Posted by: Principal/Editor | April 29, 2015

Is globalisation of education inherently ‘good’? The need to ‘problematise’ globalisation

Globalisation is an example of a highly-elusive concept. Various schools of thought define it in very different ways: The World Bank defines it from an economic perspective as “the growing interdependence of countries resulting from their increased economic integration via trade, foreign investment, foreign aid, and international migration of people and ideas.”[1] Dale and Robertson broaden the definition, using the lens of sociology claiming that it “represents a complex, overlapping set of forces, operating differently at different levels.”[2] Hay goes a step further claiming that globalisation is much more than a process but can actually be seen as a political undertaking typified by a “tendency to which counter-tendencies may be mobilised.” [3] Faizal Rizivi, a scholar of globalisation in education captures the prevailing difficulties of defining this concept:

This lack of agreement is partly due to the fact that globalization is a highly contested concept employed to embrace a whole range of academic and popular discourses. It is a concept that is used to describe almost any and evey aspect of contemporary life, from the complex contours of contemporary capitalism, to the declining power of the nation-state system, the rise of trnasnational organizations and corporations, the emergence of a global culture challenging local traditions, and the information and communications revolution enabling rapid circulation of ideas, money and people.”[4]

The ubiquitous nature of globalisation in modern day curriculum

Notwithstanding the clearly contested nature of globalisation, the concept itself has an ubiquitous characteristic in the curriculum of education, at least in the context of two countries namely, Australia and Singapore. An inspection of the Australian “Human Society and Its Environment Life Skills (Stage 6),” which is also referred to as the HSIE syllabus encompassing discipline areas from Aboriginal Studies, Business, History, Geography and Religion reveals the mention of “global” and “globalisation” in the document for a total of 52 times.[5] Scrutinising the Singaporean “Secondary Social Studies – Normal (Technical) Syllabus” built around what is described as 21st century competencies in social studies explicitly uses “global” and “globalisation” in the document for a total of 24 times.[6] A careful examination of both these documents do not reveal any explicit attempt to problematise, yet alone critique the highly-contested concept of globalisation.

Interestingly enough, the notions of “critique,” “critical” and “inquiry-learning” are used quite extensively in both documents. The Australian HSIE Syllabus specifically mentions “critical” only once and “inquiry” a total of seven times. While the Singaporean social science syllabus identifies “critical” 29 times and “inquiry” 81 times in the document. Can it be argued that the curriculum of humanities and social sciences, represented in this example by the Australian HSIE and the Singaporean Social Science syllabus suffers a defect? On the one hand, these two curriculum examples espouse critical thinking and inquiry learning. And on the other hand, both documents appropriate the concept of globalisation without critically questioning it and subjecting it to inquiry learning.

Problematising the concept of globalisation

The act of problematisation comes in several forms. Perhaps the most prevalent approach to problematisation emanates from philosophers and historians as they critique identity and existence. Foucault defines it as the “questioning by the philosopher of this present to which he belongs and in relation to which he has to situate himself”[7] as a way to negotiate identity and existence. Deleuze in his critical reflections of Henri Bergson defines “construction of problems”[8] as a fundamental step in man’s theoretical and practical sensing of his history. One may argue that in the Foucauldian and Deleuzian sense, problematisation can be described as a key mechanism in which reality – not as a purely abstract concept, but as something relevant to problems — is negotiated.

In the field of economics and international trade where globalisation is the current buzzword, different individuals and groups have questioned – problematised – globalisation. One example of this is Prof Herman Daly, from the School of Public Policy University of Maryland and more significantly a former senior economist in the environment department of the World Bank:

Problematisation – a fundamental practice in social sciences

The goal is to help restore social science to its classical position as a practical, intellectual activity aimed at clarifying the problems, risks, and possibilities we face as humans and societies, and at contributing to social and political praxis.[9]

Flyvbjerg in his intriguing book “Making Social Sciences Matter: Why social inquiry fails and how it can succeed again” posits that the classical position of social science is “a practical, intellectual activity” designed to address predicaments experienced by “humans and societies.” One way in which social science can regain its classical position could be to re-visit one of its core tenets: “reflexive analysis of goals, values and interests”[10] among peoples and societies. This note argues that a key step in reflexive analysis is problematisation.

Problematisation as is employed here views the present reality of an unquestioned acceptance of “globalisation” in education curricula from a critical perspective. In particular, this note adopts the perspective of Paolo Freire who sees that in order for authentic liberating education to occur, there is a need to “confront reality critically.”[11]

Are we confronting reality critically when faced with the concept of “globalisation” in the social science curriculum documents of Australia and Singapore? Do you agree that globalisation needs to be problematised? If social sciences identifies reflexive learning, critical thinking and inquiry learning as key tools, why does it seem that the concept of “globalisation is often reified”[12] and thus remain void of any real meaning?


[1] Tatyana. Soubbotina, Beyond Economic Growth: An Introduction to Sustainable Development, Wbi Learning Resources Series (Washington, D.C.: The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/The World Bank, 2004), 83.

[2] Roger. Dale and Susan. Robertson, “The Varying Effects of Regional Organizations as Subjects of Globalization of Education,” Comparative Education Review 46, no. 1 (2002): 11.

[3] Colin. Hay, “Globalisation as a Problem of Political Analysis: Restoring Agents to a ‘Process without a Subject’ and Politics to a Logic of Economic Compulsion,” Cambridge Review of International Affairs 15, no. 3 (2002): 389.

[4] Fazal. Rizvi, “Postcolonialsim and Globalization in Education,” Cultural Studies – Critical Methodologies 7, no. 3 (2007): 256.

[5] NSW. Board of Studies, “Human Society and Its Environment Life Skills-Stage 6 Syllabus,” (Sydney, Australia: Board of Studies, NSW.,, 2010).

[6] Curriculum Planning and Development Division., “Secondary Social Studies – Normal (Technical) Syllabus,” (Singapore: Ministry of Education, 2014).

[7] Michel. Foucalt, “The Art of Telling the Truth,” in Politics, Philosophy, Culture, ed. Lawrence. Kritzman(London: Routledge, 1988), 88.

[8] Gilles. Deleuze, Bergsonism, trans., Hugh. Tomlinson and Barbara. Habberjam (New York: Zone Books, 1991), 16.

[9] Bent. Flyvbjerg, Making Social Science Matter: Why Social Inquiry Fails and How It Can Succeed Again (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 4.

[10] Ibid., 53.

[11] Paolo. Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, trans., Myra Bergman. Ramos, Merltoring the Mentor: A Critical Dialogue with Paulo Freire (New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2005), 52.

[12] Rizvi, “Postcolonialsim and Globalization in Education.”p. 257


  1. Reblogged this on Centre for Globalisation Education & Social Futures.

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