• Elias Mbanze

Decolonizing the curriculum through globalization

This short essay therefore aims to answer the following question: how can globalization serve as an agent of decolonizing the curriculum in the global south? Some issues in global education are explored and steps towards decolonization are considered within the context of relevant literature.

Introduction

The work of Santos (2018) provides a comprehensive description of decolonization and the context that decolonization is viewed in Africa and Latin America. Colonization was driven by capitalism and as a result, it strengthened systems of inequality, exploitation, and sidelining of the local African and Latin American populations (Santos, 2018). The sidelining was in form of economic, culture, religion, and education. Indigenous populations in the areas were deprived of their human rights and were forced to work as laborers for the colonial regime with little to no education. Over the decades that followed colonialism, various movements stepped up to the role of emancipating the oppressed people and providing restoration to the dignity that colonialism took away.

However, the efforts of liberation are only limited to political emancipation which, despite the intended utopian ideas of the liberation movements, have created terrible conditions for the masses due to mismanagement and corruption, a condition referred to as necropolitics (Mbembé, 2003). Decolonization has done very little for education as curricula in the global south are still largely influenced by the western and colonial epistemic beliefs (Heleta, 2016). In the specific example of post-apartheid South Africa, Heleta (2016) argues that apartheid-era epistemological traditions are still influential in the curriculum, which reinforces Western and white dominance.


In my own country of Namibia, which shares a history of apartheid with South Africa, the same epistemological traditions can still be observed. After independence, a Cambridge curriculum was adopted to help mitigate the effects of Bantu Education (Christie & Collins, 1982) which the apartheid government instituted in to ensure that black people received minimum education which only qualified them for work on white-owned farms. Regardless of the efforts however, there is still a challenge of perpetuating inequalities in Namibian education as well as reproduction of colonial and western educational standards at the detriment indigenous educational ideology. Even the content of textbooks, especially at high school level, is highly centered around western contents in which western ideas seem to be canonized at the expense of local ones in the same way that Mikander (2017) highlights regarding the contents of social science textbooks in Nordic countries. Decolonization is therefore required in the education systems of the Global South to ensure that the local narratives and ideologies receive the same attention that the western ones presently enjoy. Decolonization should not only involve political independence, but ontological restoration as well (Santos, 2018). Internationalizing education is one of the steps towards universalizing the curriculum (Stein, Andreotti & Suša, 2019) as it allows for sharing of knowledge and experiences. Scholars from different countries can conduct research together as equals and can engage in debate without one party assuming authority over the other.



The Current Problem with Globalized Education

International bodies such as the UNESCO, EU and OECD are proponents of so-called “global education” in which education around the world or certain regions of the world is supposed to be based on the same education policy, pedagogical practices, and other standards such as those pointed out by Verger et.al. (2018) which include school-based management, teachers’ accountability, and public-private partnerships. Globalization of education also requires uniformity in education in all parts of the globe. This is an ideal situation, and it would benefit everyone. It implies that the same education will be received by all, thus eliminating inequalities. It also suggests that all member states are afforded the same opportunity in influencing the curriculum and the educational philosophy. However, this is not the case. It is still a challenge for countries in the global south to develop modern schools to serve their own social, political, and economic agendas (Bickmore et.al., 2017). Instead, they depend on decisions that are made by Western countries and their associated organizations.


Though western philosophies may dominate education today, there are much older ideas about learning that predate them. Thayer-Bacon (2010) rightfully describes this when pointing out that America is a young country whose philosophies and ideas about life are younger than native ideologies that might have existed in America prior to Columbus. Older idea such as the African philosophy of Ubuntu (Lutz, 2009) or Eastern philosophies could equally play a significant role in influencing globalized curricula or global education in general. But the global balance of power does not allow for the possibility of incorporating these philosophies. Therefore, global education is not truly global but rather an imposition western curriculum ideology on the rest of the globe as well as a perpetuation of colonial philosophies.


There are also ethical issues involved in globalized education as Stein et.al. (2019) point out. Globalizing has been used by institutions for income generation and as a way to further reproduce The West’s global hegemony (Stein, Andreotti & Suša, 2019). This implies that institutes use internationalization to replenish their dwindling financial resources through tuition from international students and to create a better image of themselves as the supposed high demand for the education they offer often implies that these institutes embody higher educational standards. Instead of fully benefiting partners in the global south, institutes in the global north use globalization to exert their dominance upon their counter parts in the south. This further solidifies the dominance and ontological deprivation (Santos, 2018) which was brought about by colonization. Steps in decolonization are therefore necessary in improving the curriculum globally and in ensuring harmonious cooperation among stake holders in education.



Steps Towards Decolonization

In the Southern African context, one quick step towards decolonization will be considering the ideas enshrined within the philosophy of Ubuntu. Ubuntu is humanistic term that describes the collective nature of humanity. In essence, the idea is that we are what we are because of others. Lutz (2009) have demonstrated that management strategies centered around the African philosophy of Ubuntu have been successful in establishing firms as communities rather than as collections of individuals. The collective aspect in this case ensures that everything is done for the benefit of everyone in the firm and inclusive practices are instituted. In the same manner, this could have a greater impact in the re-imaging of the global curricula. Although inclusivity is a core idea in most curricula around the world, inequalities persist in education (DeMatthews & Mawhinney, 2014). The collective idea of Ubuntu, if it is emphasized the curriculum can, play a mitigating role in global south curricula as well as bring a new way of thinking to the global north.


The other approach to decolonization involves mutual globalization in which students from different countries learn subjects such as history in a multi-perspective manner. Instead of seeing people from the “developing world” or global south as backward, uneducated, and in need of western leadership, content in subjects such as history and geography could focus on the shared human experiences of people from all parts of the world and how these experiences are significant in shaping the globe. Those from the global south could also learn about their role in shaping the globe and how some positive views of the global north could be internalized in their own context. Social sciences (which include history and geography) are after all, about making meaning of texts (Mikander, 2017) by applying the text to a given context. Therefore, a universal history and geography curriculum should be context specific and should be considerate of the collective experiences of all humanity. Instead of reproducing common understandings of the world, students should be encouraged to critically be aware of human activities in their surroundings and at the global scale (Mikander, 2017).


Decolonization may also involve interrogating existing Eurocentric views, knowledge, and power structures that dominate current societies and how they contribute to the exploitation and undermining of non-European peoples (Zembylas, 2017). The savior complex that many westerners harbor should also be greatly examined. As Zembylas (2017) further points out, viewing notions such as human rights through only a Eurocentric or western lens creates the idea that the European or the westerner is the only morally upright being and thus their views should supersede all others. Meanwhile, there are many notions about humanity and harmony that could be learned from other cultures. Through globalization, attention could be paid to theses other aspects and notions of other cultures.



Concluding Remarks

Reconfiguring viewpoints that are presented in different educational settings and reorganizing of ideological leanings of societies around the world towards more tolerant and accepting views of all members of the global community may be challenging at present due to the dominance of western ideologies in some key areas of education as the work of authors such as Mikander (2017) and Zembylas (2017) demonstrate. But a shift in epistemic beliefs can be achieved if, instead of perpetuating the western humanistic beliefs and views about the world, international organizations could consult with their member states to create a new philosophy in which multiple understandings are synthesized into a singular idea of humanity and understanding of life.


This may sound idealistic because differences in culture and thinking will always exist in people. The key is to focus on the commonalities that bind us all together. In the current changing world, sustainable practices are necessary to reverse the effects of climate change and to guarantee our survival as a species in the coming centuries. A globalized curriculum that echoes the UN’s sustainability goals is necessary and it can be achieved since there is a common interest for all humanity.


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Bibliography

Bickmore, K., Hayhoe, R., Manion, C., Mundy, K., & Read, R. (Eds.). (2017). Comparative and international education: Issues for teachers. Canadian Scholars’ Press.

Christie, P., & Collins, C. (1982). Bantu education: Apartheid ideology or labour reproduction?. Comparative Education, 18(1), 59-75.

de Sousa Santos, B. (2018). The end of the cognitive empire. Duke University Press.

DeMatthews, D., & Mawhinney, H. (2014). Social justice leadership and inclusion: Exploring challenges in an urban district struggling to address inequities. Educational Administration Quarterly, 50(5), 844-881.

Egan, K. (1978). What is curriculum?. Curriculum Inquiry, 8(1), 65-72.

Finnish National Board of Education (2021). The Finnish Education System. Retrieved from: https://www.oph.fi/en/education-system

Heleta, S. (2016). Decolonisation of higher education: Dismantling epistemic violence and Eurocentrism in South Africa. Transformation in Higher Education, 1(1), 1-8.

Lutz, D. W. (2009). African Ubuntu philosophy and global management. Journal of business ethics, 84(3), 313-328.

Mbembé, J. A., & Meintjes, L. (2003). Necropolitics. Public culture, 15(1), 11-40.

Mikander, P. (2017). Using postcolonial discourse analysis in social science education: Troubling hierarchical human relations. In Troubling educational cultures in the Nordic countries (pp. 180-194). Tufnell Press

Stein, S., Andreotti, V., & Suša, R. (2019). Pluralizing frameworks for global ethics in the internationalization of higher education in Canada. Canadian Journal of Higher Education/Revue canadienne d'enseignement supérieur, 49(1), 22-46.

Thayer-Bacon, B. (2010) Pragmatism. In: International Encyclopedia of Education. Elsevier. https://www.sciencedirect.com.libproxy.helsinki.fi/referencework/9780080448947/international-encyclopedia-of-education

Verger, A., Altinyelken, H. K., & Novelli, M. (Eds.). (2018). Global education policy and international development: New agendas, issues and policies. Bloomsbury Publishing.


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Elias Mbanze is a student in the Masters in Changing Education programme at the Faculty of Educational Sciences at the University of Helsinki. He originates from the small town of Rundu in the north-eastern part of Namibia. He has a Bachelor of Education from the University of Turku with a major in Educational Sciences. Elias has taught mathematics and Natural sciences at primary and middle school level in Windhoek, Namibia since graduating in 2019 until August 2021. He is passionate about the field of education, and he is especially dedicated to researching methods that can improve teaching and learning in STEM subjects.


Key Words: Decolonization, Curriculum philosophy, Global North and South

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