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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

107] The 23 billion Ringgit Question

The RM23 billion question
Azly Rahman
Feb 12, 07 2:01pm

What will RM23 billion buy for our education system under the proposed reforms? What is the relationship between education and economic development in the context of globalisation and international cut-throat competition and predatory capitalism?

Most often, policy makers in the education ministry fail to understand the ‘big idea’ of change and the philosophical paths required to be taken based on political-economic considerations.

I offer three perspectives.

Structural functionalism

While, within a historical context, economic development and education as corollaries to social reproduction may have its roots in the Utilitarianism of John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham, the body of literature which has evolved in the middle of the last century can best be termed as ‘structural functionalism’.

In it, the role of the state is key to economic growth in that the issue of economic growth with equity is central.

Economic development is contingent upon investment in human capital - the more a nation invests in human beings through education, the more productive it will become. Positive growth will entail higher earnings for those educated and contribute to a competitive labour market.

The central idea is the rate of return in investment through education, which benefits a nation both through private investment to the individual as well as social investment.

Putting the excesses of modernisation and individualism aside, there are intrinsic and extrinsic benefits of growth, which must be pursued. One may recall Walt Rostow's transition stages in the form of the five stages of growth through which any society undergoing 'progress' must pass.

Economic development within the neo-classical/structural functionalist perspective attempts to address the issue of equity and distributive justice though education, as a means of social reproduction and as such, measurements to validate its effectiveness.

One must address questions of poverty reduction, unemployment and inequality. International economic development is perceived as an arena of competition for sites and human resources in the age of ‘brain-power industries’ in which knowledge, information and highly specialised skills become capital to be moved around this borderless world.

Key to the neo-classical/structural functionalist perspective is the idea of education as basis for national development so that economic growth will follow the linear progression true to its utilitarian and scientific-rationalistic ideological path. Herein lie the internal and external critiques of this mode of thinking when one considers the point of view of the so-called ‘Conflict theorists’ - a perspective that may challenge our RM23 billion ringgit education reform question.

Those emerging from the neo-Marxists, Dependency and World Order/World Systems theorists not only question the fundamental axiom of neo-classical economics, but look at the question of international distributive justice in international economic development.

Conflict Paradigm

The second perspective of ‘Conflict Paradigm’ sees education as a contested terrain in which power and ideology are at the heart of economic development.

Illustrative of the internal critique of the view that more education results in productivity are analyses of the economics of over-education - that a nation's productivity can in fact be negative if the labour force is over-educated.

Conflict theorists look at the internal and external contradiction in capitalist formation and see education particularly as a means of social reproduction in a world wherein economic development is coloured with structural violence via distributive injustices.

The development of underdevelopment of the so-called developed and under-developed countries within a Centre-periphery matrix of capitalist formation is an example of how neo-colonialism works especially illustrative in nation-states in Latin America.

The genre of writing within the Dependency perspective, which looks at the Metropole-Satellite uneven capitalist development and how Western-led capitalism under-develops nations and retards humanistic economic growth.

In this second perspective, we not only have dependency as a theme, but a post-Cold War period of borderless economics characterised by global production systems, transnational banks and corporations and the precariousness of sophisticated and advanced elite formations. In it lies an exposé of how the international dimension of the human capital revolution has taken shape.

Self-help view

While the two earlier perspectives espoused the internal and external critique of neo-classicalism/structural functionalist view of education and economic development, an enlightening view has brought in an alternative paradigm of economic development.

This emerged out of progressive grassroots movements in the South; particularly from the Indian sub-continent.

This third view is one that promotes self-help in economic and educational development. It is fundamentally a grassroots-approach to living, learning, and teaching.

Neither neo-classical nor Marxist perspectives on economic development could explain what education should mean. In this new movement lies the spiritual dimension of education which champions basic needs more than "created wants", participatory democracy more than protectionism, voices of conscience more than the rhetoric of developmentalism, and poets of meaningful reform than grand designs in education for economic development.

The East Asian financial crisis of 1997 devastated the capitalist world. The fallout brought Malaysia to the brink of economic, social, and political quagmire not seen since its independence. It forced us to revisit the meaning of education.

We are now finding the questions on education and liberation even more perplexing, particularly those concerning the role of the state with its ideological apparatus within the international capitalist context.

Materials on human capital investment, Dependency and World Systems theories, and grassroots efforts in education have made us ponder if national development is at all meaningful if measured primarily via gains in economic well being and political stability.

How much formal education should one receive? How pervasive should consumerist ideology be made to prevail in a particular nation? How can an individual be educated to prioritise metaphysical/spiritual capital over material capital?

Perhaps my experience of having been brought up in poverty, then having tasted wealth, having been with those living ‘below the poverty line’, and having understood that national development can also mean the licensing of a few people to acquire as much national wealth leaving national crumbs to trickle down to the masses - all these have made me seek the meaning of the word ‘liberation’.

The international system is chaotic. Arms and hunger proliferate. Trade wars continue to be fought and trade blocks created. National governments educate citizens via seduction so that perhaps 1 percent of the world's most powerful capitalists can continue to be served by the world's cheap labour.

The global capitalist machinery continues to be run by high tech means so that capital can flow freely in this borderless world in the process displacing jobs daily by the thousands.

And we still continue to be both a sceptic and a cynic of any form of government which attempt to socially engineered and reproduce human beings via the mass-babysitting enterprise called schooling. We may one day find the meaning of education and the possibilities in liberation. Such is the post-modernity of our thought on education and national development.

We must be aware of the many ways to look at how education and international development translate into theoretical and pedagogical perplexities.

Before we embark upon the RM23 billion reform effort, we must choose our perspectives wisely.

We don’t want our children to become labourers in this sophisticated global system of mental servitude; a matrix of social reproduction created by our political-economic elite.


Letter to higher education minister
Sep 28, 05 12:43pm
Leave our teachers alone!
Jan 9, 07 2:38pm
Developing to doom
Dec 28, 06 1:12pm
Our ‘rempitised’ education system
Oct 30, 06 3:59pm
Road to academic serfdom?
Oct 16, 06 11:12am

1 comment:

ilanit said...
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