Modernising versus Globalising Education
“Interaction with the broader world including foreign economies, people, information, and major global challenges is becoming more inevitable”
A common discussion taking place in many modernising countries is how to adapt education systems so that they are more responsive to the rapidly changing economic realities of the future.
A key component in updating the status quo is how educational institutions support students conceptually in adapting to a rapidly globalising world. As a product of the liberal arts tradition in the United States, I have often thought about the potential impact of widespread, multi-perspective learning for all students, but also have reflected on the current gaps that cause systems to fall short of this.
What do I mean by multi-perspective learning? One that reflects the breadth and diversity of the world students live in. Regardless of job or industry, interaction with the broader world including foreign economies, people, information, and major global challenges is becoming more inevitable.
As such, connecting students with perspectives and experiences far beyond their own becomes more critical. Thus, at the centre of the discussion of how to modernise education should be the question of how to better globalise education.
To explain what I mean I’ll offer my own experience. I went to a small, boarding school whose student body of less than 300 represented over 26 states and 14 countries. The mission was to create a tight-knit community where students of diverse backgrounds could learn together and expand each other’s worldview.
The teachers were also varied: my French teacher was Senegalese and loved to good-naturedly mock our study habits which he considered pitiable compared to those of his students back in Dakar. I had a self-professed Marxist for sophomore history class who intriguingly cast a more favourable light on Communist political theory than I’m sure most American students receive.
I took a Peace Studies class, which deeply and critically questioned the US’ own version of its military history and human rights record and laid the foundation for my own scepticism that later became important working in international development.
“At the centre of the discussion of how to modernise education should be the question of how to better globalise education”
In short, my high school experience helped to serve as a microcosm of the world-at-large—albeit an idealised one—familiarising me with the questions, experiences, and variance of perspectives I would later encounter.
Given this background, when I decided to attend graduate school I intentionally sought a programme that would be global in scope both in terms of curriculum and most importantly, student composition. The LSE IDEAS MSc in International Strategy and Diplomacy fit these criteria well with over 15 countries represented.
I learned not only from the curriculum but perhaps even more from my classmates’ different reactions to the curriculum. For a few of my classmates from small countries, some of whom were diplomats or other kinds of government officials, the subject matter seemed too narrow or partial to great power politics.
The predominant theories in International Relations were indeed curated largely at the centres of power and therefore leave out the vantage point of countries on the periphery.
Fortunately, the value of having a wide spectrum of voices in the room is that it provides the opportunity for such perspectives to be discussed. Indeed, one of the most valuable takeaways of the programme for me as an international development professional was to hear this critique and better understand the geopolitical position and outlook of countries less vocal on the world’s stage.
I fear that this model of diversity will no longer be the gold standard as education policymakers try to keep up with economic changes. For fields such as international relations, the risk may be less, but in more technical fields, the rote transferring of material can be prioritised at the expense of fostering a robust learning process that expands students’ horizons.
And as the trend of higher education turns towards technical, specialised learning in an attempt to adapt, it is possible that the ancillary considerations—such as the scope of perspectives and backgrounds represented in a classroom—become less significant.
“I learned not only from the curriculum but perhaps even more from my classmates’ different reactions to the curriculum”
When this happens the opportunity to cultivate global citizens who can think critically, thoughtfully, and broadly about the issues that face themselves, their countries, and the broader world is lost. We cannot afford such a loss in today’s political environment with its rise in xenophobia, racism, and an affinity for black-and-white thinking.
The kind of exposure, empathy, and worldview exchange that happens inside a classroom grows more critical at the same time that education grows more streamlined, efficient, and solitary.
I believe that we should not only be preparing students for the economic changes of the future but more importantly exposing students to the complex world that awaits them. This is the kind of education that the world really needs. And it is possible.
About the author: Alexa Greenwald is an alumna of the think tank, LSE IDEAS. She currently works as an International Development Professional.