Globalization and the Future of Education

by Dana on April 15, 2009

globalization-education-work Armed with technology, globalization changed the way of life for many of us in a shocking span of time. The way we work, live, communicate, learn, has been completely transformed. Learning has undoubted changed too. But how will this change impact the way we value education and knowledge-based work going forward?

In the past few years, more and more educational materials have moved off of campus firewalls, and onto the web for all to consume. We are talking about entire course curriculum, reading list, lecture notes and videos. When the accessibility of information is no longer constrained, and the cost for knowledge acquisition is inconsequential, what does that mean for the education of knowledge workers?

Horizontal playing field

A horizontal playing field means that students and workers in less privileged countries or regions have a much more equal starting point, where the only determinants of success is motivation and hard work.

Right now, the up-and-coming parts of the world are still performing relatively mundane and technical tasks outsourced from the west. But let’s not forget how much of a leap that had been already. Computer engineers two decades ago were a rare breed and commanded high salaries. Nowadays, programmers with little business experiences are a dime a dozen. And they compete directly with well-educated coders from India, Russia, and China.

But as the next generation of customer service operators and programmers become exposed to the vast sea of free information readily available on the net, what’s preventing them from “pricing options, or calculating weighted average cost of capital, or mechanically ploughing through ‘five forces’ analysis”? It seems to me that any activities that require only technical proficiency will become low value-added tasks going forward, and can be contracted out.

Value deflation in certain areas of knowledge-based work

In the coming decades, information will become more free and more readily available than ever before. As a result, more than one category of jobs will be made obsolete, or attain the endangered status in their current forms. It’s not only the low level tasks that get outsourced anymore.

Cost for low value-added knowledge and execution of tasks keep falling, due to both a falling cost of information, and the increased competition from a more level playing ground. Power no longer rests in the hands of those with knowledge, not when knowledge has become such a public good. But it rests in the hands of those that know how to manipulate and utilize knowledge in the most value-adding manner.

The newspaper industry’s present-time struggles are partly due to inflexible and inadequate responses to the lowered entry barrier (on the supply side) and lowered valuation of its current product offerings (on the demand side). Also afflicted? Future of higher education. This is succinctly illustrated in the lament on the present course of training MBAs.

What will we sell them when the algorithmic skills we are now teaching will be available at zero marginal cost? What will we be selecting for when the preeminent source of value will be the skills involved in defining values rather than those involved in calculating the best means to achieve accepted values?

And just exactly what kind of thinkers will flourish in this new economy? You know, the ones that will lead the transition from the Age of Information to the Age of Interpretation?

These thinkers will be big- and nimble-minded enough to reason coherently about radically different cultural, metaphysical, technical, disciplinary, linguistic, and methodological perspectives; and tough-minded enough to take constructive, positive action in the face of radical inconsistency and incongruity among perspectives; to stare the future in the eyes even after realizing truth is not equivalent to certainty—and to think about the world while thinking about thinking about the world at the same time, having realized that all thoughts are fallible, but thinking itself is priceless.

Critical thinking and morality in education

I had little interest in the field of education, short of writing about the inadequacies of my own education. Then I came across Shafeen Charnia’s blog, where the shortcomings of our education systems are placed in context with much of corporate and social misdeeds.

This financial crisis has exposed, some says over-exposed (because it always has, and always will exist) corporate mis-behaviour. Executives have been called anything from greedy to immoral. Suddenly, morality found itself a central theme in the discussion of education reforms.

As a precursor to aspired characteristics such as integrity and accountability, morality is no doubt a good starting place for the future leaders and participants of civil societies. Yet one psychologist so far sees flaw in the logic, and pointed out that “true moral education encourages critical thinking and cannot be assumed to promote virtuous behavior any more than education about economics can be assumed to promote thrift.”

Many would argue that moral education should be left in the hands of the parents. But when parents fail, should the system pick up the slack? And just exactly how do we promote morality through the education system? And more importantly, should the promotion of such qualities be a part of its mandate? With a system that in some instances, still struggles to impress upon its students the basic skills of life, is the promotion of moral behaviour too much to ask?

Globalization and the right responses in education reform

American children are by no mean masters of rote learning. And nor should they be. But when it comes to talks of education reform, an overwhelming amount of focus is given to better GPAs and higher SAT scores. The end goal? The right college or university.

This is all good and well when the dissemination of knowledge is protected and monopolized by educational institutions. Those were the times when self-learning was a much more laborious and arduous journey, a journey that requires mental fortitudes not possessed by most. Going forward, perhaps outcomes will one day trump processes. Equality of information access ensures everyone gets to play. In the near future, perhaps other measures of learnedness can be created to replace the diploma-driven educational market.

Some would argue that the west cannot compete with children from countries in East Asia, where children possess higher technical skills. So let them be, and accept the challenge. Focus on molding our children into more creative, conscientious, culturally adaptable and well-rounded beings. While those societies are producing the next batch of knowledge workers, perhaps we want to charge forward and nurture the above-mentioned information “interpreters”.

picture source: ~ForbiddenEmotions

  • Gaurav

    Hi Dana,

    You definitely put a lot of food for thought on the table. I guess people have debated what the right way is for education going forward. On the one hand, the US is definitely worried about the fact that American kids generally fare nowhere near as good as Asian kids might, yet the all-round ability and creative abilities in the American education system are probably quite high.

    What if though – the problems are starting much before? I don’t know what your take on No Child Left Behind is, but I think its really made no difference – if anything schools are just now focused on a narrower field of vision. But here’s the problem – there is really too much choice in the education system here! You can’t have a 12 year old choose between studying physics and chemistry for instance – education is not comprised of individual subjects but needs to be more holistic. NCLB has contributed to this effect of wearing blinders, I believe.

    I just think that the point you raise about focusing on creating the next generation of interpreters misses one key point. The most moldable minds are not those that are in universities right now – they are in the primary schools, junior high and high schools and if they do not have a good foundation, then they most certainly will not be able to build anything further.

    And last but not least – what about the family? We’ve become much too reliant on the system to “bail us out”. Isn’t it as much the parent’s responsibility to teach the children as much as the school’s? If, as a parent, you don’t take an interest in your kid’s education, how can you expect your child to do the same?

  • Gaurav

    Hi Dana,

    You definitely put a lot of food for thought on the table. I guess people have debated what the right way is for education going forward. On the one hand, the US is definitely worried about the fact that American kids generally fare nowhere near as good as Asian kids might, yet the all-round ability and creative abilities in the American education system are probably quite high.

    What if though – the problems are starting much before? I don’t know what your take on No Child Left Behind is, but I think its really made no difference – if anything schools are just now focused on a narrower field of vision. But here’s the problem – there is really too much choice in the education system here! You can’t have a 12 year old choose between studying physics and chemistry for instance – education is not comprised of individual subjects but needs to be more holistic. NCLB has contributed to this effect of wearing blinders, I believe.

    I just think that the point you raise about focusing on creating the next generation of interpreters misses one key point. The most moldable minds are not those that are in universities right now – they are in the primary schools, junior high and high schools and if they do not have a good foundation, then they most certainly will not be able to build anything further.

    And last but not least – what about the family? We’ve become much too reliant on the system to “bail us out”. Isn’t it as much the parent’s responsibility to teach the children as much as the school’s? If, as a parent, you don’t take an interest in your kid’s education, how can you expect your child to do the same?

  • http://investoralist.com Dana

    Gaurav,

    Interesting points you’ve made there.

    I think much of the educational reforms undertaken in the US is patchwork. Many parents have abdicated the responsibility of parenting to the state, leaving the government to (at least) worry about, if not care for children financially (x percentage of children live in poverty, what do we do!) to their emotional well-being (let’s make sure they don’t bring firearms to school and shoot everyone!), to morality (are we only imbuing materialism in school without infusing it with morality tales!), to their future productive potentials (how to make them more creative, but with the proper technical foundations!).

    So to your last point, absolutely. Parents should do more. But many don’t. And in the interest of societal well-being, the state and its appointed education lieutenants step in. Is that the preferred method of parenting/education? No. Educators do not, and cannot replace parents or family. But in lieu of such happy occurrences, it’s the next, and for many, the last best thing.

    As to your point of age and moldibility (is that a word? haha), I don’t know. I tend to think of education, and growth of children, as a continuous process. For those less privileged (I’m assuming when it comes to No Child Left Behind, we’re not talking about upper/middle-class kids), the will to learn come early and never leave, some will never have it without the proper environment and social pressure. For the vast number of kids in the middle, it takes a push or two from external influences: friends, educators, some turning event. I’ve heard of experimental high schools in DC (or was it New York?) where low-income kids enroll, and do extremely well. The measure of “wellness” is mostly standardized testing scores and college admission rates.

    I think this may be a good rebuttal to your point. Kids in middle/high school need the technical foundation to build on (which is what you are saying) for their creative potential to be unleashed in the future (higher education was meant to serve that purpose before it became ubiquitous and accessible for everyone). So I think compulsory education should ensure most children least have a standardized level of knowledge and skills to face the basic challenges of life. Some of those that make it to college may not turn out to be movers and shakers, but at least they are instilled with work ethics and an education that they can later deploy to move up in life.

    Now the idea is as above, but execution is something else. For example, I don’t think undergraduate educations are really doing the job properly, with emphasis on publishing instead of teaching for faculty members, but that’s another story.

  • http://investoralist.com Dana

    Gaurav,

    Interesting points you’ve made there.

    I think much of the educational reforms undertaken in the US is patchwork. Many parents have abdicated the responsibility of parenting to the state, leaving the government to (at least) worry about, if not care for children financially (x percentage of children live in poverty, what do we do!) to their emotional well-being (let’s make sure they don’t bring firearms to school and shoot everyone!), to morality (are we only imbuing materialism in school without infusing it with morality tales!), to their future productive potentials (how to make them more creative, but with the proper technical foundations!).

    So to your last point, absolutely. Parents should do more. But many don’t. And in the interest of societal well-being, the state and its appointed education lieutenants step in. Is that the preferred method of parenting/education? No. Educators do not, and cannot replace parents or family. But in lieu of such happy occurrences, it’s the next, and for many, the last best thing.

    As to your point of age and moldibility (is that a word? haha), I don’t know. I tend to think of education, and growth of children, as a continuous process. For those less privileged (I’m assuming when it comes to No Child Left Behind, we’re not talking about upper/middle-class kids), the will to learn come early and never leave, some will never have it without the proper environment and social pressure. For the vast number of kids in the middle, it takes a push or two from external influences: friends, educators, some turning event. I’ve heard of experimental high schools in DC (or was it New York?) where low-income kids enroll, and do extremely well. The measure of “wellness” is mostly standardized testing scores and college admission rates.

    I think this may be a good rebuttal to your point. Kids in middle/high school need the technical foundation to build on (which is what you are saying) for their creative potential to be unleashed in the future (higher education was meant to serve that purpose before it became ubiquitous and accessible for everyone). So I think compulsory education should ensure most children least have a standardized level of knowledge and skills to face the basic challenges of life. Some of those that make it to college may not turn out to be movers and shakers, but at least they are instilled with work ethics and an education that they can later deploy to move up in life.

    Now the idea is as above, but execution is something else. For example, I don’t think undergraduate educations are really doing the job properly, with emphasis on publishing instead of teaching for faculty members, but that’s another story.

  • Pingback: Spending It

  • Ginny

    Hi Gaurav,

    Both you and Dana have made valid points. We need to really ask ourselves, why is there such a belief that American students are not as competitve educationally as students from other countries such as China and India for example. As far as the NCLB, I agree with you that it has not really made a difference. This is evidenced by schools that maintain lower ranking than other schools within their same district. Why do some schools rank higher than others? Shouldn’t the educators and leadership share and possess the same goals as the other schools? I am not sure as to why low ranking schools still receive funding if they are not showing the ability to remain in the same ranking levels as those schools that are within the higher percentile. While, I do believe that funding should exist for those lower ranking schools.

    I have to disagree with you on this point, moldable minds do not necessarily evolve from primary schools, junior high and high schools. I was born in Harlem in NYC and I can attest that our urban schools were not the best. I also attended those low ranking schools in Harlem and in the Bronx and New York City. Yet, I have managed to acheive a successful career as a director in health care and an MBA with a GPA of 3.91 and pursuing a doctorate of education with a GPA of 3.60 so far with one class left to finish.

    As far as the responsibility of our children, It is definitely the responsibility of the parents and I get so frustrated when society tries to put the burden on the educational system and society. It is up to us parents to make sure that our students are guided as I was.

  • Janet Hooten

    Dana,

    I found your blog very interesting regarding how some would argue that the West cannot compete with children from countries in East Asia, so perhaps we should not focus on those countries. How do you see us being able to keep pace with the academic growth of other countries?

    Janet