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.