The College and The Coffee House: Local or Global?
Should Education become more local, or global? This was a question posed to me in a conversation: As in these cases, I improvised an answer. But, as usual, the obvious answer is not necessarily the right one, and is indeed worth interrogating.
Most education, at the present time, is locally focused. This is because Education, at least mostly, is a part of the State, that funds its existence and direct its agenda. Many educators around the world work for the State, or at least, their wages are subsidised by the State. Even in cases where a global institution sponsors education - Church is the most prominent example - the State controls it tightly, through curriculum and credential.
The dynamic of work and commerce, however, has been global. The WTO-inspired globalisation touched far corners of the world over the last few decades, as did the crumbling of the cold war politics. English as a language has gained currency, even in China, and the Internet and the Worldwide Web has changed how we access information. This tension between local and global has come to education - and the vector points to global. Over the last several decades, education, curriculum and credential have become more homogenised and more portable - and the future points to it becoming more so.
But, beyond the obvious, there are other questions that we should answer. Education is indeed a formally constituted activity that needs state sponsorship, but this is not the case with learning. All learning is local, in a way, because it is usually understood in local language and within local contexts, defined by the learners' lived experiences. Besides, economies and work are becoming more local at this particular inflection point of technologies and economic interaction, with global supply chains being politically resented and technologically challenged. Based on this, we could arrive at a completely different answer, that education should become more local and point to empirical evidence that it is indeed becoming so.
However, one could also argue that all ideas are global, even if they are locally interpreted through language and context. Our nationally determined politics and social lives melt into global past as soon as it is consigned to it, adding itself into the global history of human race, or something even bigger, the big history of the universe. Atoms behave the same in Detroit and Delhi, the Oceans encompass all continents and the climate transcends national boundaries. The archaeological remains in British Museum or Louvre are not only of British or French origins, and we did not have all-American Dinosaurs at any point in their long existence. As far as education concerns knowledge, it is already global, whether or not we accept the same.
I am arguing that we can start from all education is local and we need global context and eventually arrive at a point that all knowledge is global and education translates it into local context.
So, in the end, the answer will depend on what we think education is. If we narrowly define education as a formal activity, as in College, it will remain limited to who pays for it and what is for: It will be state-funded locally mandated activity which would need to become more global. However, if we step beyond the formal boundaries and look to include the informal learning, we would have the world upside down - global knowledge seeking local context and engagement. That is indeed the spirit of the Coffee House.