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Multi-national education without the multinationals…

Posted by: | January 24, 2010 | No Comment |

The theme at  November’s  SSAT conference in Birmingham was “21st Century Schooling: The Globalised Challenge”. There were many highlights, especially George Alagiah making an insightful and passionate keynote about the “Bottom Billion” – the economically worst off in the world. However, I was struck by the overwhelmingly corporate message which came across from the majority of other speakers. Sponsors of the conference included HSBC, Rolls-Royce, Toshiba and BT, and the multinationals plying their trade in state education was welcomed in a way that I felt went completely unchallenged.

To illustrate this point, have a look at the “Global Fellows” videos from the conference. Here highly articulate, entertaining and bright 18 year olds discuss their work placements in developing countries with companies such as KPMG and Shell. The tone is enthusiastic and competitive, but there is no mention of the real impact of these multinational corporations on the developing world. By choosing these young people as keynote speakers at the conference, the message from SSAT and ultimately the government was that global business is what all our children should aspire to. There was no space to consider the ethics of these companies, no time to comment on whether the global impact that oil companies are having was a positive  one or not, no scope to consider whether we actually want these corporations in our classrooms.

The conference seemed to focus entirely on the short-term fiscal requirements of a more globalized world. In order for our young people to compete globally they will need to develop language skills, a competitive edge, an understanding of ICT etc. There was no consideration of the impact of this type of world on our children or the children in the countries where these teenagers had visited. It is of course true that children being educated in India are learning languages and ICT, but they are cheaper to employ too, and that is the real reason that the big companies source so much of their labour there…

As a primary school teacher, I find all of this quite difficult to swallow. I DO want my children to think about their global impact. I DO want my class to know about economics and about how their globalized world works, and I DO want them to be employable, but I also don’t think that Shell, KPMG or Rolls-Royce are necessarily the right people to help them gain that understanding. Whilst I understand that my children need to compete for jobs when they graduate, I do not think that the model of globalization which is extolled by these big companies is the one I would choose to teach to.

So how do we teach our children to be global citizens? How should they acquire the skills they will need for the jobs that we are (constantly) told have not been invented yet?

One way that we have tried to develop in our children a better understanding of  the world around them is through using blogs. My class blog has become a pivotal part of my daily teaching in many ways, but one of the most powerful aspects of this technology is to connect my class with the whole world in a largely non-commercial and democratic manner. In its simplest form, my children know what is happening across the world. Children and adults from all over the planet tell my children about events that are taking place where they live. On a deeper level, there are constant opportunities for my children to learn about the economics and opportunities available to  people in other parts of the world. A quick look at our Clustrmap from last year will show you who has been visiting from which countries – why is this? Language? ICT access? Political censorship? My children want to know where The Lebanon is, and why only 1 person has visited our blog from there, when we have had so many from the USA. It was Jimmy Carter who said “Globalization, as defined by rich people like us, is a very nice thing… you are talking about the Internet, you are talking about cell phones, you are talking about computers. This doesn’t affect two-thirds of the people of the world.”

My children want to know about the world. They are learning the skills they need to communicate with others as Global Citizens, and they are having to be creative and resourceful in order to answer their own questions. They are actively involved in their education, writing their own posts and asking questions about the world around them which are answered by people all over the planet.

If, as seems likely, the conservatives are voted in at the next election, the links between global industry and education are surely likely to increase. Budgets will be cut and the temptation to accept sponsorship and private money in education will become harder to resist. I believe that it is crucial that our children grow up not just with the ability to earn money and feed the economy, but also with free-will and a perspective on the world which allows them to be compassionate, critical and truly creative.

“Globalization is a fact of life. But I believe we have underestimated its fragility.” – Kofi Annan

under: Blog development, education policy
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