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Globalization and International Education

reviewed by Sherrie Rhodes Beeson & Nancy Nelson - May 29, 2015

coverTitle: Globalization and International Education
Author(s): Robin Shields
Publisher: Bloomsbury, London
ISBN: 1441135766, Pages: 161, Year: 2013
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Globalization and International Education by Robin Shields is the seventh and final book in the Contemporary Issues in Education Studies series edited by Simon-Pratt Adams and Richard Race. This book, which is organized in nine brief chapters, is written as an introductory text for college or university students taking courses in educational studies or teacher education. Textbook features include chapter outlines, reflective exercises, concluding summaries, lists of suggested websites for further learning, and a timeline of major events and relevant policy statements; and most chapters include case studies to illustrate issues in specific settings. On the book’s first page, reference is made to a website companion to the book, but that website provides only the same outlines that are already available at the beginning of each chapter.


The author's stated purposes for the book are to analyze the “assumptions, beliefs, and principles that underlie educational policy and practice on the global level” and to contribute to learners’ “understanding of how education both constitutes and is shaped by the wider world” (p. 2). In his introduction, Shields uses the kōan, from Zen Buddhism, to illustrate a major theme that “learning is often the process of ‘unknowing’ what one thinks one knows” (p. 1).

In this way, Shields encourages students to examine their own values and assumptions as they consider education in a global perspective. At the same time, he supports his own point that issues in global education can no longer be viewed simply through dualities of cross-national comparisons. As he explains, the concept comparative education functioned in the past when education could be discussed in terms of contrasts between nation-states, but in this post-Westphalian world one must look more broadly at global and transnational processes. One must also be sensitive, he adds, to global discourses and the contrasting worldviews that they reflect.

Chapters address topics like international development, conflict, ICT, and higher education, but allow little space for analysis or for in-depth consideration of varying points of view. Despite Shields’s suggestion that the chapter order of the book might be varied, Chapters One, Two, and Three belong together, as all focus on the notion of development. The first chapter provides brief descriptions of human capital theory and modernization theory, which—perhaps for simplification purposes—are attributed only to Mincer (1958) and Rostow (1960), respectively. These two theories, according to Shields, undergird the discourse of development as economic growth. The second chapter presents a shift in the discourse of development from the economic growth conception to another conception that emphasizes quality of life and education as a human right.

Although many issues might be discussed in this context, Shields gives attention to those associated with gender, funding, and language of instruction. Actors introduced in the first two chapters include various organizations that support educational efforts on a global level, specifically USAID, UNESCO, UNICEF, and the World Bank. The third chapter presents critiques of the concept of development—critiques that many readers would probably have wanted earlier. These include critical commentary on the ideology of development itself. To what extent are power and hegemony enacted under the “veil” of development? To what extent do these initiatives impose policies and priorities favored by a donor that are not appropriate for and are not in the best interests of the recipient? How does the universalization of particular forms of education conflict with people’s rights to their own cultures and traditions?


Chapter Four focuses on conflict. After discussing the changing nature of conflict as manifested in “new wars” that occur within a nation-state’s borders, Shields discusses the dialectic relationship between education and conflict and the need to consider relevant macro geopolitical factors. This would have been a good place for Shields to inform prospective teachers about the current emphasis on intercultural dialogue as a means of diminishing cultural conflict—but no reference is made to that initiative.


Chapters Five through Eight may be viewed as a fairly coherent set, since all focus on global patterns of education. The fifth chapter points to disagreements about the meaning of the term globalization and presents varying theoretical positions. It then presents the following features of globalization in education: convergence toward a common model; transnational initiatives; cross-border borrowing of practices; and attention to inequalities within as well as between countries. Some well-known globalization theorists are mentioned here, including Robertson, Tomlinson, Giddens, Stiglitz, Friedman, and even Huntington, although only three perspectives—neoliberalism, world systems analysis, and world culture theory—receive much attention. A major omission in this theoretical chapter is discussion of the localizing effort that often accompanies globalizing patterns—what Robertson (1995) called glocalization and what some others have called “the global-local dialectic.” Also, given Shields’s references to “global flows,” Appadurai (1990) might have been cited.


The theoretical treatment is followed by a discussion in the sixth chapter that focuses on the global knowledge economy. After presenting roles played by the World Bank and by UNESCO, Shields gives his attention to the competitive rankings of nation-states based on two international examinations, TIMMS and PISA. The seventh chapter considers the role of information and communication technologies, and in doing so, attends to the current status of the digital divide. An important point is made here—that access to technology cannot provide a simple solution to complex social and geopolitical problems. Then, the eighth chapter follows up by explaining that higher education is being cast in the role of producer of commodified knowledge in the global knowledge economy.

In conclusion, our review must emphasize the observation made earlier that this small book is an introduction written for students who are new to the field of global education. As such, it is not a book for advanced students or for scholars and researchers in educational studies, who would likely be disappointed in its lack of depth in treating complex issues, its brief summaries of theoretical positions, and its limited attention to historical background. The book would be useful, though, in an introductory short course or a seminar for undergraduate students in a teacher preparation program, since it would likely succeed in getting them to think more critically about global issues and patterns and to become more aware of differing worldviews.


Appadurai, A. (1990). Disjuncture and difference in the global cultural economy. Theory, Culture & Society, 7, 295–310.

Mincer, J. (1958). Investment in human capital and personal income distribution. Journal of Political Economy, 66, 281–362.

Robertson, R. (1995). Glocalization: Time-space and homogeneity-heterogeneity. In M. Featherstone, S. Lash, & R. Robertson (Eds.), Global modernities (pp. 25–44). London: Sage.

Rostow, W. W. (1960). The stages of economic growth: a non-communist manifesto. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: May 29, 2015
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17980, Date Accessed: 10/24/2021 5:55:47 AM

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About the Author
  • Sherrie Rhodes Beeson
    University of North Texas
    E-mail Author
    SHERRIE RHODES BEESON is a doctoral student of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of North Texas. Her research interests are in global citizenship education, international perspectives on curriculum, and the changing values of transnational citizens.
  • Nancy Nelson
    University of North Texas
    E-mail Author
    NANCY NELSON is Professor of Education and Meadows Chair for Excellence in Education at the University of North Texas. She conducts research in discourse analysis with special attention to issues of academic communications and authorial voice.
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