Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Culture Matters: ESL in the Classroom - A New Article I wrote concerning the challenges and opportunities when teaching an English Language Learning Student

Culture Matters: Developing an Appreciation for the ELL’s Cultural Background and Its Potential Impact on Your Classroom By Dr. Peter Zsebik Public education, the century old bastion of social preparation, is facing many challenges from today’s sociopolitical environment. With unprecedented changes occurring in our society ranging from technological advancement to global economic upheaval, and from the existing ubiquitous immigration patterns to the far-reaching influences of the media, we find that the current social dynamic of our society has left many in the teaching profession questioning how to best get the job of educating accomplished for today’s social environment. In this paper we will focus on the impact of immigration on public education. To this end, one could suggest that Arjun Appadurai’s attempt to outline the narratives within society as ‘Global Cultural flows’ (1993, Featherstone) has been one of the most succinct in academic literature in defining the social forces impacting public education. Appadurai suggests that: “...there are five dimensions of Global Cultural flows which move in non-isomorphic paths. Firstly, there are ethnoscapes produced by flows of people: tourists, immigrants, refugees, exiles and guest workers. Secondly, there are technoscapes, the machinery and plant flows produced by multi-national and national corporations and government agencies. Thirdly, there are finanscapes, produced by the rapid flows of money in the currency markets and stock exchanges. Fourthly, there are mediascapes, the repertoires of images and information, the flows which are produced and distributed by newspapers, magazines, television and film. Fifthly, there are ideoscapes, linked to flows of images which are associated with state or counter-state movement ideologies which are comprised of elements of the Western Enlightenment world-view - images of democracy, freedom, welfare, rights, etc.” Interestingly, Appadurai’s views suggest a one way flow, from western to non-western cultures.This may indeed be the case as western countries generally hold the power and wealth necessary to induce movement within these flows. Nevertheless, there is no reason to suppose that these flows are exclusively unidirectional, and in fact our 21st century global economy appears to negate this unidirectional concept, with various agencies in the economy attempting to manipulate and control these ‘cultural flows’ to varying degrees (Appadurai, 1993), which in turn has a direct influence on our contemporary educational environment (Zsebik, 2003, 2010¬). To take this one step further, we can now argue that holding any paternalistic notions of teaching English to non-native speakersmay require a cultural shift in pedagogical understanding to better reflect the current socio-economic realities of our global environment. To ignore these social changes and carry on within an historically referenced notion of public education will inevitably do all involved a disservice. These observations, however, carry serious implications for educators in most public education environments. It means that not only is there more academic demand for learning English as a Second Language, it also means that there is a need to develop a ‘global awareness’ within public education– to realize the social and political ramifications of our pedagogical choices for those who come from another culture or nation. Everything from what we teach, to how we teach, and indeed to why we teach certain knowledge basesin today’s education system may need a closer examination to determine if our current pedagogical choices are appropriate for preparing today’s ESL learners not only for their new country but also for tomorrow’s society. This means that our responsibility to our students is coloured by the choices we make. In turn, the lens by which we should make these choices should not be just our own, but rather also that of the students in front of us and their understandings and needs to be successful in their chosen society. Within the context of this paper as well, we must concern ourselves with the type of political motivations that prevail in a school and its supporting community (op cit. 2003). While some aspects may seem obvious, such as a teacher’s relationship to students, what may not seem so incidental is how the school and its community defines its ideological orientation to and for the students and parents, in this case students and parents whose cultures are not necessarily shared by the majority of the community. In his preface to Freire’s book Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1990), Shaull states: There is no such thing as a neutral educational process.Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate the integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity to it, or it becomes “the practice of freedom,” the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world. The implication from Freire’s observation, while written perhaps with a certain political motivation regarding his own homeland, still lends itself to opening up the proverbial can of worms. Questions that begin to spill out may include: • Why are we teaching what we are teaching? • What are the political motivations behind our choice of methods and materials? • Is the curriculum appropriate for our postmodern world? • Are we creating a truly inclusive educational programme? • What is our purpose for teaching; for learning, for experiencing, for grading, for assignment orientation, for the system, etc.? Once we begin to think about the broader implications for what we do as a profession, it becomes easier to see that we are not just teaching English to children of other languages – we are in fact teaching the culture that is connected to that language we are teaching. Linguists the world over are in almost total agreement that language is defined by the culture from which it stems, but a culture can also be defined through its language. Most educators understand this connection, and yet we have chosen to isolate these two otherwise inseparable elements –maintaining the attitude that the 4 different curricular frameworks outlined below define a specific curricular hierarchy within public education – with the academic curriculum metaphorically towering over the other curricula, and this may not be the most productive of hierarchies anymore. Here then are the 4 universally accepted curricular areas that occur within any chosen educationalenvironment: The Academic Curriculum – what might traditionally be considered to be the curriculum – e.g. subjects taught in school. The Pastoral Curriculum– to include personal guidance (e.g. social skills, relationships), educational guidance (e.g. study and information-finding skills) and vocational guidance (e.g. learning about careers and occupations)”. The Hidden Curriculum - might be defined as adaptive learning usually undefined and unacknowledged by the school: the ‘hidden messages’ students receive as part of their schooling by the rest of the school community. The Paradigmatic Curriculum - the sociological interaction of individuals in the school community who are concerned with developing that school community. (Zsebik, 2003) It is interesting to note that while we have become most familiar with the Academic curriculum as determined by various governmental or other recognized educational authorities, we may often fail to recognize the importance of the other three curricular frameworks as an integral part of a student’s education. All too often these areas may be left to chance which may result in unintentional inconsistencies in the total curricular delivery. This is particularly problematic if the immigrant student falters perhaps due to an often unintentional cultural hegemony that has been adopted by the institution. There will be those in the education community who disagree with these notions. It may be that their response will be something to the effect that if people had immigrated to these shores, then are they not here to learn what it is to be Canadian, and by extension to conform to the norms of our society? Past history does show public education systems the world over as an effective socializing agent, and indeed they have produced a certain homogeneity for Canadian society. However, in today’s multicultural environment, does a focus on this same homogeneity, unintended or otherwise, still provide for a valid educational focus? Well, yes and no. Whether we like it or not, public education is still a political animal that needs constant attention and direction. ‘Yes’ students come to learn what it means to live in Canada and to be successful in this cultural situation, but also ‘No’ it does not mean that they must forget their own cultural identity and replace it with some systemic boxed version of our choosing. If we truly believe this, then this means that our due diligence as educators should also extend not only to teaching the Canadian identity, it should also be protecting the ELL’s primary culture so that it can also thrive. The days of cultural submergence are past, and the new age of multiculturalism (following on the heels of postmodernism) should be embraced as part of public education’s change for the future. In fact, this perspective would better maintain our cultural mosaic, and it would help define Canada as a nation of nations well into the 21st century. So what types of political environments determine one’s intellectual outcomes? In the diagram below, we see how Freire (1990) summarized the different types of intellectual outcomes a learner can achieve (above the line), while Zsebik (2000) has indicated that there are 5 main political levels of classroom interaction (below the line). Research has indicated (ibid.) that there is a direct correlation between these two spectra and when juxtaposed, it becomes much easier to see that a student’s resultant intellectual outcome is defined by the political nature of the school environment which is defined by the (most likely the majority) of individuals in that environment. This observation can be summarized using the diagram found below: Transformative Critical Accommodating Hegemonic Intellectual Intellectual Intellectual Intellectual ----------------------/-------------------------/----------/------------------ Radical Liberal Moderate Conservative Reactionary Figure 1 – Diagram of the political spectrum and its potential educational outcome (Zsebik, 2000) (PLEASE SEE PREVIOS POSTS FOR CLARITY) From this we can see that the type of political environment we create in a school very much influences the student’s intellectual outcome. It also means that in order for educators to effectively do their job of socializing and preparing students for tomorrow’s world, they must be aware not only of the basics of the different curricula and the latest teaching methodologies and classroom management skills, they must also be aware of the type of sociopolitical environment they are creating in each classroom, and by extension in the entire school environment. Defining the (ESL) School Environment There are two more items that also need to be taken into account, especially as it pertains to the ESL classroom. The first is that oftentimes the different minority cultures found in a school context can be, inadvertently or otherwise, dismissed by the dominant culture of the institution. This may be seen by analyzing the interaction between the different players found within the institution. These players can be defined through the mnemonic of S.P.A.C.E. (Zsebik, 2003) These elements can be summarized as follows: S tudent P arent A dministration = The S.P.A.C.E. Factor C urriculum E ducator Briefly, the interaction between these five elements of SPACE not only helps to define the pastoral and hidden curricular framework of the school environment, it also helps to define if there is a dominant culture in the school, where they reside, and their relationship to the rest of the school culture(s). An analytical breakdown of this nature can help with determining if there is a need for a change that aids in producing a more politically (as discussed above) appropriate situation. Interestingly enough, we can now interpret the relationships found within the SPACE Factor utilizing the notions of Geert Hofstede who researched the dynamics of institutional cultures which he has defined as: …the collective programming of the human mind that distinguishes the members of one human group from those of another. Culture in this sense is a system of collectively held values.(Hofstede, 1994) His work has identified five dimensions of culture, and each has been defined as residing in high amounts (or high contexts) or in low amounts (or low contexts). They are: 1) Power Distance (PD) – ranging from a centralized to a flat equal organization 2) Individualism (IDV) – ranging from a highly independent to a group orientation 3) Masculinity (MAS) – ranging from a misogynistic to a highly feminist society 4) Uncertainty/Avoidance (UAI) – ranging from rigid to loosely coded social structures 5) Long-Term Orientation (LTO) – ranging from imposed to individually created social goals Hofstede has determined that each culture (not country or nation) has its own unique levels of interaction based on these five dimensions. This is significant for public education because now we can imagine a process for analyzing the differences between adjacent education backgrounds in an ELL, and to utilize this information not only to chart an ELL’s academic curricular progress, but potentially to also evaluate that same ELL’s development from a pastoral and hidden curricular perspective as well. This idea is not complete fancy. Teachers are already reporting generic behaviour patterns as part of the reporting process, but they are primarily in relation to their impact on a student’s academic attainment. However, by utilizing the findings of the above researchers, we now we have the ability to formalize measurement of these non-academic behaviour patterns if we so wished. Now we can see that the potentialities inherent in Hofstede’s cultural dimensions would also help to define the institution outlined in Zsebik’s SPACE of a school environment. A diagram of this could look something like the following between the two concepts: Figure 2 -representation of Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions (LTO, PD, UA, IDV, MAS) and their relational influence on the different elements of Zsebik’s SPACE Factor which in turn defines the educational institution. Also not to be dismissed is the fact that within an ESL context (and perhaps other contexts as well), we find that there is often a lack of homogeneity in an ESL classroom. Often this type of classroom environment holds not only different levels of linguistic (or academic) competence, but also perhaps different levels of pastoral and social competencies as well. These latter are usually defined by the prior experiences an ELL brings with him or her to that classroom from the past. At this point, it becomes interesting to note the type of political environment that has been created within the ESL classroom – one that offers by necessity much more than the stated academic curriculum – and one that is often not mirrored by the rest of the school community. This imbalance can become problematic to the new immigrant ELL, and the notion of providing a safe, nurturing and secure school environment for that ELL becomes impaired. To conclude, we have found that there is a six step process to creating a culturally aware classroom. They are: Step One - Decode the classroom What types of learning cultures do your students come from? Step Two – Find Connections Establish what the student already knows and build on those knowledge bases. Step Three – Understand the student’s emotional journey Every day the student is dealing with the potential for failure or isolation from the cultural paradigm that he or she has chosen to enter Step Four – Provide the Necessary Accommodations and Modifications By understanding the cultural experiences the ELL brings to the classroom, we can begin to help the student to lower his effective filter. Step Five - Acknowledge and embrace the student's background as part of the class experience By allowing these diverse experiences to become part of the classroom dynamic, your students will become more engaged and begin to take ownership. Step Six - Help the student to understand and embrace the different curricular environments of the school. Take the time to provide not only an academic but a pastoral and a hidden curricular overview that helps to inform the student of the cultural imperatives inherent to their new home. If we follow these 6 steps, we can begin to see the importance of recognizing and embracing a student's own culture in relation to the broader school culture so that they can learn to achieve success in this environment and realize their full potential in the public education environment. With this type of broader perspective in mind, our classroom can become even more of a safe, secure, and welcoming landscape ready to help our ESL student’s realize their full potential. References Appadurai, A. (1983). Cultural Flows. In Featherstone, M. (1990) Global Culture: Nationalism, Globalization, and Modernity (pp. 295-310). London, Sage Publications. CBC Archives - http://archives.cbc.ca/society/celebrations/topics/3517/) Freire, P. (1990). The Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York, Continuum. Hofstede, G. (1994). Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind: Intercultural Cooperation and its Importance for Survival. Harper Collins, London. Keung, N. (July 17, 2011). The Toronto Star, http://www.amren.com/mtnews/archives/2011/07/immigration_to_5.php) Zsebik, P. (2000).The Politics of International Education, In Hayden, M. and Thompson, J. (2000) International Schools and International Education: Improving Teaching, Management and Quality, London, Kogan Page. Zsebik, P. (2003). A Comparative Analysis of Four Approaches to Curriculum Offered in International Schools, Ph.D. Thesis, University of Bath, UK

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Press Release for my book 'Educational Leadership for the 21st Century: Building a Capacity for Change'

‘Break free from old education,’ urges educator, scholar New book gives step-by-step instructions to bring about change for today’s education systems RICHMOND HILL, Ontario – Do education systems have expiration dates? Dr. Peter Zsebik believes they do. And after teaching for over 20 years in countries such as Kuwait, Singapore, Thailand, Austria and Ontario, he knows a thing or two about the world of education, including the weaknesses of a system more than a century old. “I truly believe that education as it stands right now is in serious need of rethinking,” says Zsebik. “It is a 120-year-old system that is having difficulty achieving the same educational goals that it initially had set for itself.” Zsebik’s new book, Education for the 21st Century, serves as an instruction manual, guiding readers through the core elements found in current educational practices and leading to a better understanding for the need of a more contemporary focus. Zsebik believes that by examining the social, cultural and political relationships found in public education, one can gain a better understanding of more relevant educational settings and how to make positive changes. “I believe that in order for public education to move past this point, a commitment must be made for all levels of family, education and society to participate in creating the right environment that would enhance a child’s educational development,” he says. While Zsebik recognizes the tendency for individuals to stay comfortable by doing things ‘the way it has always been done,’ he maintains that this practice cannot be applied to education. In accordance with the public education mandate President Obama recently announced in his State of the Union address, Zsebik’s Education for the 21st Century provides a platform for developing the President’s vision for education: that public education is in dire need of a new, more contemporary framework. “Some may say not to fix what isn’t ‘broken,’ but it can be argued that we are very near to that breaking point. The cracks that are now appearing are because we are no longer fulfilling the original mandate of public education – that of preparing tomorrow’s generation to live successfully in tomorrow’s society. And that’s something we can no longer ignore.” Education for the 21st Century By Dr. Peter Zsebik Paperback 6x9, retail price: $17.95 ISBN 9781450259262 Available at www.amazon.com and www.barnesandnoble.com. About the author Dr. Peter Zsebik received his Ph.D. from the University of Bath, England, which was a culmination of the academic experiences he obtained after having spent the last 20 years teaching and lecturing in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Europe and Canada. Zsebik currently lives in Toronto and works in the education industry; he is also an accomplished saxophone player leading a very busy 21-piece dance orchestra. # # #

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

So has anyone read my book - Educational Leadership for the 21st Century: Building a Capacity for Change?

Well it is December, awhile since I blogged about education. interestingly, it also seem to be awhile since anyone was interested about education as well. Funny that people are apparently not caring too much about the education system. Is it because of bad experiences, or is it because they are too busy, or because they see it as a lost cause? Or is it because they see it only as a hoop to jump through on their way through life and that it really doesn't matter anymore.

Trouble is, your kids are going to end up going through the education system - sure some of you may have the money for private school while others believe that a public education will socialize your kids better, but at the end of the day, their is a strong likelihood that whether public or private, your kids are not being prepared for their future.

How do I know this? Ten years ago, I was not able to write a blog because it didn't exist. 5 years ago there was no such thing as a smartphone, and two years ago the closest thing to an iPad was Star Trek's tricorder. And just two weeks ago I went to a technology presentation for educators that started with "The information we are about to share has a potentially steep learning curve". Yippee!

So what does this have to do with education? Well, everything. It is not only time to put down the chalk and chalkboard, and the paper texts and binders, but it is also time to start thinking about public education in relation to our contemporary society.

It's time to think differently. We may not have to go back to the drawing board, but we should certainly take the time to analyze both how and why we are doing what we do in the classroom.

Anyone got any thoughts or am I still a small voice in the wilderness? Which also begs the metaphysical conundrum - if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it crash, does it make a sound?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

My latest publication - Educational Leadership for the 21st Century: Building a Capacity for Change

My latest publication is to be out in February 2011. You can find more details and a chance to purchase the book at pzpublishing.ipage.com The book poses a framework for bringing our current public educational practices into the 21st century via a process of modifications that I have outlined in this publication. It is hoped that this modification process will help to alleviate the stresses that have currently been placed on public education - stresses that are primarily due to the fact that the current system of public education is a century old concept that oftentimes sees no recourse to addressing the changes that society has undergone in these last 100 years. If you have ever contemplated public education as somehow outdated, then get my book and prepare to be inspired as I know you will.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Link to an Earlier Publication in IB Research Notes

This article is based on my doctoral studies. The title of my thesis is 'Four Approaches to Curriculum Found in International Schools" which I completed at the University of Bath.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Towards Understanding the Need for Systemic Change in Mass Education

Towards Understanding the Need for Systemic Change in Mass Education

By Dr. Peter Zsebik

The concept of mass education has been with us for some time, and yet the way that it appears to have evolved, or perhaps better said not evolved, has led to a perhaps less than satisfactory systemic sociopolitical environment for today’s needs. Evidence of this sense of disenchantment can be found not only perhaps around the staff room but also with a good deal of the scholarly literature that is swirling about in the academic world – literature that espouses the need for change to, and for, the current academic environment.

Fullan, for instance in his relatively recent book release, Change Forces with a Vengeance (2003), details a number of underlying concepts that relate to changing the nature of education. It is the third book in Michael Fullan’s chaos theory trilogy (which he calls complexity theory). This series explores notions that have been uncovered when complexity theory is applied to education and how complexity theory has pushed the envelope further by providing new insights and lessons of change concerning the need for a moral purpose, and the need for what Fullan calls tri-level reform – the school and community, the local district, and the state.

Fullan believes that in order for any change to occur, it should start at the top of the educational structure and then trickle down. He understands the many dangers of too much or too little change, usually with the end result, when this happens, that nothing changes because the ‘prescription’ was not appropriate for that system. He believes that systems therefore must be guided not managed, for it is with management that things deteriorate. In contrast, he believes that social systems such as that found within an educational context have a seeming life of their own, where growth, development, and change occurs naturally within the confines of the system dynamic that has been created. It is only a question of, as said previously, guiding any positive initiatives already taking place so that these initiatives can best enhance the whole organization (Fullan, 2003)

It is also interesting to note that now, and I concur on this aspect, that Fullan seems to appreciate the fact that there is a need for educational discourse to be rooted in chaos/complexity theory for the simple reason that the educational environment has become so convoluted. One could speculate that this convolution occurred because of the nature of public education, but if that is the case, then a move such as this would require societal maturity at a level that one could daresay is not yet forthcoming in our current sociopolitical environment.

To a large extent, Fullan is right. Anyone who is in education can see that the complexity of the mass educational process has risen exponentially since its inception, and to at least properly identify and explain the majority of those features now within the western educational context, a solid understanding of complexity theory would indeed come in handy. Having said that, however, one could speculate that the issues and challenges facing mass education are rooted much more deeply then perhaps one would expect, and that perhaps the notion of undertaking an analysis utilizing complexity theory discourse may not prove all that more substantial to the evolution of mass education than anything previously offered.

One of the problems that may stymie this or any process of analytical insight is the simple fact that mass education arguably has placed itself into a reactionary stance, where it is attempting to please all people all the time. This can be evidenced by the broad swath of curricular foci that are currently in the discourse of western education. This is not a bad thing, unless it creates an environment where the overall educational direction is lost through continuous and perhaps internally and externally conflictive appeasement. (see figure 1 below).

If this is the case, then it becomes increasingly clear that something very fundamental may need to be adjusted - that not only Fullan’s, but possibly everybody else’s overall initial sensibilities about mass education may need to encompass a shift in thinking – and that this shift may occur in a deconstruction of the educational setting that no longer relies on past sensibilities and assumptions. In essence, what is being posited here is that the very foundations of mass education that were instituted during the industrial revolution may no longer continue to be the most appropriate framework for today’s post, postmodern sociopolitical dialectic.

If we look to other areas of society, as we should considering that the whole process of mass education was created to serve society, then we must ask ourselves if the majority of the other areas of our society are still residing within the same paradigm with which education also began. With very little reflection, one would probably agree that this is no longer the case. In other areas of sociopolitical influence much re-shifting of paradigmatic centering has occurred, and this re-shifting can be evidenced in areas as diverse as technology, feminism, civil rights, immigration, and the media. Whether this re-shifting is fully progressive for our society is yet to be seen, but nevertheless it helps to bring into focus society’s current state.

This raises an interesting question, however. If the systemic discourse of mass education has managed to mutate to the point where it requires complexity theory to produce an analytical framework, which also seemingly implies that there is no longer a central focus to guide the educational process anymore, then is there room for speculation as to whether the current educational dialectic – the one that Fullan is attempting to constitute through his notion of complexity theory - is still appropriate for today’s current sociopolitical climate? Is his postulation actually playing into education’s current game of catch-up to society through the honourable but perhaps frantic notion of subservience? Is he postulating the fact that mass education should maintain solely a reactive stance to society? And if this is the case, then to what degree are educators serving a function that promotes proactive learning? Perhaps to question at a more succinct level, what precisely is the role of mass education with regards to socio-political development?

To many, mass education is there to serve the public domain, and this should always be the case. But in order to do that more appropriately for today’s society, it may be that now is the time when it is actually necessary to rethink the whole systemic paradigm so that it made more sense within the larger social dialectic of the society for which mass education was meant to serve in the first place. In turn, it may be necessary to shake off the cloak of curricular tradition and engage the clientele in a more innovative curricular paradigm – one that allows for total engagement in the social dialectic currently inhabiting today’s sociopolitical environment.

Currently, one may be hard-pressed to find any research that places the tome of mass education on its ear in an attempt to address whether these societal changes have forced any such alignment as described above within the educational system. Granted much can still be said of the validity of all past educational research and discussion, and it has indeed pushed the ‘science’ of education further and further afield. But what do we have our current educational dialectic to compare to when pondering if said dialectic is still a valid instrument for today’s sociopolitical environment? It seems that the overwhelming majority of research that has been undertaken begins with the implied assumption that the current systemic identifiers for mass education have been taken for granted as providing the best mass educational blueprint. Some of these conventional identifiers can be readily observed as the following:

· The use of a physical plant resembling an industrial age factory
· The transference of preferred knowledge bases through strategic dissection of the chosen body of knowledge into specified subject areas
· Reporting procedures reminiscent of modernist managerial styles
· Curricula with primarily a historical reference introduced primarily for analysis, evaluation and regurgitation of ‘fact’, and usually with very little relevance to the current socio-political dynamic of the world
· Established relationships and expectations between the different parties found within the educational environment (see Zsebik, 2003)

There may be other aspects integral to the system that have not been mentioned, but their absence does not displace the notion that the system is self-contained. But is it so self-contained that it has lost its connection to the outside world?

To summarize, therefore, what is being argued are two things:

1) That the current system of mass education may no longer be able to efficiently maintain its relevance to our society
2) That this irrelevancy is due to reliance on a possibly outdated systemic structure that does not reflect the current state of our postmodern society

Socio-cultural Imperatives

In the beginning, mass education had a relatively simplistic function, and that was the education of the masses to fulfill the needs of that society (Zsebik, 2003), be it inculcating the necessary rudiments for manual labour, or the proper education and socialization of the elite. As society evolved from the industrial age, however, and as other factors began to make their presence felt within that educational paradigm (e.g. parents), much pressure was put on mass education to evolve so as to remain pertinent in the face of sweeping social change. In effect, mass education had found itself, and still finds itself, on an ever faster hamster wheel, in a cycle such as the one shown here (please imagine arrows indicating a cyclical nature):


Zsebik, Ph.D Thesis, 2003

Politically, Freire (1990) argued that the western education paradigm was based on what he called ‘banking education’. The teacher was to deposit the knowledge into the student; knowledge chosen by the educational dialectic found within the chosen sociopolitical environment, for purposes of socialization and skill development for that particular strata of society.

The current paradigm of western education can be argued as an accommodating intellectual education paradigm. This occurs when the child is given access to the knowledge and skills he or she needs to know and function within the established sociopolitical environment, but is not given the opportunity to fully integrate the necessary strategies and mental processes so that he/she can comprehend the implications and challenges of a dynamic social environment. (Zsebik, 2003) There may be found of course pockets of differing sociopolitical values within specific individual programs scattered throughout the world, but again they probably do not represent the vast majority of established curricular programs where the final outcome is an accommodating intellectual.

The educational paradigm of the future, however, may have to focus first on the creation of a new mindset. It may have to create an educational environment conducive to developing a transformative intellectual (ibid. 2003). What is meant by a ‘transformative intellectual’ is one who has the necessary skills and strategies to effect positive change within his/her sociopolitical environment. This implies that mass education in this context must do more than ‘bank’ or teach to the intellectual/cultural/ social norm established by the status quo. This in effect is too limiting, and perhaps also counterproductive as suggested above. Instead what we must create is an educational paradigm that allows for a transformative learning environment to occur. Of this we can be sure, but what should this paradigm look like?

To begin, it may be appropriate to once more see what has been said of how our current sociopolitical paradigm has been analyzed. As has already been mentioned, society has become even more complex through the now recognized development of postmodernism since the late 1960’s and its ambivalent influence on mass education (Slattery, 1995). This ‘complexity’ has been given some voice by, among others, Appadurai (Featherstone, 1983) who describes society as being influenced by five cultural flows, and these cultural flows are determining the directions and decisions of society. Briefly, these flows comprise what Appadurai terms as the ethnoscape, the technoscape, the finanscape, the mediascape, and the ideoscape. He considers these different flows as reaching tidal proportions where the control society has over itself may completely erode. Appadurai’s views suggest a one-way flow, from western to non-western cultures. Indeed, we find that the most rudimentary observations of educational dialectics around the world provide indication that the sociopolitical construct of education may be rooted in the culture of the society in which it is found, but the paradigm still remains relatively the same – a first world western perspective of mass educational dogma. This may be the case because western countries generally hold the power and wealth necessary to induce movement within these flows. Nevertheless, there is no reason to suppose that these flows are exclusively unidirectional. In addition to these aspects, one must add the element of various agencies attempting to manipulate and control these dimensions to varying degrees, (Appadurai, 1993) which in turn has a direct influence on an educational environment. When taking all of the above into account, one can begin to ascertain that in order for education to be effective in this present age, it must have a thorough understanding of these cultural flows so that it can best determine which information would be of most value to the learner. (Zsebik, 2003)

To further extend this conceptualization of creating a different educational mindset, it may be interesting to turn to other discipline areas to determine if there is anything of relevance for the educational environment. Harrison and Hutchison in their relatively recent publication Culture Matters (2000, p.23) ponder the notion as to why certain cultures are more productive economically than others:

There have been numerous alternative theories of prosperity in this century, ranging from central planning to import substitution to factor accumulation. These ideas have become deeply rooted in societies via the educational system, the influence of intellectuals and government leaders, and countless other means…Second, economic culture appears to be heavily derived from the past and present microeconomic context…Third, social policy choices can have a strong influence on economic culture because they influence the economic context (ibid. 2000)

These notions are themselves cause for speculation with regards as to how education fits within the current social paradigm, but as an intellectual exercise let us now manipulate the above quote so that its focus is exclusively on education rather than economics. The changes have been italicized:

There have been numerous alternative theories of education in this century, ranging from elitist curricula to banking education curricula to accommodating curricula. These ideas have become deeply rooted in societies via the educational system itself, the influence of intellectuals and government leaders, and countless other means…Second, educational culture appears to be heavily derived from the past and present microeconomic context…Third, social policy choices can have a strong influence on educational culture because they influence the educational context

We can see with very little substitution that, at least between these two social science knowledge bases, there is much room for comparison in terms of their position in the sociopolitical environment they inhabit. This exercise is also valid because it demonstrates how both rely on the manipulation of information, on theories that attempt to promote development, and on the desire to create a more concrete, data-driven foundation to justify and promote that particular paradigm’s desired abstractions.

Further, Harrison and Hutchison argue that there is a constant need to revisit a paradigm structure. “There are segments of each society that hold different beliefs about what prosperity is and how it is created. Acknowledging and understanding this is the basis for creating change.” (Harrison and Hutchison, p.271) They then show that all cultural values and beliefs do matter in the process of human progress because they shape the way individuals think about progress. They suggest the use of mental models (ibid. p. 272) to help further develop cultural knowledge bases:

· A mental model consists of beliefs, inferences, and goals that are first-person, concrete, and specific. It is a mental map of how the world works.
· There are sets of beliefs and attitudes that are either pro-innovation and create the proper conditions for prosperity, or anti- innovation…
· A mental model can be defined, informed, and tested around a specific, well-defined objective….
· Finally, mental models can be changed. Although culture involves the transmission of meaning from one generation to another it is unlikely that it is a genetic process.

What these mental models say for education is voluminous, beginning with the notion that perhaps these mental models could be used as a starting point for recreating a more appropriate dialectic within the educational environment. They could provide reference from which a new paradigm could be developed where the determination of curricular materials and objectives were recalibrated to assume a multi(-)cultural education in its purest form, and it could provide flexibility within its framework that allows for cultural transfiguration, a process pertinent in today’s sociopolitical environment of rapidly changing demographic patterns and the alienation that may accompany the process. In every case, this paradigm would have as its focus the notion of a more contemporary and total metamorphosis so that education can play a ‘pro-innovative’ leadership role for the society it is serving.

Joseph Stiglitz, former chief economist for the World Bank, writes “that development represents a transformation of society, a movement from traditional relations, traditional ways of thinking, traditional ways of dealing with health and education, traditional methods of production(s), to modern ways.” (Harrison & Huntington, p.272) This begs the question that if others not in the educational environment can see the necessity for change from current practices, then should we not also be looking beyond our paradigmatic borders to determine if our traditional educational practices are appropriate for preparing the student for this rapidly developing sociopolitical environment? If not, then what is the reason that we still hold tenaciously to the systemic paradigm introduced to us in an age long past?

The question has now been posed, and the world awaits our answer.


Appadurai A Cultural Flows in Featherstone M (1990) Global Culture: Nationalism, Globalisation, and Modernity Sage Publications Ltd., London, UK

Featherstone M (1990) Global Culture: Nationalism, Globalisation, and Modernity Sage Publications Ltd., London, UK

Freire, P. (1990) The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 32nd Printing Continuum, New York, USA.

Fullan, M. (2003) Change Forces with a Vengeance, RoutledgeFalmer, New York USA.

Harrison, L.E. & Huntington S.P. (eds.) (2000) Culture Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress, Basic Books, New York, USA.

Slattery, P. (1995) Curriculum Development in the Postmodern Era, Garland Publishing Inc. London, UK.

Zsebik, P. (2003) Ph.D Thesis, University of Bath, UK

Word Count: 3,148

The Future of International Education

This article was published in IB Research Notes (Spring 2004)

by Dr. Peter Zsebik

Goals from the Past

After working for over a decade in the international school ‘system’, I sometimes ponder whether the current institutional imperatives of mass education are the most appropriate for today. There seems to be agreement that these concepts started in an earlier age (Beare and Slaughter, 1993) for reasons usually having to do with the socialisation of an individual for inclusion into that society (Lawton, 1974). To all appearances not much has changed since those early days with regards to the structure, and most particularly, to the overall mission. As a business model, I believe the concept of a school is still serviceable, but the academic product of the school may be in need of some refinement for the 21st century.

Evidence of this need for refinement is seemingly more sensed than understood; many individuals within education have a tendency to reminisce while commenting on an apparent decline in educational relevancy. However, when pushed on the state of their educational sandbox, one may voice examples of the problems, but to actually pin down the root of those ‘problems’ can sometimes prove more difficult. Why is this so? Is it because developing a macro perspective of education’s true focus for today’s social context is not easily accomplished given the speed of social change and its increasing complexity? Does this then create an impending sense of unruliness for a system built on regulated efficiency? My feeling is that many current systems of education find it difficult to be in sync with current social changes simply because these imperatives are from an earlier age.

This might sound like another war cry for educational change – and so it may well be. An educational environment, if it is to serve the society in which it is placed, should by its very nature be able to have both the philosophical and practical flexibility to develop and grow with that society. Educational practices from the past may have appeared to have been relatively successful, but to what extent can we continue to believe they are still appropriate for today’s socio-political landscape?

I believe that to prevent this self-perpetuating holding pattern educators must learn to deconstruct their educational setting to acquire a clearer picture of their own macro environment. Part of this process of deconstruction is to better understand the socio-political influences at work both within society and its relative academic environment. Further, they must deduce how these influences shape the educational outcomes of the student and whether these outcomes help, or hinder, the goals of an ‘international education.’

Goals for the Future

Education will always need a goal or mission to direct the outcome of the learner. What is problematic however, is the perhaps (un)intentional recycling of the same goal or mission time after time, with very little but cosmetic change to personify the notion of progress. This may have happened for a number of reasons, including perhaps ignorance, or ossification, or even the maintenance of a hegemonic focus for political ends. Regardless of the reason, however, I find no convincing argument to perpetuate this approach to education for today’s society.
But then how does one break a cycle of this nature?

Recognition of the academic situation is the first step. This is an all-encompassing process. We must look at all levels of society, ranging from the local to the international, to determine the issues and problems the student will face in the future. There will be guesswork in this process, but if there is a core of educational foresight, then we will be able to predict with some confidence the skills and knowledge bases a student will need when combined with the teaching of a critical-thinking and problem-solving process. Secondly, the importance of various curricular foci for the student could be determined by evaluating the socio-political constructs of an ‘international’ setting. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, there is the process of implementation. With this step, the educator must have a thorough understanding of how to create an educational outcome that is both transformative and international (Zsebik, 2003).

It would therefore appear that to accomplish a better understanding of a macro perspective for education, we need to focus on the Paradigmatic curriculum of an institution (ibid., 2003). This Paradigmatic curriculum signifies not only the academic aspects of the institution, but the hidden and pastoral aspects as well. When given collective coherence, they create the paradigm under which that institution is operating, and this paradigm can be measured on a socio-political spectrum indicating the educational outcome that ranges from the hegemonic to the more appropriate transformative intellectualism (ibid., 2003).

The Role of International Education

‘International education’ as found in international schools and perhaps elsewhere can provide a potential direction for education. Their growing appearance beside other world systems of education may indicate a strong desire for participation in this brand (at least as advertised) of education, and driven by a client base who may believe it could lead to a more fitting academic outcome for their child. In my experience the international schools in this system are well versed in working within a multicultural environment at a local through to an international level. Many of these international schools have also adopted curricular programmes such as the International Baccalaureate whose aim, as Roger Peel pointed out, has shifted its curricular emphases from ‘a curriculum for international schools’ to developing ‘an international curriculum for schools’ (Wallace, 1997). This shift in emphasis is important as it indicates a thoughtfulness to changes occurring within the educational landscape – one that is focused on developing an international-mindedness in the student.

What is of danger to this process, however, is the watering down and perhaps blatant disregard to the notion of an ‘international education’ for the purpose of catering to national/ imperialistic political agendas. To do something of this nature is contraindicative to the overall aims of an ‘international education’ paradigm and any policy adoption other than an international education paradigm serves no one’s best interest, particularly the students’, who will come away with nothing more than a confused concept of what it means to be part of an international society.

To this end, it is my belief that an educational environment servicing an international community must necessarily strive to create an international perspective addressing the needs and concerns of that socio-political setting. The seeds of this type of educational landscape can be found scattered throughout the international school community, and it is there we can perhaps find the solutions mass education may be looking for to become once more a directional rather than historical force for our society.


Beare H & Slaughter R (1993), Education for the Twenty-First Century Routledge, London

Lawton D (1975) Class, Culture, and the Curriculum, Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, London

Wallace E (ed) (April 1997) The IB Hexagon: Straitjacket or Flexible Model for the Future? IB World, Cardiff

Zsebik P (2003) A Comaparative Analysis of Four Approaches to Curriculum Offered in International Education (University of Bath, Ph.D Thesis)