Up until recently, my inclination would have been to state that schooling is converging in today’s
globalized world. This may be in part to having limited my scope when considering international education to international schools proper, and overlooking the comparative aspect of looking at national educational systems as a part of international education. I've discovered that, while certain structures and similarities exist within educational systems around the world, it would be difficult to state that the systems are, in fact, converging into a ‘global’ curriculum or pedagogy. What they seem to offer instead is a view of global education in which nations improvise around common themes based on their unique set of circumstances.
Anderson-Levitt (2003) presents a number of ‘isomorphisms’ in global education, and makes note of models and debates in education that are roughly common in much of the world (pp. 26-27). One of the arguments that Anderson-Levitt presents against a convergent globalized model of schooling is, that at any given time, the curriculum and pedagogy employed globally will vary due to the time and resources required for states to act upon changing preferences. An approach that begins in America might take years before being implemented in Asia, at which point a new approach will have become favored in the west. Another argument that Anderson-Levitt offers is that, even if nations agree on a single approach or pedagogy at the policy level, the enacted curriculum always differs from the official curriculum and is reflected differently in classrooms around the world (pp. 27-28).
Appadurai (1994) also seems to argue against any kind of convergence resulting from globalization in describing his framework for interpreting the exchanges of economic, human, and cultural capital. One interesting point he makes is that, while arguments against globalization often cite the overwhelming overtaking force of American culture as a negative, other nations may not view it as such a large issue, as they may feel more averse to absorbing the cultures of regional historical rivals (p. 295). Appadurai’s description of the interface and interaction between the 5 “-scapes” he proposes is one of disjuncture, and the model of the global cultural economy presented is one that is so complex as to defy the formation of a comprehensive understanding (p. 296). Again, this would seem to argue against convergence towards a single global standard in education.
Finally, Mundy (2005) describes how the current mass-schooling approach seen in nations around the world today was spread by colonialism and continued as a part of the nation-building process after World War II (p. 8). This global convergence at the institutional level belied great variation in implementation at the local level in different nations with varied labor, social welfare, and economic policies (p. 8). Mundy cites many studies that state nations modify globalization-focused reforms so much that common end-points are unlikely (p. 12).
I've now got the impression that globalization in education is not leading us to a point of convergence. The unique economic, cultural, and historical character of nations means that any single policy put forward by the forces of globalization will be put into practice in as many different ways as there are states that adopt it.
That being said, arguments for true divergence are few. Rather than convergence or divergence, international education seems to be creating ‘bounded diversity’ in education; nations producing their own unique version of the ‘western’ education structure imposed in colonial times and advanced post-WW2. Much like blues-players improvising to solo around a standard progression of chords, each nation ‘riffs on’ globalization policies, improvising their own system based on the unique pressures of Appadurai’s “-scapes” in their particular economic and socio-political context and bounded by the shared structures and systems described by Anderson-Levitt’s “isomorphisms”. Just like the 12-bar blues continues to provide a field for creativity and improvisation in the Blues, the potential for variety within the bounds of these shared educational structures and systems is nearly limitless.
Despite the diversity that remains prevalent in local implementations of educational policies, the boundaries remain, and perhaps prevent, the truly revolutionary changes in worldview and pedagogy described by Anderson-Levitt’s as ‘radical reforms’ (Anderson-Levitt, 2003, p. 28). The Blues as a medium can share a range of emotions from sweetness to sorrow to joy. But in a globalized education system bounded by the same, sometimes centuries-old western structures, from whence will come the educational raga, the rap, or the ritual dance to meet our needs in a rapidly changing world? Despite the local and regional diversity in education that remains in our globalized society, the shared boundaries of globalized educational systems may still prevent a divergence that will allow new songs to be sung and new voices to be heard.
Anderson-Levitt, K. (2003). A world culture of schooling? Introduction. Local meanings, global schooling: Anthropology and World Culture Theory. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. 1-31.
Appadurai, A. (1994). Disjuncture and difference in the global cultural economy. In Featherstone, M. (ed.) Global culture, nationalism, globalization and modernity. Newbury Park: Sage Publications. 295-310.
Mundy, K. (2005). Globalization and educational change. In Bascia, N., et al, (eds,) International handbook of educational policy. Dordrecht: Springer. 3-17.
Matthew Boomhower is a mid-career educator with 15 years of classroom teaching and educational leadership experience. He is Head of Innovation & Learning at an international school in Malaysia and is a proud husband and father.