Introduction to Quebec Education in the Context of Globalization

Education for the World, Education for All
February 23, 2009
This is the introductory article of the CCPA 'Our Schools/Our Selves' publication: Education for the World, Education for All: Education in the Context of Globalization edited by Jocelyn Berthelot.

Click here to access the publication page.


Globalization is still a hot topic. In Quebec, as elsewhere, events conspire to remind us of this every day. The economy, the environment, culture, celebrations of solidarity, all facets of social life are affected by it. Plant closings and relocations, financial crises, efforts to redefine the role of the State and education, the Kyoto protocol, anti-globalization demonstrations, the rapidity and sophistication of communications bear ample witness to this thrust for change.

Some observers are declaring a brave new world, a new era in human history. The current upheavals, they argue, are the broadest since the industrial revolution, or even since the invention of agriculture. For the most optimistic among them, this new era is linked to remarkable advances in democracy, the breakdown of boundaries, an updraft of solidarity. For the first time ever humanity is in a position to provide all this planet’s inhabitants access to a decent life.

Others criticize all this “globaloney” and reject the unworldliness all around us. For them, the paeon of praise that greets globalization serves only to mask its hidden agenda. Far from being new, it actually forms part of the hard and fast logic of capitalist development, ever expanding its reach and its grasp. The much vaunted “global village” is turning out to be a “global pillage.” Globalization is market-driven, neo-liberal, non-egalitarian.

Sadly we must acknowledge that the current round of globalization is borne along on a wave of ultraliberalism reminiscent of the 19th century. Market fundamentalism is eroding the democratic gains of recent decades and is increasing inequality among nations and within them. But a very lively alternative globalization movement makes the point that another kind of world is possible. The future, still ours to build, has nothing to do with foreordained fate. To prove it, all that’s needed is to look back into the past.

Globalization has ancient roots. It already has a long history that deserves scrutiny. Accordingly, our first chapter begins with a historical review. This review will give us a better picture of the enduring features of this age-old movement, as well as its new directions and sudden breaks.

So the doctrine of laissez-faire and free trade is not new. Nor is the resistance it has met nor are the subsequent swings of the pendulum. On the other hand, the Nation-State is witnessing a radical redefinition of its responsibilities by the proliferation of international bodies and agreements and, for the first time, the very survival of our planet is threatened by unbridled growth.

This review of the history of globalization along with a brief analysis of the high stakes linked with it seemed necessary to us because the tightly woven links between education and society means that they must both face the same challenges.

Just like the State, education too is in upheaval. It is the object of criticism, restructurings and reforms. Even the words being used to describe it are changing. Concepts of performance, competition and marketing are being borrowed from the corporate world. School culture is becoming a business culture; educational systems are getting to be more and more alike; national differences are being ironed out under the weight of a “new educational world order.” The second chapter takes stock of the new educational model that is gradually taking root.

In effect, international economic organizations are imposing their own discourse and philosophy. The General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) could even place limits on national specificity in education. The changes under way almost everywhere have a familiar feel: decentralization, competitiveness, performance review, meeting the demands of business. Shrinking the State means that education is being deprived of urgently needed resources. Even so, in every society, despite these broad trends, historical and social considerations along with struggles to hang on to democratic gains have brought about resistance and have forced compromises.

So where is Quebec in all this? Where do the current changes in education fit into this new educational model? What were the results of the resistance and social struggles that they provoked? What lessons can be learnt from experiences elsewhere and the research about them? Quebec will emerge as a society that has retained some distinctness; but the “Quebec model” is treading water, as it is being eroded by utilitarian discourses and practices.

And yet, the last few decades have seen public education contribute significantly to the development of Quebec society and to the advancement of democracy. Every effort must be made to prevent education from being reduced to a mere consumer product. Education must stand strong and reject the discourse of inevitability. It must once more become a collective project dedicated to equity and social justice. That is the purpose of the third chapter, which advocates maintaining the link between education and the common good.

The proposals in this last chapter affect all levels of education. They favour an internationalization of education that emphasizes cooperation and solidarity; they promote global awareness in preparation for the challenges that humanity is facing; they give full weight to increasing diversity and pluralism; and they respond as fully as possible to the demands of a new sense of citizenship. Driven by the need to strive for educational equity unrelentingly, they will be based on experiments that have proved their worth elsewhere in the world and on the revealing results of international research. They call for the equitable distribution of students among schools and among classes, support for the most vulnerable groups in early childhood, and improved school participation rates for both young and adult populations.

This is meant as a starting point for reflection and debate and aims to reach first and foremost the men and women who make education their daily practice. These proposals are put forward in a spirit of the total respect that their work deserves.

The sheer scope of the task, as it is clear, has not allowed every subject to receive full attention. The urgent need for a synthesis led to pruning and choosing only the most relevant data. In order to maintain a good flow, references are all grouped together at the end of the book for each of the subsections of the chapters; endnotes will be found after each chapter. Readers can subsequently satisfy their curiosity or even check the accuracy of the related facts in the bibliography.

Jocelyn Berthelot began his career as a teacher. From 1977 until his retirement in 2007 he worked as a researcher for the Centrale des syndicats du Québec (CSQ). During this time he participated in all the major educational debates in Quebec including: public funding of private schools, programs for the gifted, and intercultural education. He is the author of numerous articles, and four books in French, several of which propose new paths for democratic education.