Reporting from RWL9 - the beneficiation of education and learning

By sylviahammond, 9 December, 2015

While attending the Researching Work and Learning conference (RWL9) in Singapore and listening to Professor Raewyn Connell, I couldn’t help thinking about skills-universe members and the discussion we could have on her Keynote session address.

I have entitled the discussion the Beneficiation of Education and Learning because the description so matches what happens to our raw mineral resources, which we buy back at great expense after beneficiation in the north. Connell has a number of publications related to how the neo-liberal agenda impacts education.  Her book Southern Theory (2007) addresses the northern bias of social science. 

Her presentation graphically illustrated the predominance of the USA, the UK and to a lesser extent France and Germany in the Journal publications. Her view is that the southern hemisphere and Asia produce the “data”, which is then translated into a northern framework, and then repeated back to us in the south from the perspective of the north. 

The emphasis then reflects the concerns of the north and the content and methodologies that are deemed appropriate are those of the north. The theories of authors such as Althussar, Foucault, and Bourdieu frame our research. In order to be recognised, we use northern methodology and follow these authors with the aim to be published in these prestigious journal publications.

Her claim is that even the apparently neutral global organisations such as the World Bank and the OECD in effect promote a neo-liberal free market agenda – in opposition to social democratic state welfare, and the national management of services and strategies of development. 

The emphasis now is on growth – not on development – and that in effect whereas in the past there have been aristocratic ruling elites, religious, or bureaucratic elites, we now have a transnational global ruling elite.

She quoted various African and southern authors such as: Paulo Freire (Brazilian), Anibal Qijamo (Peruvian), Valentin Madimbe (Democratic Republic of Congo now in USA) , Samir Amin (Egyptian based in Senegal), and Paulin Hountondji (Côte d'Ivoire – now in Benin), who all contribute in various ways to the examination of the continuing dependency arising from our colonial pasts.   

Now this all feeds into the current debates in South Africa on who controls what is “acceptable” knowledge, and how this influences our approach to solving our problems. Certainly I can’t help observing how critical this discussion is to our future. 

It is not only education, but our national economy and the prioritisation that takes place – what is considered important.  Connell is from Australia with a similar economy very dependent upon raw material resource exports. It is also the balance between state controls over services to the public – health, education, welfare, transport, housing – as examples.

Our critical national issues of poverty and unemployment - particularly youth unemployment - and levels of inequality, are all exacerbated by our following a neo-liberal agenda – the emphasis on economic growth – without prioritising the development of our population.  Not forgetting of course our recent discussions of ANAs in schools – and the debate about the value of pursuing international ratings for our universities.

So I intend to do some reading of the quoted authors over the Christmas holidays – and I look forward to some lively debates on skills-universe.   


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