Economics and finance, Education | Australia

1 August 2016

Adding an international dimension to education and extending government support to disadvantaged students offers opportunities to overcome social stratification, write Rachelle Cole and Arjuna Dibley.

Australia’s recent federal election will see the controversial, nationalist politician Pauline Hanson, along with up to ten representatives of other minor parties, join a deeply fractured Senate. Coming off the back of the successful ‘Brexit‘ referendum in the UK and the growing popularity of Donald Trump’s blustering, inward-looking rhetoric in the US, the election outcome has highlighted a stratification in Western sentiment towards globalisation. The press has been awash with soul-searching about the genesis of this segmented turn to nationalism over globalisation.

Some economists have argued that globalisation unfairly privileges those already at the top by making business transactions, global employment opportunities and travel more readily available. Meanwhile, median incomes have stagnated, competition for jobs has increased, and higher house prices are locking young people out of the housing market.

Political analysts have pointed out that politicians did not grasp how deeply these trends are impacting many Australians: a fact made worse by political campaigns that focused on ‘ideas booms‘ and ‘innovation’ at a time when Australians are feeling anxious about an exodus of manufacturing jobs and the end of the mining boom.

In addition to these explanations from economics and political science, we ought to also consider education, as our classrooms play a role in forming views about globalisation.

While classroom teachers began to equip children with the skills to engage with the world beyond Australia in the 1960s and 70s, it took several more decades until ‘global education’  – as it is now known – was recognised as an approach that should be promoted in the curriculum. Global education encompasses the idea that Australia is interdependent with the rest of the world, and teaches children to value Australia’s cultural diversity and recognise their responsibilities as global citizens. In Australia, policy discussion about global education has particularly prioritised the changing nature of the Asian region and Australia’s role within it.

Since 2002 Commonwealth and State government policies have helped establish global education as a core part of the curriculum. For example, the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians, which was signed by state, territory and Commonwealth education ministers in 2008, argues, among other things, that our young people need to be ‘Asia literate’ to thrive in an increasingly globalised Australia. For this reason, the new Australian Curriculum includes, ‘Australia’s engagement with Asia’ and ‘intercultural skills’ as key priorities. Moreover, there are a range of policies at all levels of government that outline the importance of learning other languages for building these global skills.

More on this: Australian higher education: where to now? | Greg McCarthy

The vision set out in these policy documents is being realised in some of our nation’s private and high-performing public schools. These schools offer extensive language programs and even alternative curriculums built around increased global awareness, such as the International Baccalaureate. Study tours, exchanges to international campuses and visits from international guests are commonplace in these schools and help to convince students, if they are not already convinced, of the benefits of being connected to the world and of Australia’s integrated place within it.

At a tertiary level too we have some effective policies designed to build global awareness among young people. The Coalition Government’s signature foreign affairs initiative, the New Colombo Plan Scholarships Program is one such example that is successfully building these skills among ‘high achieving scholars’. Sixty-nine scholarships were awarded to Australian undergraduate students from a number of disciplines for study across 17 locations in the 2015 funding round in the hope that they will drive engagement with the region. The New Colombo Plan effectively creates a tertiary path allowing students to continue on from school level programs like the International Baccalaureate, to internationalise their education and live the benefits of globalisation.

There is a group of young people, however, who are not able to access these pathways. These students attend the many public schools in this country that are in disadvantaged or remote areas; schools that are not always equipped to incorporate international perspectives into their teaching in meaningful ways. They are often focused instead on using their limited resources to teach basic skills such as literacy and numeracy and dealing with the sources and symptoms of disadvantage. As such they are not able to help their students realise the ideal of ‘global education’. Government policies should better target the students from these schools who may not be on pathways to university education or international careers.

One way to do this is to ensure that a more diverse range of young people can access initiatives such as the New Colombo Plan. This could include expanding that policy to include public schools and TAFEs. For example, a scholarship of $2,000 for a secondary school student from a disadvantaged community, or for an apprentice chef for a study tour to Asia, could change the trajectory of that person’s life by exposing them to the world beyond Australia’s borders. For students from disadvantaged backgrounds, such an opportunity may only be available through a government-funded scholarship.

By targeting students who, by virtue of their circumstances, are least likely to be the beneficiaries of globalisation, programs such as these could help build a less stratified view of globalisation in Australia.

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Cole, Rachelle and Arjuna Dibley. 2016. "Globalising Education - Policy Forum". Policy Forum.