Equity, Access and Democracy in Education

Global Pedagogies: Equity, Access and Democracy in Education, chapter on, written by Joseph Zajda (2008) deals with globalization, comparative education and policy research. Zajda begins with the statement that globalization has essentially changed the world economy in a very distinct way: it has created winners and it has created losers (2008). In other terms, it has created people who have an education and people who do not have education-based variably on their economic, ethnic, gender and/or social status. What has become very clear is that there needs to be less disparity between this equality gap — both within countries and between countries. The current generation has the challenge of handling those inequalities and what first needs to be implemented is a shift in thinking about what education actually is. Rather than viewing education as a commodity, it will be suggested that education is not only a right for all citizens of the world, but it is a major determinant of human flourishing.

Globalization, as well as “marketization and quality/efficiency driven reform” globally since the 1980s have led to major structural and qualitative changes in education. Zajda states that governments, looking for “quality and accountability in education” have focused their attention on international and comparative education data analysis and what they all state is that the one defining goal of education is to make an individual’s social and economic prospects greater (2008). What is clear is that the only way this can happen is by giving quality education to all people on a global scale. Zajda (2008) notes that now with the OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), students’ academic achievement is continuously monitored and measured within the ‘internationally agreed framework.’ PISA was a result of the “growing demand for international comparisons of educational outcomes’ (2008).

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To measure levels of academic performance in the global culture, the OECD, in co-operation with UNESCO, is using World Education Indicators (WEI) program, covering a broad range of comparative indicators, which report on the resource invested in education and their returns to individuals (OECD 2007; Zajda 2008).

Essentially, PISA examines and assesses the knowledge and skills that are fundamental for an active and full participation in society. PISA looks at all areas such as reading, mathematical proficiency and scientific literacy, all of which are not just evaluated on an academic level, but on a level that will help the individuals in life. This is a promising tool that will have a great impact on the quality of life for many global citizens.

The OECD international survey is expansive in that it reviews education systems in 30 OECD member countries as well as 19 other countries, for a total of countries that includes nearly two-thirds of the world (Zajda 2008). Zajda (2008) states that one-third closely examine issues such as gender differences, special education needs, inequalities in literacy skills and income. The results have been interesting as some countries have depicted upper secondary graduation rates over 70% while other countries have graduation rates that are at or above 90%.

Zajda (2008) states the importance of these numbers from a macro-social perspective, arguing that in certain areas such as language, policy, education and national identity, nation-states are likely to lose their power and capacity to affect their future directions, as the struggle for knowledge domination, production, and dissemination becomes a new for of cultural domination, and a knowledge-driven social stratification (Zajda 2008).

Zajda (2008) goes on to imply that the changing ideas of national identity, language, border politics and citizenship, all of which are important issues when it comes to education policy, need to be examined within a local, regional, and national area — also challenged by globalization (2008). By looking at the challenge from a historical perspective, there is nothing more personal than the educational process, which includes the context of learning, where the child grows learning about their regional and national culture. This is a highly personal affair; then later, when schooling became more institutionalized, the policies of in schools supported community control in school and put the learner in a place where the needs concerning identity and citizenship were near already. Policies are there to make sure that there is conformity as well as identification with the traditions of the culture and nation, in general. However, as education becomes a public concern, the individual’s process of learning is just a piece of the puzzle. Educating the public will undoubtedly affect society in a big way and thus education can’t only be seen as an expense, but it has to be viewed as an investment as well — but more as an investment in humanity and the fact that education for all will affect the world at large — especially now that we live in a globalized world.

After looking at the education and forming of the individual as part of a society or nation, it’s important that we look at the educational process and how is relates to globalization. Zajda (2008) states that with globalization comes global inequality, as mentioned earlier and therefore a polarization of societies will only get worse because of the unequal distribution of power, wealth, class and education. As the gap between rich and poor people gets wider, there will be even a bigger disparity when it comes to education. Zagda (2008) notes this disparity in the terms of that the wealthiest 2% of the world’s age population owns more than half the global household wealth, while the bottom half of adults owns barely 1%. This is shockingly problematic because as individuals who have so little to spend on the necessities such as food and shelter, what does that leave left over for education?

There are so many inequalities in education and they don’t just surround a family’s economy; gender inequality is also an area where we can see major social stratification and a division of power (Zajda 2008). Gender inequality is inherently relation to other issues such as ethnicity, race, power, status and class (2008). This is only perpetuated by the fact that women are taught that they should learn skills that will land them in typically lower paying jobs (such as clerical work or other) and this means that they will make less money, thus their social status will remain low. This brings up so many other problems because, without enough money, how are they going to pay someone to take care of their children so that they can go to work. It appears to be a cyclical problem and one that is very difficult to move out of. Around the globe women are up against discrimination when it comes to education and work, which leads to social segregation (2008). Zajda states that globally, “one in three women are illiterate compared with one in five men” and “overall more than 60% of the world’s illiterate people are women.” These statistics lead to the understanding that it is because women are deemed as second-class citizens when it comes to education. When a girl or woman is up against social discrimination when it comes to her gender, the implications for the future are detrimental — not only to the individual, but this will have an effect on the community at large, eventually affecting the state of the world.

Racial discrimination is another topic to be discussed when it comes to inequalities in education on a global level. We see this in Europe as effects of colonialism and anti-Semitism and we even see it in the United States. The importance of education that is irrespective of an individual’s gender, ethnic or social status cannot be understated. The effects of discrimination on any level perpetuate the gap between those who have and those who don’t have.

Changing the way we look at learning may be a good place to begin when it comes to the topic of transforming both learning and teacher. First of all, perhaps learning shouldn’t be viewed as a commodity or an investment. Perhaps looking at learning as the predictor of human flourishing would be better. It would only require a slight shift in the way we think to understand that education or the lack thereof will have a huge impact on societies that therefore will have a global impact (and a historical impact as a result, further down the road). There are several different factors that have led to teachers’ ability to bring up certain topics and ask certain questions about the world at large. There are certain market ideologies that have been created and allowed to flourish as well, which force the direction of teaching and thus learning into a certain way. Erich Fromm implied that corporate sponsorship and intervention in schools and education have degraded the level of teaching and education and it perpetuates what he calls “alienation.” Fromm suggests that when people are so alienated from his fellow man and nature, he is being transformed into a commodity and will experience his life and education as an investment, “which must bring him the maximum profit obtainable under existing market conditions” (Fromm 1957). What Fromm was implying is that the form of education described is seen as a way of having rather than being.

Fromm wrote those words back in 1957, but it is still utterly true in that education, now more than ever, is viewed as a commodity; we are told from the time we are very small children that education is an investment. In the society we live in, there is no doubt that it is. The education we either have or don’t have is a direct influence on what kind of job we get and, ultimately, what kind of life we lead. We very rarely — if ever — think of our education as a piece of the puzzle — that is, as a way of being directly associated with human flourishing. By gaining the best education we can, we wouldn’t be readily willing to agree that it is alienating us from the rest of the world, but it is in the way we think about education and in the way that we have opinions about who should get an education.

What can educators do to make the impact of globalization on education more positive? The distortion of education and the misuse of both teachers and learners is a matter of very deep worry. The task is to weaken the corrupt processes that go on under the label “education” in systems around the globe. Societies and systems hardened by globalization in which there are unbalanced connection when it comes to authority and power make it very difficult, but not impossible with a shift in the way we view education.


Fromm, E. (1957) the Art of Loving (1995 edn.) London: Thorsons.

Zajda, Joseph., Davies, Lynn., Majhanovich, Suzanne. (2008) Comparative and Global

Pedagogies: Equity, Access and Democracy in Education (Globalisation,

Comparative Education and Policy Research). Springer; 1st edition.

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