The concept of a global village encompassing the whole world seemed to become a reality in recent decades with the rapid advances in technology, the web, changing industrial practice and the shift towards the information economy. However the web (the primary communications medium of globalization) has also effectively communicated the differences that are increasingly obvious in our world. Globalization has ushered in a new information economy. The web was once hailed as the means by which the massification of education would occur with many seeing opportunities to capture new markets made accessible by the internet. Yet globalization has not resulted in the world that many hoped for. The question is will education provide the way for creating a better world or will it be the tool to further divide our world?
Today Globalisation is a term used to describe a number of paradigm shifts that have or are occurring in our world. It describes a borderless community in which the traditional nation state boundaries are redefined in light of economic partnerships that transcend these established boundaries. McWorld and Coca-colonisation of the world are global brands that are often viewed as symbols a new form of imperialism that is sometimes termed the Americanisation of the world. It is also used to describe the convergence of culture often to the detriment of local communities and values.
The web began as a medium by which academics could communicate to each other so that they could exchange information and ideas. It emerged in the early 1990’s from being a communication medium for a few elite academics to linking the world electronically. It very quickly was seen as a means to create income. For many the idea of communicating to the whole world also brought ideas of massive new markets to be tapped. At first no one was really sure how this would occur. The dot com emerged and during the 1990’s and generated huge amounts of investment capital based on little income and none of the traditional tangible assets. The mantra was if it was new technology it was good.
The bubble burst. The dot com collapse and resulting losses incurred devastated many people’s confidence in internet. Much of the early hype was based on a lack of understanding of how the web works as a communication’s medium. The halcyon days of the 90’s are now behind us but the web is still growing at a phenomenal rate. It is a medium that provides instant access to billions of searchable pages of information. Google currently the worlds leading search engine handles 200 million such searches per day. Millions of people everyday send emails, engage in virtual discussions in chatroom or instant messages and post views and opinions on discussion boards. It connects our world instantly in a way never before possible.
A second great influence is the shift in our world from being an industrial economy to an information economy. Alvin Toffler in the Third Wave describes the ramifications of such a shift. Production of goods is based on cost savings such as cheap labour and is not dependent on national boundaries. Once exporting was about the movement of raw materials to the next stage of manufacturing. The transnational corporation functions as its own entity moving production and finances outside the restrictions of the traditional nation state that has dominated world political systems for the past few centuries.
Out of these great changes the nation state are seeking to redefine their place in our global village. For many developing nations globalization is seen as a synonymous with Americanisation. There is a strong resistance to the homogenization of culture within a world of global brands dominated by American economic and cultural imperialism. The so called economic equal playing field strongly favours western nations who demand access to developing nation’s markets but are still able to impose tariffs to protect their local more expensive producers.
Globalisation has not been the cure all for the ills of the world. After the collapse of the communism late last century capitalism and its accompanying democracy is seen as the only viable financial and governing model. But it has also failed to realize solutions to many of the issues that plague society. World Bank initiatives to bail out some of the Asian tiger economies after their meltdown during the 90’s have imposed unfair impositions on nations that had little to do with the lending of money. For example the condition of receiving money is to open markets. These conditions have often exacerbated the receiving nation’s problems and this is evident in the growing divide between the world’s have’s and the have nots. During the recent Iraqi war the United Nations was largely ineffectual in staving off the United States dogged commitment to replace Saddam Hussein. Its resolutions and weapons reports were treated disdainfully by George Bush who chose to ignore it and go to the war on the premise of Iraq‘s possession of arms of mass destruction.
Education has long been seen as the means by which disadvantaged groups can modernize and achieve economic equality. This is even truer in an information economy where wealth is evaluated by one’s access to information. As one becomes better educated they gain higher incomes, they move up through society’s pecking order and they are better able to serve the community. Because of this the whole community is considered better off.
A concern is that education is now seen as another economic commodity. This tension is felt acutely in higher education institutions where courses are now closely linked to industry expectations. Once a University’s role was clearly defined, it accumulated information through research and disseminated that information by teaching. To a large extent this occurred outside the market influences, was largely government subsidized and was regarded as a community service. Today education institutions face increased pressures to do more with less and meet the demands of industry. With the burgeoning student population professors are under more pressure to meet increasing demands from their clients.
Within the education paradigm many viewed technological advances with an eye for cost saving and mass production and dissemination of education. Two thirds of the world lives within 800 miles of Bangkok and so far is largely untapped market. It was envisioned that there was a huge market for secondary education for these emerging economies. Many thought that transmissive models of learning would allow cheap mass produced education. This is reflected in terminology such as learning materials to describe a course of instruction.
Online learning opportunities may not be the educational panacea that everyone hoped for. It is not cheap. Instead quality online learning may be more expensive than or at least as expensive as traditional face to face educational models. One of the strengths of online learning is its ability to construct learning communities through computer mediated conferencing (CMC). Most suggest that a student ratio of one teacher to 25 or so students is the optimal ratio for effective learning to occur.
At the recent G8 conference in Evian, Jaques Chirac, France‘s Prime Minister suggested that unless there is an investment in infrastructure that globalization is doomed to failure. The evaluation in 2002 of the primary commitments of the G8 countries at Kananaskis of the Genoa summit in 2001 suggests that there is little interest or political will by the G8 countries to invest in the resources that are required to supply a primary education for many disadvantaged people.
Therefore rather than the liberator that it has been in the past if used wrongly it may become another tool that results in further oppression of disadvantaged groups. Current World Bank policies are orientated to an economistic development of human capital model of education. Education policies are designed to increase the efficiency of the way it is administered with an emphasis on the outcomes. They have created a global model that has little understanding or place for local needs, culture or communities. Instead of being in the hands of local teachers it comes under the realm of global economic rationalism.
Any global education initiatives will need to be able to identify with local needs if they are to be effective. The African continent is today facing an Aids epidemic that will infect one third of its population and will create a huge drain on its resources in the coming decade. Israelis and Palestinians continue to blow each other up on an almost daily basis. SARS recently erupted in flashpoints around the world carried at an unprecedented rate in a borderless world. Within a decade many baby boomers will begin drawing on their superannuation and many analysts are certain that this will result in an economic downturn as less funds are available for investment.
The possibilities offered to our world by technology and education are enormous. Online learning is poised to contribute to an emerging post colonial; post industrial world with its values of access and equity to all.Â Is online learning the panacea to the ills of globalization? It could contribute to the growing world divide by furthering the gap between the information have’s and have nots. This scenario only serves the haves and enables them to be better off. However, with the right infrastructure it could provide access to learning opportunities without limitations of time or space or race or culture. This could serve to bring together co-operatively the strengths of our global community and create a win/win situation.
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