The Present


Everywhere our world at the beginning of the 21st century is very different to that of 1951 in countless and often unimaginable ways. An obvious change is our growing awareness of the threats and immense opportunities that are presented by increasing globalisation. The word lacks precise definition, but clearly globalisation has something to do with the notion that we all now live in one world with increasingly shared experiences, economies and cultures. We are aware of processes that tend to centralise economic power. Some people believe that the era of the nation state is over and that politicians have lost their capacity to influence major international events. World trade drives globalisation and its scale is such that just for once the term ‘awesome’ is justified. Anthony Giddens has pointed out a fact that ‘…more than a trillion dollars is now turned over each day on global currency markets’.(16)

At the core of this transformation is the development of digital communication that have significance in many ways beyond global economics. I recently read an account and saw a photograph of members of a remote tribe living near the head waters of the Amazon settling down in their otherwise unchanged stone age surroundings to view a DVD of the destruction of the World Trade Center. It is hard to comprehend what they could have made of these events having never seen skyscrapers or aircraft before. As Giddens reminds us:

Instantaneous electronic communication isn’t just a way in which news or information is conveyed more quickly. Its existence alters the very texture of our lives, rich and poor alike. When the image of Nelson Mandela may be more familiar to us than the face of our next door neighbour, something has changed in the nature of our everyday experience.(17)

Globalisation may be one root cause for demands for increasing political devolution and the revival of local cultural and ethnic identities in many parts of the world. In the arts, there is ample evidence of transcultural practice in the international art market. A ‘school’ of artists no longer needs to congregate in a particular geographical location: a print-maker in Tokyo may have close contacts with artists working in a similar idiom in Rio de Janeiro or London and might sell her work in Paris or Chicago. Transculturarism seems dependent on the opportunity to recognise 'self-similarity' between groups and individuals and the new technologies allow a meeting of minds, a meeting of worlds, uninhibited by distance, cost and increasingly, language.  

But globalisation is not necessarily benign in all its consequences:

To many living outside Europe and North America, it looks uncomfortably like Westernisation – or, perhaps, Americanisation, since the US is now the sole superpower, with a dominant economic, cultural and military position in the global order. Many of the most visible cultural expressions of globalisation are American – Coca-Cola, McDonalds.

Perhaps we need to be alert to the dangers of the potential development of an insidious international pedagogy and recognise that alternative approaches to curriculum and assessment are increasingly being erased by the dominant ideologies of some governments and influential, wealthy organisations. For example, there are some extraordinary similarities of approach to curriculum design among the majority of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. Governmental thinking, understandably, is dominated by concerns about how to sustain economic growth and national competitiveness, and how to maintain social stability, cohesion and harmony. As Skilbeck has remarked, this is often manifested by:

The remarkably rapid accession of ‘knowledge', ‘skill', ‘competence', to the prime place on the totem pole of national survival/development, combined with economic anxiety and with the susceptibility of public schooling to political/administrative control, combine to provide impetus to the current reform movements. A fear - often exaggerated - of falling standards fuels these concerns and helps explain the pervasive emphasis on quality. (19) 

In the sphere of state-maintained education and training, central or provincial governments tend to exercise curriculum control through legislation. However, they may just as effectively choose to work through the influence or control they exercise over intermediary bodies such as curriculum councils and development agencies, syllabus committees, examination boards, awarding bodies and so on. Linked to this are inevitable demands for greater accountability from the teaching profession leading inexorably to ever-tighter control of the curriculum and its assessment and, through these mechanisms, to control of teachers in the vain search for a ‘teacher proof’ education system. This can be very destructive for creative and cultural education: we need to resist the search for some kind of a universal panacea, and to learn to tolerate a rich variety of curricula appropriate to the needs of diverse people and cultures. 

Through InSEA, a relatively small organisation, there exists an international and supportive professional community of art educators that has had a disproportionately significant role in 10 disseminating ideas and research internationally – not least through the success of its congresses and published proceedings. But, crucially, our aim must be to encourage, appreciate and tolerate diversity, and to resist any moves towards a stultifying international uniformity devoid of all real individuality, originality and creativity.