriate expressions remain divergent as regards Western versus Eastern and African societies (for example).65 By implication, pedagogical or curriculum borrowing or transferral in this area may be problematic, even if some basic concepts are shared and even when best practices can be established within a cultural context.

Additionally, how these skills, competencies, and dispositions intersect with the cognitive skills and political views of education across societies with different cultures of teaching and learning also remains contentious. In line with the controversies over normative views of globalization, whether the curriculum should echo globalist or skeptical positions remains contested by educators and researchers in the field. Some argue that a focus on feelings can be overrated or even harmful in such education, given the immediacy and evidence of global social justice issues that can be approached rationally and constructively.66 Thus, token expressions of cultural appreciation can be seen to preclude a deeper engagement with social justice issues if the former becomes a goal in itself. On the other hand, the appropriate focus on the local versus the global, and on the goods versus the harms of globalization, weighs differently across and within societies, from one individual educator to the next. Thus, a lack of evidence of best practices in relation to the contestation over ultimate goals creates ambivalence at the local level among many educators about what and how to teach global citizenship or 21st-century skills, apart from standardized knowledge in math, science, and language.

Education for sustainable development: Education for sustainable development is a second strand of curriculum and pedagogy that speaks back to globalization and that is broadly promoted by UNESCO and related intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations. Education for sustainable development is, like global citizenship education, rooted in globalization’s impact upon individuals in terms of global consciousness. Like global citizenship, education for sustainable development also emphasizes global interconnection in relation to development and sustainability challenges. It is also a broad umbrella term that reflects an increasingly wide array of practices, policies, and programs, formal and informal, for instilling virtues and knowledge and skills seen to enable effective responses to challenges brought about by globalization.67 In particular, education for sustainable development has seen global progress, like globalization, as enmeshed in intersecting cultural, social, and economic and political values and priorities. Education for All is an interrelated complementary thread of UNESCO work, which sees access to education as a key to social justice and development, and the improvement of human quality of life broadly. In developed societies, environmental sustainability has come to be seen as a pressing global issue worth curricular focus, as behaviors with regard to consumption of natural resources impact others around the world, as well as future generations.68

A diversity of practices and views also marks this area of education, resulting in general ambiguity about overall aims and best means. Controversies over which attitudes of sustainability are most important to inculcate, and whether it is important to inculcate them, intertwine with debates over what crises are most pertinent and what skills and competencies students should develop. Measures are in place for standardizing sustainability knowledge in higher education worldwide, as well as for comparing the development of prosustainability attitudes.69 However, some scholars argue that both emphases miss the point, and that education for sustainable development should first be about changing cultures to become more democratic, creative, and critical, developing interpersonal and prosocial capabilities first, as the challenges of environmental sustainability and global development are highly complex and dynamic.70 Thus, as globalization remains contested in its impacts, challenges, and promise at local levels, so too does the best education that connects positively with globalization to enhance local and global life. In this rich and diverse field, as processes of convergence and hybridity of glocalization continue to occur, the promise of globalization and the significance of education in relation to it will no doubt remain lively areas of debate in the future, as globalization continues to impact communities in diverse ways.

Research Considerations

There is no shortage of normative and explanatory theories about globalization, each of which points to particular instances and evidence about domains and contexts of globalization. However, when it comes to understanding the interconnections of globalization and education, some consensus regarding best practices for research has emerged. In fields of comparative and international education and global studies in education, scholars are increasingly calling today for theories and empirical investigations that are oriented toward specificity, particularity, and locality, in contrast with the grand theories of globalization elaborated by political scholars. However, a challenge is that such scholarship should not be reduced artificially to one local level in such a way as to exclude understanding of international interactions, in what has been called in the research community “methodological nationalism.”71 Such reductive localism or nationalism can arise particularly in comparative education research, as nation-states have been traditional units for comparative analysis, but are today recognized as being too diverse from one to the next to be presumed similar (while global processes impact them in disparate ways).72 Thus, Rizvi has articulated global ethnography as a focused approach to the analysis of international educational projects that traces interconnections and interactions of local and global actors.73 In comparative educational research, units of analysis must be critically pondered and selected, and it is also possible to make comparisons across levels within one context (for instance, from local educational interactions to higher-level policy-making processes in one society).74

Qualitative and quantitative analyses can be undertaken to measure global educational achievements, values, policy statements, and more; yet researcher reflexivity and positionality, what is traditionally conceived of as research ethics, is increasingly seen as vital for researchers in this politically and ethically contentious field. Although quantitative research remains important for highlighting convergences in data in global educational studies, such research cannot tell us what we should do, as it does not systematically express peoples’ values and beliefs about the aims of education, or their experiences of globalization, and so on, particularly effectively. On the other hand, normative questions about how people’s values intersect with globalization and related educational processes can give an in-depth view of one location or case, but should be complemented by consideration of generalizable trends.75

In either case, cultural assumptions can interfere or interact in problematic or unintentional ways with methodologies of data gathering and analysis, for instance, when questions or codes (related to race, ethnicity, or class, for example) are applied across diverse sites by researchers, who may not be very familiar and experienced across divergent cultural contexts.76 Thus, beyond positionality, the use of collaborative research teams has become popular in global and comparative educational research, to ensure inevitable cultural and related differences across research domains are sufficiently addressed in the research process.77 In this context, researchers must also contend with the challenges of collaborating across educational settings, as new methods of engaging, saving, and sharing data at distance through technology continue to unfold in response to ongoing challenges with data storage, data security, and privacy.

Among recent strands of educational research fueled by appreciation for globalization is the exploration of the global economy of knowledge. Such research may consider the practices and patterns of movement, collaboration, research production and publication, and authorship of researchers, and examine data from cultural, political, and economic perspectives, asking whose knowledge is regarded as valid and most prized, and what voices dominate in conversations and discourse around globalization and education, such as in classrooms studying global studies in education, or in leading research journals.78 Related research emerging includes questions such as who produces knowledge, who is the subject of knowledge, and where are data gathered, as recurring historical patterns may appear to be reproduced in contemporary scholarship, wherein those from the global North are more active in investigating and elaborating knowledge in the field, while those from the global South appear most often as subjects of research. As globalization of education entails the globalization of knowledge itself, such inquiries can be directed to various sites and disciplines outside of education, in considering how communication, values, and knowledge are being dynamically revised today on a global scale through processes of globalization.


Research that focuses on globalization and education uses a wide array of approaches and methods, topics, and orientations, as well as diverse theoretical perspectives and normative assumptions. The foregoing sections have explored this general field, major debates, and topics; the relationships have been traced between globalization and education; and there have been brief comments on considerations for research. One key point of the analysis has been that the way globalization is conceived has implications for how its relationship with education is understood. This is important, for as is illustrated here, the ways of conceptualizing globalization are diverse, in terms of how the era of globalization is framed chronologically (as essential to the human condition, to modernity, or as a late 20th-century phenomena), what its chief characteristics are from cultural, political-economic, and technological views, and whether its impact on human life and history is seen as good or bad. A broad consideration of viewpoints has highlighted the emergence of a middle position within research literature: there is most certainly an intertwined meeting and movement of peoples, things, and ideas around the globe; and clearly, processes associated with globalization have good and bad aspects. However, these processes are uneven, and they can be seen to impact different communities in various ways, which are clearly not, on the whole, simply all good or all bad.

That the processes associated with globalization are interrelated with the history and future of education is undeniable. In many ways global convergence around educational policies, practices, and values can be observed in the early 21st century. Yet educational borrowing and transferral remain unstraightforward in practice, as educational and cultural differences across social contexts remain, while the ultimate ends of education (such as math competencies versus moral cultivation) are essentially contested. Thus, specificity is important to understand globalization in relation to education. As with globalization generally, globalization in education cannot be merely described as harmful or beneficial, but depends on one’s position in power relations, and on one’s values and priorities for local and global well-being.

Education and educators’ impact on globalization also remains an important area of research and theorization. Educators are no longer expected merely to react to globalization, they must purposefully interact with it, preparing students around the world to respond to globalization’s challenges. As cultural and political-economic considerations remain crucial in understanding major aspects of both globalization and education, positionality and research ethics and reflexivity remain important research concerns, to understand globalization not just as homogeneity or oppressive top-down features, but as complex and dynamic local, global, and transnational intersections of people, ideas, and goods, with unclear impacts in the future.


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(39.) T. Reagan (2000), Non-Western educational traditions: Alternative approaches to educational thought (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum). Of course, scholars such as Michael P. Smith would reject describing these processes as belonging to globalization, as people, nations, and communities played significant roles.

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(75.) G. P. Fairbrother, Qualitative and quantitative approaches to comparative education, in Bray, Adamson, and Mason (Eds.), Comparative education research (pp. 39–62).

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(78.) See, for instance, H. Tange and S. Miller (2015), Opening the mind? Geographies of knowledge and curricular practices, Higher Education, 1–15.