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Globalisation Of Education

By K V Sagar

23 September, 2005

Globalization is no more a recent phenomenon in the world's socio-economic system. The impact of globalisation has been uneven and responses to it are varied in terms of its positive and negative dimensions the world over. Initial enthusiasm for globalization as a beneficial set of processes has yielded to an understanding that the phenomenon is largely associated with increasing social inequality within and between countries as well as instability and conflict. Thus, it is time to assess the impact of globalization on India's economy, as it has not yielded any spectacular outcomes. While it has expedited the pace of development in some areas, it has led to certain absurdities in others. Therefore, it is necessary that steps should be taken to reduce, if not remove, its baneful fall out. Globalization has a multi-dimensional impact on the system of education. It has underlined the need for reforms in the educational system with particular reference to the wider utilization of information technology, giving productivity dimension to education and emphasis on its research and development activities.

Education is an important investment in building human capital that is a driver for technological innovation and economic growth. It is only through improving the educational status of a society that the multi-faceted development of its people can be ensured. In the post-industrialized world, the advanced countries used to derive the major proportion of their national income not from agriculture and industry but from the service sector. Since the service sector is based on imparting skills or training to the students and youth, the education sector is the most sought after. It must provide gainful employment so that the sector is developed in a big way. It has also given rise to controversies relating to introducing changes in the inter-sectoral priorities in the allocation of resources leading to the misconceived policy of downsizing of higher education. It has also advocated privatization of higher education without realizing the danger of making the system a commercial enterprise.

Further, education, as a service industry, is part of globalization process under the umbrella of General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). However, there is every possibility that this might force countries with quite different academic needs and resources to conform to systems inevitably designed to service the interest of corporate educational providers, and thereby breeding inequality and dependence. Thus, several teachers’ organizations are on record opposing the inclusion of education in the GATS, on the ground that education was not a commodity. Incidentally, there is an emerging threat from the process of globalization in the recent times. Because, in the words of Arun Nigvekar of the World Bank’s Task Force, 2000, “Globalization can lead to unregulated and poor quality higher education, with the world wide marketing of fraudulent degrees or other so-called higher education credentials”. It seems that countries like India, are likely to turn into “an increasingly attractive market for foreign universities and hence other nations are going to use GATS’ provisions to their advantage”.

Nobel Laureates T.W.Schultz and Gary Becker in 1961 and 1963 respectively propounded the new economics of education. According to this, all investments in education, be they private or public, were guided by profitability. It was the profit motive that exhibited in the concern for the ‘rate of return’ to the money spent on education, which was the main factor, behind one’s investment decisions in education. The private investments were based on the private ‘rates of return’ calculated by counting the private costs and gains that were expected as the result of acquiring one kind of education rather than the other. The objective of education was the same, be it for individual or for society as a whole, to get the best economic value for the money and effort spent. Rather, there is high drop out rate, called as a key symptom of the system’s inability to reform itself.

In any case, it is difficult to assess not only the nature and dimensions of globalization, but also what it means to the field of education. Apparently, not many educational researchers have attempted to make connections between the several dimensions of globalization and the policies of education. It appears that the globalization process may mean different things in the context of Higher education. Most certainly, it means a very competitive and deregulated educational system modelled after ‘free-market’ but with more pressure on it to assure that the future workers is prepared for some fluid jobs in the ‘free-market of 21st century’. Further it means that educational system would provide the sites of struggle over the meaning and power of national identity and a national culture.

Ground Realities: Sadly, the Human Development Report of UNDP indicates that India had the largest national population of illiterates in the world. Thus, it may be recalled that it was Gokhale who advocated making primary education free and compulsory 94 years ago. Even the Article 45 of the Indian Constitution that promised for free and compulsory education within the first decade of our Independence, achieved very little, partly due its non-judicial character. However, the Education Commission further hoped that “all the areas of the country should be able to provide five years of good effective education to all the children by 1975-76 an seven years of such education by 1985-86”. The simple calculations of free and compulsory education were never gone into though all realized that the total cost would be enormous. Obviously, the India’s Education Commission (1964-66) under the leadership of D.S.Kothari and J.P.Naik as the Chairman and Member-Secretary that laid the foundation of post-Independent India’s national education policy. Thus, the Commission had recommended that 6%, as against 3%, of the national income be allotted as government expenditure on education.

Decades of under-investment in education have created shocking shortages of buildings, laboratories, libraries, sanitary facilities and even drinking water and sanitation facilities in the nation’s decaying education sector. Though the finance minister cites shortage of investible resources for implementing the 6 percent proposal, it is common knowledge that given political will, additional resources can be deployed into education only by trimming non-merit subsidies to the middle class, and reducing defense expenditure. In the final analysis a national consensus has to be built immediately by the Union ministry on the premise that higher education outlays are important investments in the nation’s future. Besides, the emerging political consensus that seeks to reform India’s traditional education based on mere memorization rather than development of problem-solving and conflict-resolution skills requires immediate attention.

The new United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s stand on a common school system for India that was recommended by the Kothari Commission (1966) is yet to be decided. The children of the poor and socially disadvantaged have been denied English medium school education. As usual there is no re-thinking on this issue within the Union ministry. However, Rajiv Gandhi introduced the National Policy on Education in 1986(NPE-1986) and its accompanying Programme of Action that promised child-centered, free and compulsory education up to the age of 14 yeas by 1995. Interestingly, the revised formulation of such NPE, made in the 1992, also talked about the same theme of free and compulsory education, and thereafter it focused on ‘satisfactory quality’ education! Even the 86th constitutional amendment act in 2002 that made the elementary education a fundamental right and has promised the same education to all those between the ages 6 and 14 in the country. But then reverse of what had been promised became a reality now.

Recent Trends: In the wake of globalisation process and to cope up with the changing priorities of the people, the planners are bound to revise their strategies in the education sector. Thus, several specialist committees, involving the elites and captains of industry and education, constituted by the Union ministry are engaged in the process. Whereas, the public interest demands a wider domain for the national debate on syllabus and curriculum reform among other related aspects. As usual there are several viewpoints of conflicting nature expressed by the captains of industry and education like Azim Premji, Prof.N.S.Ramaswamy, Kabir Mustafa and others. While there is a broad consensus on some points, some are almost at variance with each other. The common educational reforms that were endorsed by some of the eminent industrialists and academics include:

Liberalise and deregulate the education system to encourage promotion of new schools, colleges, vocational and other institutions of higher education.
Delicence higher education, confer institutional autonomy and decentralise syllabus design.
Central and state governments should change their roles within the education system, re-inventing themselves as facilitating and supervisory organisations.
Teacher training, infrastructure and syllabuses need to be urgently upgraded.

The rapid growth of the software development and electronic communications industries is one of the few achievements of Indian industry in post-independence India. Further, because of strong hold of the English language in MNCs and corporate circles, the divide between rural and urban is almost complete in the field of education. In consequence, this great reservoir of skills and expertise offers the opportunity to utilize them for the spread of quality education through several technologies. Obviously, F.C. Kohli, the vice chairman of Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) recommended, "Through the wider use of computers and technology, curriculums and faculties can be shared by schools and colleges across the country". Again the pace is set by a variety of private ‘educational entrepreneurs’, otherwise known as, ‘edupreneurs’, who have promoted internationally recognized institutions of higher education such as the S.P. Jain Institute of Management in Mumbai; Amity University, Delhi; Indian School of Business and ICFAI Business School, Hyderabad; Mahavir Academy of Technical Sciences and Presidency College, Bangalore and the Great Lakes Institute of Management, Chennai, among others. Besides, some Indian ‘edupreneur’ are venturing overseas. These are all certain recent trends that undermine the very social obligations of our governments.

Initiatives of Central Government: This urgent flood of activity within the existing lethargic education sector has ensured that the vital importance of qualitative education has permeated down to the lowest income groups across the country. Incidentally it was Rajiv Gandhi who was instrumental in laying the foundations of a scheme known as the Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas. As part of it more than 500 residential schools were established in rural India. Simultaneously it has focused public attention upon hitherto mysterious subjects such as syllabus design and curriculum development and shifted national attention from ritual to really quality education. Suddenly mere degrees are not as important as skills that school leavers and college graduates must acquire within their institutions of learning.

However, official indifference and unwillingness to engage in constructive debate, a characteristic of the present UPA government as much as it was of its predecessor BJP-led NDA administration is glaring. However, education and healthcare have been given top priority in the agenda of the UPA’s National Advisory Council (NAC). Obviously, there is a glaring evidence of the rising tide of anxiety about the quantity and quality of education being noticeable, as is indicated by the unprecedented provision made in the Union budget last year. Thus, Union finance minister P. Chidambaram committed to imposing a two percent cess on all Central taxes and by promising to raise the annual education outlay to 6 percent of GDP. The UPA government’s two percent ‘cess’ may help to raise the additional funds for education. The additional revenue expected this year seems to be used to upgrade education levels in the country. Additional safeguards that the ministry taking to ensure optimal deployment of the incremental revenue for primary education are still mysterious.

Social Obligations: In fact, the introduction of ‘cost recovery’ principles that results in a hike in fees contributes to reduction in the burden of the government in financing higher education. But, what about social obligations? Obviously, the composition of student population will change in favor of the higher income groups. Further, privatization of higher education makes it expensive such that it is beyond the reach of lower income groups. Inadequate income implies denial of opportunity of the benefits of higher education whereas the denial of access to higher education results in the lack of fair opportunities to improve income. Further, market needs should be kept in view while developing the curriculum. The element of productivity orientation should guide the formulation of curriculum framework. It is also necessary that while deciding about the fee structure and other student levies, the tendency towards commercialization of education should be guarded against.

In fact, the economic reforms have resulted in freezing the public funds to many institutions and in stagnating the expenditure on education. Thus, educational sector has been more commonly described as, not service sector, but education industry. The free market philosophy has already entered the educational sphere in a big way. Commercialization of education is the order of the day. Commercial institutions offering specialized education have come up everywhere. In view of globalisation, many corporate universities, both foreign and Indian, are encroaching upon our government institutions. Once these institutions turn ‘self-financing’, their prices would be benchmarked against their global counterparts, which would be affordable to the same top layer of the society. As the job markets become acutely narrow, the polarization between the elite and non-elite would be clearly discernible. Meanwhile, various kinds of price barriers would be imposed to prevent the entry of the non-elite like the downtrodden and poor communities. Further, Corporatisation has transformed the education sector into an enterprise for profits.

Thanks to Dr.Ambedkar, the government policy of reservations in education and employment spheres has played a remarkable role for Dalits and Adivasis. The constitutional provision that merely envisages a proportionate representation of them as to their population, not beyond that, is subjected to half-hearted approach. Suffice it to remember the failure of their representation in government jobs, so as to vindicate this observation. Whatever be the criticism, the reservation facilities have given certain economic means of livelihood to over 1.5 million Dalits, for instance. Besides, over 50,000 Dalits could enter the field of government authority so far. Obviously, over a period of time these physical benefits have instilled some confidence in Dalit community. Now, due to the globalisation policies the winds of change in the name of ‘Economic Reforms’ has slowly shaken the very foundations of the Dalits. Wherever these reforms were carried out, denationalization of the public sector and privatization have been introduced. In consequence, more than any one else it is Dalits who would be the first ones to be affected very adversely in terms of ‘no reservation in private sector’.

Finally, these reforms envisage the withdrawal of state from its social obligations once for all. Thus, each country should decide about the nature and extent of globalization that can be constructively introduced in their socio-economic and educational systems. While it is difficult to resist the temptation of falling in line with the international community, it is necessary that while doing so, the paramountcy of national interests should be kept in view. This is more so in the field of education, which is intimately concerned with the development of human capital. Ultimately, any hasty involvement in the global educational market can end up in harming the vital interests of students, and particularly of poor and downtrodden for generations to come.

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