Gobal Personhood in Education

My notes on Robertson, S.L. & Mocanu, A.M. (2019) The Possibilities of a Radical Diasporic Epistemology for the Development of Global Personhood in Education. International Studies in the Sociology of Education

The notion of ‘global competence’ was added by the OECD to its Program of International Student Achievement (PISA) in 2018. This was necessary in order to equip children to participate in a “more interconnected world but also appreciate and benefit from cultural differences”.  This was explicitly framed in terms of winers and losers from globalisation, with the attendant distribution of uncertainly and profanity. Robertson and Mocanu recognise that “it is important that schools and their societies actively promote the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values in young learners that enable them to live in a complex society” but remain critical of how this has been framed and its inclusion in large scale testing regimes.

The OECD’s large scale testing (reading, maths, science) are an important means by which the governance of national education systems seeks alignment with global economic competitiveness. Only 32 countries participated in PISA in 2000 and this had risen to 80 by 2018. This take-up has led to the development of other global assessment tools, including Teaching and Learning International Survey, the Survey of Adult Skills and PISA for development. These collect data on national educational systems and then feeds these back to “use this information to fuel a national conversation and as evidence to guide policies and practices”. There is a vast literature critiquing their operation and their focus in this paper is on the assumptions made in the framing of the ‘globally competent’ student and the challenges entailed in measuring it. It has been introduced in direct response to rising inequality, with its impact on social cohesion and economic development. Their concern is with the political instability and potential populist backlash these in turn give rise. As the authors put it, “A globally-competent student in the 2018 Framework Report is now one who seeks to dissolve tensions through building social bonds in the community, rather than potentially developing a deeper understanding of the consequences of unfettered global capital and predatory transnational firms”.

The contradictions of contemporary global capitalism are resolved in the imagined figure of the globally competent student. It is a limited framing of global issues involving measures which will be difficult to apply in many settings, reducing complex factors into a limited range of responses. The globally competent student might be culturally tolerant and sensitive to difference but no curiosity about structural causes is mandated, with the focus being on their capacity to navigate global labour markets in constructive and communal ways rather than being a matter of understanding their shared conditions. 40% of PISA member countries have declined to use it, due to the simplistic cultural assumptions undermining it, in spite of having paid for the test tool. Many of the issues at stake elude simply framings and correct answers, running contrary to the mechanics of developing a test where definitional consensus is needed and knowledge must be assumed to cross national borders.

In contrast they advocate a radical disasporic stance for understanding global competence. The originally essentialist sense of this term has come to be replaced by a use “to describe groups who have migrated involuntarily, preserving their interest – or connection- to their homeland, but also who have multiple groups worldwide”. This informs a way of understanding and engaging with cultural differences, moving beyond the OECD’s focus on thinking difference towards one of relating through difference. This involves more than empathy for someone’s circumstances something and instead recognising how one could find oneself in the same circumstances. It is something which can’t be developed through “decontextualised top down global tests”.

It must instead take place at the level of teacher and learner in the classroom. One way might be through un/settling, drawing on experiential resources to open up new ways of thinking and seeing an issue that might formerly have seemed familiar. Another way would be through im/mobility, drawing on experiential resources to consider the role of mobility in human life and how the dynamics of mobility shape common circumstances. The third could be be/longing, encouraging students to reflect on the character of being and belonging within a global landscape. These are accompanied by ideas about supporting exercises. They are offered in the spirit of agreement with the OECD’s intention that “the global in the form of knowledge, skills, attitudes and values could, and should, be bought into classrooms in the form of intercultural values, thinking and practices” while highlighting the question of the pedagogical means through which this can be made to happen.

One response to “Gobal Personhood in Education”

  1. The agenda of a global system seems to me A kind of culture in itself. A sort of presumptuous position that suppose it self culture less by being able to embrace their own particular culture and an openness to learning of other people‘s cultures.

    That seems to me to be … i’m not thinking of that term; A “jumbo shrimp” is an example of this term that I’m not thinking of right at this moment. Lol.

    I’m not sure if it’s necessary to be a global citizen and less you are involved in a particular cultural group that sees itself in the context of the globe, which is to say as a group of people that are in communication. It seems to me that to say “global culture“ denies that there are individual cultures that we have to be learning about or somehow be educated or conversant with. Like the term at self identifies a kind of culture that is separate or distinct from the underground actual cultures that it proposes to be excepting or learning about. It seems to me the same problem with colonial anthropology and whether or not we can study cultures as a participant observer and not affected.

    But I’m not sure that it’s necessary to have this kind of perpetuation of which one could call a kind of superstition about what humanity is. And I don’t mean that in the sense of a bad thing or that it’s wrong or anything; rather, I mean it in the sense that I’m not sure it’s necessary that I give a fuck about what people in Mongolia might believe about their world. I think that all this required is that I have an open mind to except that they might have a different way to go about things. Because this great liberal global idea of everyone getting along on a happy planet kind of seems to me as agenda-loaded. Because I’m sure that many of these cultures, these groups of people that are that we are identifying as culture, whether it is in Siberia or in the middle of Los Angeles, could give less than a shit about whether we are understanding each other: I think it is a modern presumption to figure that people have not been getting along and exactly the same way today as they have throughout history: some people try to spread peace, other people could give a shit, other people kill and don’t give a crap or have any sort of ethical problem with it, other people think that all human beings are equal.


    I mean I’m saying kind of a Jordan Peterson kind of theme: it could be that our global problem is that everyone is trying to enact these super large systems without first understanding themselves and how they relate to the world. It is though somehow I can come to terms with myself in the world if I see myself through these large global systems.

    It may very well be that the problems we are trying to confront up, as global problems or state problems, are due to this over determination of what the human subject is towards what it is capable of enacting. That is, at least with any sort of benefit.

    Our fucked up climate could be the discrepancy between the individual human being and the global system itself in as much as these people are involved with understanding this global system without first really understanding what’s going on with them as a global system, which is to say as if these are the same.

    So much philosophical problem here though. Thx

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