Thursday, 16 May 2013

IT, corporations, global institutions vs local culture

The connections between IT corporations and the push for technology as a solution to education problems is very clear in the US.  The Gates Foundation funds projects and organizations that are pushing IT and online learning as government policies. 

The Foundation also funds the Pearson Foundation which is creating online courses and assessments for the new Common Core curriculum that are then sold by the Pearson for-profit company.   Microsoft and Cisco are big promoters of information technology in education with an obvious corporate interest in sales and profits. 
Joel Spring in his book, Education Networks, points to "shadow networks" of people who move from corporation to foundation to government, linking and pushing the IT policies.

But do those links operate on a global basis as well?  Not surprisingly, the answer is yes and here are a couple of examples.
Microsoft linked up with UNESCO in 2009 to create a UNESCO-Microsoft Task Force on Higher Education and IT.  A UNESCO-Microsoft agreement was announced at a meeting of 150 education ministers and top bureaucrats.  A UNESCO officer said that "Through the creation of the UNESCO-Microsoft Task Force...we will help mobilize critical strategic resources to better assist ministries of education worldwide." (p.37)

Spring reports that the" agreement allowed Microsoft to make major inroads into national systems of higher education."  Microsoft put $50 million into the project--in the form of  "free software and certifications which would lead to future purchases of Microsoft products by the world's higher education systems." (p38)
The World Economic Forum (Davos) plays a role as well.  It published a report (written by two corporate executives of Cisco Systems who formerly worked for the World Bank) called The Global Information Technology Report 2010-2011 which claims that "ICT has also important instrument for bridging economic and social divides and reducing poverty."  It's a claim that seems somewhat overblown when compared to reality.

The future promised by the report is of a "global consumer class" who can afford personal ICT.  They are part of "a 'new global Internet culture' where users across countries generally share similar opinions and habits." (p. 57) 
This is reminiscent of Thomas Friedman's "flat world" thesis that globalization and technology have homogenized the globe.  It, of course, ignores the reality of the billions of people who are not part of the global consumer class. 

What are the links between national education decision-makers and the corporate and transnational organizations promoting ICT in education?
Is the technology having the impact of creating a global culture?  If so, is this happening because it is desirable and desired?  Or is it an unintended consequence that can be altered if there is a social consciousness and will to maintain diversity?  Can ICT be used to contribute to maintaining cultural diversity?


Spring, Joel.  (2012).  Education Networks:  Power, Wealth, Cyberspace and the Digital Mind. (Routlege:  New York)


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