As noted above, nation states have exercised a stranglehold over primary and secondary education for the last 100 years or more. Their motives are very mixed, but certainly include the desire to create obedient, socially well-adjusted citizens. Even the private educational sector in major Western countries has followed a pro-state agenda. It is joked that the British private school system was designed (by the Victorians) to train Rhodesian policemen; and it was true in a general way that such schools existed to produce a carefully crafted supervisory elite for a colonial power. The problem is that they have hardly changed since.
The conservatism of education professionals, and the tendency for special interest groups such as religions to seize upon education as a means of propagating their particular world views conspire to reduce the responsiveness of the educational system to ongoing cultural trends, at least at primary and secondary levels.
In addition, parents are not slow to impose their own ideas and prejudices on their children. This is a controversial subject; but it has to be asked whether bringing a child up in a highly sectarian environment which may be at odds with surrounding social culture is really doing it any favours. Examples in contemporary European societies are not hard to find.
Tertiary education has been freer, and more practical, since in most countries it has not been directly under state control, although usually it has some financial dependency on the state. And adult education has been largely market-driven – but the damage has already been done, in most cases!
What is needed is a free market for education, and this is nowhere in sight other than perhaps in management education and in a still rather undeveloped way, on the Internet. The impact of education on the development of human thought will therefore lie largely in the hands of individuals who choose to take advantage of educational opportunities away from the mainstream. The Internet will eventually have a powerful impact in this respect, and there will be a great expansion of institutions such as the UK's Open University and other MOOCS which allow remote learning.
The signs of change can already be discerned. A search on Yahoo for business schools brought up 331 links; among the first 20 of them, all business schools, 7 are in the USA, 11 in Europe, one in Japan and one in Brazil. In 17 out of the 20, the language of tuition is English; the exceptions were one college in Italy, one in France, and the one in Brazil (Portuguese language). A search for business schools in the French language shows that almost all of them operate in English; even the Grenoble Ecole de Management (!) has an English web-site.
At primary and secondary level, the 'international schools' movement is quite prominent and is growing rapidly.
The International Baccalaureat Organization currently works with 1,895 schools in 124 countries to develop and offer programmes to more than 487,000 students aged 3 to 19 years. Says its Director, Dr Seefried: 'What started as an education of the citizen in a local or state context has to now embrace not only an education for national citizenship but also a cosmopolitan sense of civic responsibilities. In a much enlarged global context, the teaching of ethics and ethical decision-making has to be grounded in the shared values of our common world heritage and traditions of learning.'
The European Council of International Schools provides services to support professional development, curriculum and instruction, leadership and good governance in international schools located in Europe and around the world. ECIS says that its schools are committed to the promotion of an international outlook amongst all members of their communities, and that their staff and students are characterized by knowledge of, and respect for, the beliefs and values of their own and other cultures and by the willingness to acknowledge the existence and necessity of a range of perspectives.
ECIS members and affiliate members serve and support member schools through an ongoing process of professional renewal characterized and facilitated by networking, research, sharing and collegiality.
The Asia Society's International Studies Schools Network (ISSN), a US organization, says: 'Urban secondary school students deserve an opportunity to be successful within an increasingly global environment. By introducing the study of world regions, languages, and international affairs into the national high school reform agenda, Asia Society aims to modernize instruction and be a catalyst for "bringing the world" into the classroom'.
International Schools Services, founded in 1955 in Princeton, New Jersey, is dedicated to educational excellence for children attending international schools worldwide. ISS plans and manages schools throughout the world for companies, individuals, and consortiums and currently works with more than 300 international schools.
The International Schools Association has a general brief to support the development of international schools and was instrumental in the development of the International Baccalaureate Organization (see above). It is linked to UNESCO.