THE digital revolution and the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) have undoubtedly taken the world by storm. For those uninitiated, these two revolutions are the culmination of the previous industrial revolutions, plus the cutting-edge technology of unprecedented connectivity powered by the World Wide Web. While we are trying to come to terms with the full implications of 4IR, policy-makers the world over are searching for possible remedies to tackle the creative destruction that will be unleashed by it.
One possible remedy, and it could be the most potent, is through strengthening the education system. Embracing the latest technology has become the cornerstone of development and modernisation. To be fully “developed”, nations are judged by their technological capabilities and investments. What better way to expose the population to the latest technological advancement than through education.
While most developing countries are emulating their colonial masters in embracing online education, the former has another crucial hurdle to overcome. Educational systems in most developing countries are inherently based on colonial systems with inherently alienating or irrelevant curricula, methods and subject matters.
Educationists in the developing world have failed to imagine an alternative curriculum that can fulfil the needs of their population. They are oblivious to the underlying objective of colonial education, which is to perpetuate colonial rule.
Today, the global reach of Western-style education is astounding in its conformity to how the West looks at the rest of world. The greatest tragedy that has befallen the developing world is their full embrace of the Western education system upon gaining independence.
The West, as an imperial power, has succeeded in creating a global educational system that is blindly sought after by many inhabitants of the developing world even though the system and its epistemology are only understood by few. This phenomenon has led to a paralysis. In academia, it is insisted that the Western way of knowing is inevitable and it is the “true” and “objective” way of understanding the world in all its complexity.
As a matter of fact, the Western education system should be seen for what it really is. The fundamental aim of the Western education system is to sift and sort the knowledge traditions of the world in accordance with a narrow set of intellectual assumptions about how the world works from Western rationalist, materialist and modernist outlooks.
Stanford Graduate School of Education Professor Martin Car-noy captured this aptly when he said that since schooling was brought to non-Europeans as a part of empire, it was integrated into the effort to bring indigenous peoples into colonial/imperial structures.
After all, the European teacher and school were built on the European capitalist model, transmitted European values and norms, and began to transform traditional societies into modern ones, were it not?
Similarly, author and political activist Ward Churchill has shown and warned us that the American educational system is predicated on Eurocentrism, not only in terms of its focus, but also in its discernible heritage, methodologies and conceptual structure.
Churchill went on to say that as currently established, the university system in the United States offers little more than the presentation of “White Studies” to students, general population and minority alike.
The curriculum is virtually totalising in its emphasis, not simply upon an imagined superiority of Western endeavours and accomplishments, but also upon the notion that the currents of European thinking comprise the only really “natural” or at least truly useful formation of knowledge/means of perceiving reality. In the vast bulk of curriculum content, Europe is not only the subject in its conceptual mode, the very process of learning to think but subject matter of investigation as well.
It seems reasonable to pose the question as to what consideration is typically accorded the non-European remainder of the human species in such a format. The answer is often that coursework does, in fact, exist most usually in the form of upper-division undergraduate broadening curriculum — surveys of Oriental Philosophy are not unpopular, The Philosophy of Black Africa exists as a catalogue entry at a number of institu-tions, even Native American Philosophical Traditions makes it appearance here and there.
But nothing remotely approaching the depth and comprehensiveness with which Western thought is treated can be located in any quarter. One can only imagine how this festering problem is going to be further confused by imposing Western educational technology innovations that are already being criticised and proven problematic in the West itself.
Many well-intending educational bureaucrats are falling under the influence of Western corporate schemes. While nations are providing fertile markets for technology products, they are unable to critically evaluate the consequences of duplicating an imported educational system.
Clearly, blindly emulating the Western corporate university will bring more harm than good for the developing world mainly because the current craze on online education is about commodification of higher education of which computer technology is merely the latest medium.
Associate Professor Dr Azeem Fazwan Ahmad Farouk is director of Centre for Policy Research and International Studies, Universiti Sains Malaysia