In the last decade, debates over the shape and future of Australian education have been frustratingly parochial and inward looking – focusing almost exclusively on issues of funding and standards, marketisation and accountability, and the production of human capital.
In the last decade, debates over the shape and future of Australian education have been frustratingly parochial and inward looking – focusing almost exclusively on issues of funding and standards, marketisation and accountability, and the production of human capital. Curriculum reform, too, has fixated on one issue – skilling students in information technology. This fervent push to technologize education has sidelined debate over Australia’s changing socio-demographic profile and how multicultural and citizenship education ought to respond to the changing composition of local communities and larger geopolitical changes. As a result, Australian political leaders, educators, and public intellectuals find themselves in what is at once a divisive and narrow dialogue.
The anti-globalisation demonstrations in Seattle and Melbourne and the events of 11th September offer two provocative insights. First, that there is an urgent need for a much broader dialogue around identity, citizenship and ethics in new conditions. Second, that parochial national education systems, governments and mass media have failed to create a broadly ‘educational’ debate around key issues facing communities, regions and cultures in transition.
This workshop is an attempt to build an ongoing discussion of the normative roles and contents of education in the context of cultural, political and economic globalisation. In new conditions, what should be taught, how, to whom, to what ends? How should universities and schools balance and reconcile economic goals with new imperatives around cultural identities, intercultural relations, community diversity, and an ethics of care? Our attempt to craft a ‘futures manifesto’ for Australian education will focus principally on secondary and tertiary education.
It is widely accepted by scholars who investigate the cultural dimensions of globalisation that it generates standardization/homogenization (e.g., culture industries and consumption) as much as it produces fragmentation/differentiation (e.g., emergence of ethnic and social movements). Politically, globalization is also said to contribute to loss of nation-state sovereignty and weakening of concepts of citizenship, the resurgence of nationalism and nation-state identity politics (e.g., Indonesia, Singapore, Fiji, Balkans), and the increasing power of multinational corporations and NGOs (e.g., World Bank). In economic terms, there are global tensions in the transition from industrial to post-industrial society as most societies are engaged in uneasy blends of agrarian, industrial and post-industrial economic activity (e.g., as national trade barriers are reduced and new regional alliances such as the EU, APEC, and NAFTA are erected).
The response of the OECD and many postindustrial education systems has been to focus on: (a) the production of human capital for new “knowledge economies”, and (b) the generation of intellectual ‘goods’ and property with potential exchange value in a global marketplace. Despite rhetoric around the need to “learn to live together” (UNESCO, 1999), these economic imperatives are typically matched with various forms of neo-nationalist discourses.
While we cannot fully assess their impact, the events of September 11th have caught educators, educational systems and many of their students like deer in the headlights of globalisation: quite literally, without strategies or resources for teaching about and through the questions raised about nation, about difference, about cultures and about economies. How did teachers respond to student questions or anxieties following September 11th? Which questions and discussions took place among students in the schoolyard or at home and how did parents respond? How have Australian Islamic schools responded? What exactly are the new tensions around students’ and teachers’ cultural, religious, and ethnic identities? How are schools addressing the very serious issue that Australia is now ‘at war’ – With whom? Why? How are schools clarifying national identity and security issues not only in light of post-September 11th, but in terms of the ‘new politics’ around asylum seekers? These are local and global political and moral issues. They are the new media dramas and simplified soundbites often indistinguishable from the action movies and video games kids have grown up with. Post September 11th, what in young peoples’ minds is fact or fiction, real or simulated, over ‘there’ and over ‘here’? This workshop will provide a forum from to begin a dialogue about an Australian educational response to complex new times.