Harvard Educational Review
  1. Spring 2007 Issue »

    Editor's Review of African Education and Globalization: Critical Perspectives

    Edited by Ali A. Abdi, Korbla P. Puplampu, and George J. Sefa Dei

    Benjamin Piper
    Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2006. 214 pp. $65.00 (cloth).

    Full Text:

    Is globalization moving the world inexorably toward an interconnected state with one economy, one language, and an education system with a similar pedagogy, organizational structure, universal curriculum, and dovetailing goals? I would argue that Sub-Saharan Africans and Africanists should have two responses to that question. First, the forces of globalization are moving the global economy toward a single unified economy and, by extension, the world’s education systems toward a universal model. Two, such a trend is not in the interests of Sub-Saharan Africa, its economy, and certainly not its education systems — at least not without some strong and significant caveats.

    The weight of evidence in Sub-Saharan Africa over the last twenty-five years suggests that globalization has not led to increased educational equity between countries in the region or even within the countries. Moreover, it has not drastically reformed pedagogy or increased student learning, and has not provided an influx of resources sufficient to create fundamental education expansion or improvement (Carnoy & Rhoten, 2002; Cheru, 2002). The reasons for this are many and varied, but three of the most striking explanations are the history of misapplied and poorly designed programs implemented in Sub-Saharan Africa by inter- and supranational organizations; the neocolonialist policies promulgated by globalization and its advocates; and the gradual decline of the importance placed on indigenous and local knowledge.1 I will explicate the notion that globalization has had a deleterious effect on education development in Sub-Saharan Africa using evidence from the book African Education and Globalization, edited by Ali Abdi, Korba Puplampu, and George Dei. However, unlike some of the contributors to this book, I think some relationship with globalization and the wealthy Northern countries could ultimately be beneficial for educational development in Sub-Saharan Africa.2 In any case, the relationship between the African continent and the North must undergo real and dramatic shifts for this relationship to move from a neocolonial to a postcolonial one (Easterly, 2006).

    I begin by analyzing the arguments in this volume connecting globalization and neocolonialism within Sub-Saharan Africa and suggest the need for a more nuanced understanding of that relationship. I expand on the argument that the effect of globalization on Sub-Saharan Africa’s education systems has largely been negative, due to inappropriately applied programs and theories. I then examine the clash between the influence of Northern (external) education systems and indigenous knowledge in the context of globalization, ultimately suggesting that a dramatic change in the relationship between education and globalization is necessary if indigenous knowledge and local languages are to survive. Throughout this review, I situate African Education and Globalization within the existing literature, and highlight its strengths and weaknesses.

    Globalization = Neocolonization?

    In chapter 2, Ali Abdi analyzes the history of African education, the failure of modernization, and the recent and growing relationship between globalization and education. Abdi’s article is the broadest and most complete look at the connections between Sub-Saharan Africa, globalization, and education in the book. Abdi locates his perspective on the relationship between African education, colonialism, and colonialism’s descendant — globalization — within the works of some of the great postcolonial authors. He agrees with such giants as Frantz Fanon (1968), Nelson Mandela (1994), Julius Nyerere (1968), Walter Rodney (1982), and Edward Said (1993) about the detrimental effects of modernization on educational outcomes in Africa, such as the loss of cultural identity and the insidious effects of a complete faith in market forces. In the tradition of Nyerere (1968), Abdi calls for a reintroduction of indigenous knowledge and systems of education as part of the process of resistance, following what Abdi believes was the failed experiment of modernization. Abdi’s expertise and substantial skills set him apart in the field of Sub-Saharan African education, and this is evident in this chapter.

    The chapter begins with Abdi’s view that European colonialism’s negative influence on education development is not sufficiently understood. He writes that the “European conquest of Africa was the destruction of the indigenous education systems, and their replacement with [an] irrelevant, limited and purposefully imposed program of European languages and related structures of learning.” The destruction extended beyond the damage to the traditional system, since the colonial system was set up “for using education, not as an instrument of human progress, but as a tool that establishes and sustains the project of colonialism” (p. 15).

    Abdi argues that while the colonial powers have left Africa’s shores, they have been replaced by the international system of globalization, which represents a “current imperialism; some might call this benign colonialism that is still underdeveloping Africa and its people” (p. 17). Abdi also contends that “globalization is not designed . . . to develop the African people, and its educational prescriptions are making the situation worse for African children” (p. 23). According to Abdi, globalization’s detrimental effects on Sub-Saharan Africa from the 1980s to the present show that globalization is an ineffective tool for improving the life chances of Sub-Saharan Africans. In this vein, Abdi’s definition of development is close to Sen’s (1999) view of development as improving the capabilities of people to have both freedom of choice and economic freedom.

    This might be a place for Abdi’s definition of development to become more nuanced, given the growing influence of Sen’s way of thinking. Does he agree with Sen that the outcome of development should be increased personal freedom? Sen’s perspective requires that, at least to some extent, one buy into the prevailing economic paradigm dominated by globalization but differ from the prevailing paradigm with respect to the desired outcome. For Sen, the outcome should be personal happiness and individual capabilities rather than growth of the gross domestic product (GDP).3 Do Abdi’s views allow for a partial acceptance of the market paradigm if the outcomes are in line with the ones espoused by Sen? Or is an entire overhaul of the system necessary? Exploring Sen’s ideas in light of Abdi’s theory would be an interesting addition to this book.

    Abdi’s solution to the misapplied colonial and neocolonial education that has been pervasive across Sub-Saharan Africa is twofold. First, Sub-Saharan African education systems must “recast the philosophical foundations of African education” (p. 23) and reintroduce indigenous ways of knowing to formal education curricula, as described by Dei and Asgharzadeh in chapter 4. Second, the African systems must reorganize to better reflect African realities and culture and fit the texture of children’s lives and community realities.

    This chapter is an important contribution to what we know and how we think about the philosophical geography of African education systems. However, Abdi does not include concrete examples of Sub-Saharan African nations that have already enacted changes in line with his two recommendations. Without these examples, policymakers and education ministries might have difficulty implementing Abdi’s ideas. Moreover, more details would be needed to fully explicate Abdi’s views of the mechanisms that relate globalization, his view of the neocolonial role of globalization, and the positive and encouraging education outcomes in Sub-Saharan Africa over the last several years (UNESCO, 2006). Abdi’s chapter is a reminder of the dubious evidence that supports the dominant paradigm of education development in Sub-Saharan Africa, particularly the unquestioned orthodoxy with which some Sub-Saharan African countries pursue and accept Northern aid and advice.

    Inappropriate Education Interventions as a Result of Globalization

    Shizha’s Zimbabwe and Structural Adjustment Programs

    The last chapter of the book, by Edward Shizha, presents Zimbabwe as a dramatic case of the markedly detrimental effect of structural adjustment policies (SAP) imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on education access and quality.4 Shizha argues that this is an example of an inappropriate education intervention imposed by an international organization that conflicts with the positive benefits of globalization experienced by Sub-Saharan Africans. In this chapter, the reader finds a vivid example of the argument that much of the rest of the book makes: that globalization forces, in this case characterized by economic policy emanating from the IMF, have encouraged or even demanded education policies that have halted or reversed earlier gains in access to education, equity in its distribution, and a decrease in its quality, particularly at the secondary and tertiary levels (UNESCO, 2005).

    In order to make this argument, Shizha begins with a look at Zimbabwe’s education history. It is clear that Zimbabwe overcame significant barriers after gaining independence in 1980. Shizha (quoting Machinga, 2000) argues that education pre-independence was paltry and of low quality:

    The curriculum in black schools was English middle class, elitist, highly selective, economically wasteful, and largely irrelevant to African developmental needs and catered almost exclusively for the needs of a minute proportion of pupils who continued into higher education. (p. 189)

    The historical evidence Shizha presents suggests that Zimbabwe’s education system “accomplished remarkable results during the first decade of independence (between 1980 and 1990)” (p. 191), in order to overcome the mis- and undereducation of Zimbabwe’s children under Ian Smith’s colonial system. These results included huge gains in enrollment, significant government investment, and the production of a remarkably high number of university-educated elites. Furthermore, at its core, the system was dedicated to equity of access (Meredith, 2002).5 This growth and expansion of education in Zimbabwe continued until the early 1990s.

    A dramatic shift came in October 1990, when Zimbabwe embarked on the type of education policy responses to the SAP encouraged by the IMF and common to the rest of the continent. In Zimbabwe’s case, the introduction of the SAP meant that the education system changed in two important ways. In conjunction with the contraction of many of the nation’s other social services, education budgets were limited and user fees were introduced. The rationale for this was that those who could pay should, and that the rate of return for tertiary and secondary education was deemed to be lower than that for primary (Psacharopolous, 1985).

    Shizha argues that the Zimbabwean SAP was an abysmal failure, both in absolute terms and in its effect on education. He draws direct, though possibly spurious, connections between the SAP and Zimbabwe’s foreign debt, which increased more than threefold from 1990 to 2002; between the SAP and export income, which declined and then reversed; and between the SAP and stagnant GDP growth rates, which forced Zimbabwe to continue to be dependent on the IMF and the global economic market. More important, Shizha suggests that the decrease in education spending and advent of user fees suggested by the IMF were particularly hard on poor families, because “the price of schooling increases while incomes remain stagnant or depreciate[s]” (p. 201). The cost of foregoing the labor that children could provide either in the home or in making money for the family combined with the cost of the user fees make it much more difficult for families to rationalize sending children to school. As has been shown elsewhere, this price-income squeeze is exacerbated in education systems of declining quality (UNESCO, 2005). The situation was further problematized by the drastic decline in Zimbabwe’s rate of economic growth in the 1990s. For example, children who completed secondary or tertiary education met with a deteriorating job market, and only 30 percent of graduates were able to find jobs. The evidence of education decline in Zimbabwe is irrefutable, and Shizha deepens the discussion of this decline by showing that those most adversely affected were girls, minority-language speakers, and people living in rural areas. Shizha summarizes the impact of the SAP in Zimbabwe by claiming that “fiscal targets often conflict with social justice policy objectives” (p. 207).

    Shizha does not attribute the conflict to misaligned economic policy or even to inappropriately applied programs (Samoff, 1997). Instead he blames these declines on SAPs, which to Shizha are “a form of hegemony, an imposition of Northern thought processes on Zimbabwe and other emerging nations” (p. 205). While much of what Shizha describes in Zimbabwe is compelling evidence of ineffective policies, readers may be right to question whether or not they can believe in such a cut-and-dried example. Abdi’s views in chapter 1 would sharply disagree with Shizha’s causal relationship between SAPs and low economic growth. Although Abdi connects growth rates and SAPs, he writes that we should “tactically avoid deducing any quasi-perfect causal relationships from social science hypothes[e]s” (p. 22). Shizha clearly ignores Abdi’s warning.

    More important, Shizha overlooks the “elephant in the room,” which is Zimbabwe’s corrupt government led by Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party. Mugabe has become an increasingly autocratic despot bent on maintaining power regardless of the consequences for his people. While he spent much of the 1980s leading a Zimbabwean education system that was the envy of much of the continent, during the 1990s and the early 2000s Mugabe became increasingly disconnected from the population and ever more dictatorial (Meredith, 2005). This has had repercussions on the education system, resulting in increasing levels of “brain drain” (IOM, 2004), lower education quality (UNESCO, 2005), and the forced removal of the White population from productive farmland. The removal of the White population is significant, in part because at least some of its members were committed to an integrated school system in which as many Black students benefited as Whites (Meredith, 2005; Orfield & Lee, 2006).

    Shizha’s neglect of Mugabe’s influence in his discussion of the decline of the Zimbabwean government post-1991 means that although his argument is otherwise convincing, a reader with knowledge of Mugabe’s graft might not be persuaded that the implementation of the SAP is truly to blame. Those interested in the critical analysis of education systems argue that the effects of neoliberal economic policies are much less clear cut and obvious than Shizha presents in this chapter. If arguments like Shizha’s are to be effective in changing international economic discourse, they must be more nuanced and systematic, taking into account political realities as well as economic ones.

    Folson’s Critique of Human Capital Theory in Ghana

    In chapter 8, Rose Folson analyzes the economic impact of the education system in Ghana. Her argument is simple: While “human capital theory has succeeded in strengthening the general faith in schooling” (p. 136) as a result of globalization, “the results of education planning had fallen short of expectations” (p. 138).6 Her argument depends on the historical scrutiny of education development in Ghana, and shows that the Ghanaian education system has not been effective in its objective of fostering sustained socioeconomic growth.

    Critical to Folson’s argument is the assumption that in an era of globalization, Sub-Saharan African governments have bought into a belief that the power of increased education investment can create burgeoning economic systems with impressive growth in GDP. This argument came out of influential meetings held in the 1960s and 1970s, such as the UNESCO Addis Ababa conference in 1961 that fostered an untempered belief in education’s ability to overcome pervasive poverty. This is an interesting assumption, given that other authors in this volume (e.g., Abdi, Mkosi, and Shizha) assume that globalization’s role through its proxies the World Bank and the IMF was to moderate Sub-Saharan African governments’ faith in education in the 1990s. While education systems have been the focus of dissent and revolution across the continent, the myth of the meritocratic Sub-Saharan African education system remains, and families and individuals are remarkable in their faith in education’s ability to overcome inequity and social injustice (Vavrus, 2005).

    Folson makes some interesting observations about the relationship between education and the labor market, arguing that there is a “mismatch between the expansion of the education sector and the labor market” (p. 141). She further argues that this mismatch has created conditions ripe for brain drain, unemployment, and overqualified applicants for jobs. It is partially as a result of this mismatch that so many Ghanaians — many of whom are highly educated — have left for Europe and North America (Akyeampong, 2000; Dei, 1998; IOM, 2004). Folson argues that this brain drain is a direct result of the failure of the education system to produce the types of workers that the Ghanaian labor force needs.

    I would argue that Folson’s story of the demise of the Ghanaian education system is premature. While Folson contends that “education investments have a long gestation period” (p. 147), she also argues that the Ghanaian system has failed to provide the expected returns. I think her view of the ability of formal education to create economic growth is incomplete. While I agree with the basic premise within human capital theory that relates education investments and economic returns, I do not think that economists would be surprised if the relationship were nonlinear, nor if it were mitigated by many factors. In Ghana’s case, decreasing terms of trade, a notoriously inappropriate SAP (see Shizha’s chapter in this volume), combined with the pervasive brain drain contribute to the inability of education investments to predict economic outcomes. Education investments are a necessary but insufficient condition for economic development, thus Folson’s view of the relationship between educational investments and economic outcomes is incomplete. ­Reimers and McGinn’s (1997) model for education policy may be helpful in explaining why. For example, Folson’s model of education investments simply has inputs (expenditures), process (classroom interactions), and outcomes (economic growth), while Reimers and McGinn (1997) argue that inputs, processes, outputs, and outcomes are all necessary for an education policy to be well-aligned. Without an understanding of the outcomes that the system should expect, an education policy cannot be judged. What we have in Folson’s Ghana are graduates (outputs) that are not getting jobs (outcomes). For Reimers and McGinn, education systems should be judged both by whether they make it to the expected end (outputs such as graduates) and whether those outputs are efficient in the economy (outcomes such as employment). A closer link between the two is necessary, as is a decision on the part of the Ghanaian education system to determine which outcome is the ultimate end of policy.

    In addition, Folson’s measures of the strength of the economy might not be accounting for what she admits is a critical portion of the education investments: the earnings and remittances from the Ghanaian elite residing abroad (IOM, 2004). While this is notoriously hard to measure, it should be noted that official remittances number in the billions yearly, and that number reflects only the small percentage that goes through legal channels. The resources that the Ghanaian diaspora can bring to bear are not insignificant: at 46.9 percent, Ghana ranks 24th globally in its percentage of skilled labor that emigrates from the country (Docquier & Marfouk, 2006). It might be that those who left as part of the brain drain have not forsaken Ghana, but are instead providing significant resources for national development through remittances, both legal and illegal. While that is debatable, Folson ignores this important economic subsector entirely.

    These criticisms aside, the Folson chapter provides texture and perspective that is useful for the entire book. Understanding the complexities of the relationship between education and economic growth is important, and so is a tempered view of the ability of educational expenditures to increase economic outcomes.

    Mkosi, South Africa, and the Role of International Organizations

    Nkosinathi Mkosi’s chapter investigates the relationship between globalization, international organizations (i.e., the World Bank and IMF), and adult education in South Africa. Mkosi argues that the heavy hand of globalization is imposed on governments through its agents, the World Bank and IMF, which dictate the terms of educational development. To Mkosi, this is particularly problematic in the field of adult education, since that field has fallen out of favor with the World Bank in the face of higher returns for earlier levels of schooling.

    Mkosi’s most provocative argument is that there is a symbiotic relationship between the World Bank, IMF, and globalization such that each benefits from the other:

    The relationship between globalization, and the World Bank, and the IMF is complementary and mutually beneficial. Globalization with its neoliberal slant ensures that the institutions reap economic benefits from African nation states it has weakened, and in reciprocity, the World Bank and the IMF create and maintain optimum conditions for the proliferation of globalization. (p. 156)

    Mkosi characterizes the relationships between globalization and these institutions as an interconnected network moving toward a common goal. While this is a useful framework for understanding the system, it works less well as a mechanism to understand educational change. As a result, the theory or mechanism that would drive the interconnections among these organizations at a practical level is unclear (Weiss, 1997). Mkozi does not explicate these interconnections for the reader, and it is not clear how or why globalization is linked with the World Bank and IMF, nor what the nature of the relationship has been and should be. The content and forms of the adult education programs of interest remain murky, as do the details of how these programs specifically interact with globalization.

    The Tenuous Place of Indigenous Knowledge

    Globalization has failed to solve some of the systemic problems related to educational development on the continent. Furthermore, there has been a proliferation of Northern systems and preferential treatment of technological and technocratic knowledge fostered by the increasing interrelationships between Sub-Saharan African economies and the rest of the world. Thus, indigenous knowledge has been quickly pushed out of education systems and, unfortunately, out of Sub-Saharan African cultures. This is explored in depth in several of the chapters in African Education and Globalization.

    Dei and Asgharzadeh on Indigenous Knowledge

    George Dei and Alizera Asgharzadeh’s chapter on indigenous knowledge and globalization makes this point quite eloquently and dovetails nicely with Ali Abdi’s chapter on education theory. While Abdi’s chapter ends with a clarion call for the re-Africanization of education systems in Sub-Saharan Africa, Dei and Asgharzadeh’s chapter begins with the notion that indigenous knowledge has been competing with imported forms of knowledge during the 150 years that Sub-Saharan Africa has had significant contact with Europe. Although a century of colonial education and nearly half a century of a postcolonial mimic of that education has threatened to eradicate what Africans know and how they share that knowledge, it appears that indigenous knowledge survives — even in the face of the burgeoning effects of globalization on policy and practice — and can still be accessed for the betterment of African society and African education.

    This chapter spends a great deal of time defining the term “indigenous knowledge,” since it is an imprecise term argued over by scholars across the globe. The authors argue that it was created through generations “as a result of sustained occupation of or attachment to a place” (p. 54). In addition, this knowledge is dynamic — ever changing to remain relevant. The act of supporting the construction of local knowledge “unmask[s] the process through which Northern science knowledge becomes hegemonic ways of knowing by masquerading as universal knowledge” (p. 55). The resistance of this knowledge hegemony is critical, although quite difficult, because the ways of determining what knowledge is important depends almost entirely on Northern standards.

    In the latter portion of the chapter the authors pose the critical question, “Can indigenous knowledges survive the threat of globalization?” (p. 62). The authors think so, partially because they think that globalization is a new name for an old phenomenon and that education systems have previously “resist[ed] various colonialist hegemonic, and assimilative tendencies” (p. 67). While the fate of indigenous knowledge’s place in schools is unclear, Dei and Asgharzadeh should be commended for bringing to bear their tremendous expertise on indigenous knowledge and contributing to what we know about the prospects of indigenous knowledge to change how Sub-Saharan African countries are organized.

    Indigenous Language

    Due to their importance to local culture and their tenuous position in the Northern economic powerhouse, indigenous languages are closely tied to indigenous knowledge (see chapter 7). With increasing demand for English as the international language of commerce, the role that indigenous languages play in the international sphere is contracting. In response to this development, Dei and Asgharzadeh retort, “A genuine African schooling system must meet local (African) needs as opposed to those dictated by the global market economy” (p. 58). This view is in stark contrast to the pro-English stance of Kwansah-Aidoo and Djokoto in their essay on Swaziland, in which they argue that Swazi schools should increase the amount of English taught and expose students to it earlier. The inclusion of Kwansah-Aidoo and Djokoto’s argument for the Anglicization of Swazi secondary schools is an interesting choice in such a critical book, not only because of the theoretical points of view, but also because of the quality of the arguments presented. Their point of view privileges the small subsection of Swaziland’s school population that attends tertiary education over the 90 percent of students who do not. This point of view raises questions of equity, as well as issues of education quality outcomes that are associated with the removal of local languages. It is well attested to in the literature that students learn best in their mother tongue and that as globalization forces push those languages away from the schoolhouse, children lose both culture and learning (August & Hakuta, 1998; Bamgbose, 1991; Beykont, 1997).

    Wossen-Taffesse also disagrees with Dei and Azgharzadeh. He argues that a movement toward indigenous languages in Ethiopia, called the Mother Tongue Education (MTE) system (Boothe & Walker, 1997), was inappropriately applied. The program’s name is a bit of a misnomer because it was location (region) rather than mother tongue that determined the language of instruction (Boothe & Walker, 1997). Wossen-Taffesse points out many of the weaknesses of the MTE plan, and this critique is further supported by findings that schools that implemented the MTE policy had achievement levels below the national average (Brenzinger, 1997). In fact, the term “mother tongue” itself is inappropriate, because the 2004 nationally representative National Learning Assessment shows that a full 42 percent of children in Ethiopia do not learn in the same language they speak at home (Piper, 2005).

    Wossen-Taffesse’s argument is not based on achievement scores or language alignment figures. He contends instead that language policy is a political war waged on the battlefield of primary schools. According to him, language policy is a battle waged for ethnic power. His view is that the “Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front Federation has dissolved the ancient national language of Ethiopians so that the narrowness of ethnic identity and differences may prevail” (p. 126). He ignores the government’s rationale that the mother tongue policy is consistent with what is known about early learning and literacy, and argues that the current policy will result in an education system and nation that “resemble[s] more of a modern Tower of Babel where the federal government communicates with regional subunits in at least a dozen different languages and two scripts!” (p. 127) He goes so far as to argue that the language policy creates an apartheid system with separate education structures like that of South Africa pre-1994. Perhaps some influential Ethiopians agree with Wossen-Taffesse’s analysis, since the MTE policy has come under increased government scrutiny.

    Taken as a whole, the authors in African Education and Globalization decry the declining place of indigenous knowledge and languages in an increasingly globalized environment. It seems that in order for these critical facets of local society to remain a significant part of the formal education system, local and national groups are going to be forced to advocate strongly for their continued presence. It will require that civic organizations refuse to buy into the notion that all of a local community’s children must partake of the bitter medicine of Northern-focused education for the economic benefit of the select few who will go on to tertiary education. One hopes that the few pockets of resistance across the continent will gain notoriety and encourage other organizations to support the belief that education exists to maximize capabilities (Sen, 1999) — the capability to improve one’s local community rather than the coffers of a far-off, and better-off, land.


    The authors in African Education and Globalization provide a contextualized view of education’s relationship with globalization in its various forms and its numerous proxies in Sub-Saharan Africa, where many argue that the effects of globalization have been most pernicious. These authors do not believe that the future will result in fewer interrelationships between the African education systems and the global forces prodding and jolting them, and they decry this continued relationship. Abdi argues that fair trade is a more appropriate aid mechanism than continued educational investments funded by the North. While fair-trade policies are sensible, economically viable, and demanded by social justice, these trade policies, although necessary, are insufficient. One alternative to the recommendation offered by Abdi is that African education systems carefully pick and choose aspects of the globalization smorgasbord that are beneficial, and then politely or violently resist the rest.

    African Education and Globalization fills a gap in the scholarly research literature, and in our practical knowledge of strategies to improve education on the continent. Given that too high a percentage of scholarly work on Sub-Saharan Africa is produced by non-Africans, the editors of African Education and Globalization should be lauded because nearly all of the authors in this volume are of African descent. This work will make an important contribution, and possibly become a cornerstone of what we know about globalization and education in Sub-Saharan Africa.

    While the book has real strengths, readers will find a few things lacking. The authors in the book underestimate the impact and influence that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Education for All (EFA) goals have on education policy and on international organizations’ conceptions of educational development.7 The individual authors, and the book taken as a whole, would have done well to relate their analysis more explicitly to how MDGs and EFA goals are contributing to or mitigating factors of the influences of globalization on education. There are arguments on both sides. On the one hand, some might argue that the MDGs and EFA goals are simply augmentations of a global conspiracy to alter Sub-Saharan African education systems for the purposes of neocolonization, and on the other hand, others might insist that the MDGs and EFA goals serve as defenders of the rights Sub-Saharan African children have to a high-quality, relevant education that helps them reach freedom, one of Sen’s (1999) goals of development. It is unfortunate that, despite the fact that it would have been a relevant and interesting exploration, the book fails to address the issue of where these authors fall in the gap between these two perspectives.

    The most dramatic weakness of the book is the lack of analysis of West, Central, and North Africa’s relationship with globalization in education. It is not just region or language that makes this problematic, but religion as well. The regions of East and Southern Africa, which are the regional foci of the book, have a much higher percentage of Christians and lower percentage of Muslims than the rest of the continent. With a title as sweeping as African Education and Globalization, one might expect a geographically broader focus.

    Finally, while this book includes chapters on theory, history, and policy analysis, there is no chapter that takes a close look at any particular community’s or school’s relationship with SAPs or with globalization more broadly defined. The inclusion of a more specific example, like Vavrus’s (2005) analysis of policy ethnography from a community in Tanzania, would have added to the practical applicability of the book.

    The contribution African Education and Globalization makes to the fields of education, globalization, critical theory, and African studies should not be underestimated. The authors convincingly argue that globalization has inalterably changed the face of education in Sub-Saharan Africa and propose the mechanisms by which those adjustments have occurred. The next steps are clear: We must now conduct empirical research to determine the effect that reforms can have on the future of education systems. First, we need to understand whether it is possible to curb the tide of hegemonic, outwardly imposed control of and influence on Sub-Saharan African education. The ideas articulated in the theoretical literature (e.g., Cheru, 2002, and Abdi, 2002) must be explored by scholars in the social sciences using empirical analysis. Second, in countries, regions, individual communities, and even in schools that are exploiting Sub-Saharan African expertise and knowledge to educate children, the critical Africanist education community must have evidence of how small-scale resistance is enacted and whether it is effective. Africanist scholars, particularly those of African descent, should collaborate to offer practical evidence about how best to improve the continent’s education systems in this era of globalization. These collaborations must be across disciplines and, more importantly, across regions, religions, and oceans. While the increasing influence of scholars of African descent is laudable, the current practice of ignoring African scholars and scholarship residing on the continent itself must be changed if we are to effectively curb the tide of the adverse effects of globalization.

    —Benjamin Piper


    1. International and supranational organizations include the UN organizations working on education, such as the United Nations Children’s Fund and the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, as well as the World Bank and the IMF. Neocolonialism has a large body of literature that defines it and explains its importance. For the purposes of this review, neocolonialism is defined as the continued exploitative relationship between a postcolonial state (such as those in Sub-Saharan Africa) and a colonial power, such that while the physical presence in the postcolonial state is no longer there, financial and resource exploitation still occurs. Globalization is often written about, and the authors in this volume include several different definitions of the concept. For this review, I rely on E.G. Abdi’s definition: “Where the present case of globalization is, perhaps, different from everything that preceded it, is the interconnectedness of its political, economic, cultural, educational, and technological agenda completed by the intensity of its omnipresence all over the world as measured by the speed (via current technological innovations) with which its diverse components can affect people’s lives with similar reactions and concomitant sometimes enfranchising, and more often disenfranchising livelihood results” (p. 20).

    2. Many authors in this book use “Northern” instead of “Western” to indicate the rich, wealthy, and influential countries, most of which are located in the Northern hemisphere (Johnson, Monk, & Hodges, 2000).

    3. Gross domestic product is a measure of economic wealth commonly used to compare wealth across countries.

    4. Structural adjustment programs are externally imposed macroeconomic programs that require countries to cut social spending, devalue currency, lower real wages, and incur cost recovery (through tuition, school fees, or taxes), among many other ­policies.

    5. The enrollment at the University of Zimbabwe increased from 2,240 to 11,378 from 1980 to 1996 (p. 191).

    6. Human capital theory has been a remarkably influential idea in the field of international development. The idea is simple. Investing in human capital through education and training is likely to produce economic returns, just as investing in physical capital does. Folson summarized the theory in this way: “More formal differential education . . . would lead to higher productivity and macroeconomic growth” (p. 135). The theory’s influence in educational development was at its peak in the 1960s, although its continued influence should not be ignored.

    7. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are a set of eight targets agreed on by the international community ranging from halving extreme poverty, universal access to education, gender equity in that access, and curbing the spread of HIV/AIDS. See http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/ for the goals themselves. The Education for All goals were authored at UNESCO’s 1990 conference in Jomtien, Thailand. They are, similar to the MDGs target goals for 2015. However, unlike MDGs, they are specific to education and specify more than just access to education, but access to quality education. Both sets of goals were ratified by nearly the entire international community — Northern countries agreed to support their completion and developing countries agreed to implement them. See http://portal.unesco.org/education/en/ev.php-URL_ID=51465&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html for the goals themselves.


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    Spring 2007 Issue


    Pathways to the Presidency
    Biographical Sketches of Women of Color Firsts
    Caroline Sotello Viernes Turner, Arizona State University
    Financial Aid
    A Broken Bridge to College Access?
    Bridget Terry Long, Harvard Graduate School of Education and Erin Riley, Consultant
    The Effect of Loans on Students’ Degree Attainment: Differences by Student and Institutional Characteristics
    Dongbin Kim, University of Kansas

    Book Notes