International Competitiveness or just “King o’ the Midden”


Jim Reid made a case for educational leaders to be aware of the competition, which I explored in a recent post.

As I said at the time I believe that the majority of people in education don’t see themselves as being in a competitive environment. Yet most countries identify education as being one of the main tools at their disposal to make themselves more competitive in a global marketplace, for example, the Scottish Government sets out the following under it’s strategic objective of creating a ‘wealthier’ Scotland:

We believe that Scotland can match the success of similar countries – Ireland to our west, Iceland to our north and Norway to our east, nations that sit at the top of world wealth league tables and form an arc of prosperity around our shores. Scotland has important lessons to learn from each of these neighbours in terms of competitiveness, investment and economic growth and it is this government’s job to offer a vision for Scotland that enables us to match, and we hope exceed, their achievements.

The UK perspective can be summed up by PM Gordon Brown:

Now in the last 10 years we have moved from an education system which was below average in its performance to above average, but we now have to do much more than that. Our ambition must be nothing less than to be world class in education and to move to the top of the global education league, and it is time to say not just that we will aim high but that we can no longer tolerate failure

From a European perspective:

Ján Figel’, the European Commissioner for Education, Training, Culture and Youth, said that “Top-quality education and training is vital if Europe is to develop as a knowledge society and compete effectively in the globalising world economy.

From a U.S perspective:

For more than half a century, the United States has led the world in scientific discovery and innovation. It  has been a beacon, drawing the best scientists to its educational institutions, industries and laboratories from around the globe. However, in today’s rapidly evolving competitive world, the United States can no longer take its supremacy for granted. Nations from Europe to Eastern Asia are on a fast track to pass the United States in scientific excellence and technological innovation.

What strikes me in all of this is that no-one has ever really thought of taking the teaching profession with them on this matter.  Teachers don’t think like this. They do their jobs for a wide range of complex personal, social and moral reasons -but I doubt if many would describe their motivation coming from their ability to help their country to compete in a global marketplace.

I’m not arguing here that they should necessarily accept their role in such a function – it should be possible to improve a system without having to appeal to this as being the prime motivator. However, I wonder if we do need to explore this area more explicitly at a national level – without doing so, schools and  local authorities might remain content to be “King o’ the midden” – without ever looking beyond our shores at how the “competition” are doing.

2 thoughts on “International Competitiveness or just “King o’ the Midden”

  1. Yes we do – we need to be really aware of globalisation . We actually have capacity to be leaders in much educational thinking and practice and we have many advantages but we can only do this together and with everyone aboard.
    Too many of us don’t realise this , are in denial of this or spend most of their time taking shots at our system – which like any isn’t perfect but would be greatly improved by global connections on many levels.

    I think our schools and local authority set up make individual teachers look too narrowly at their own careers through benchmarking only with the school up the road or in a neighbouring authority and not wanting to rock boat too hard.

    We have successfully exported qualifications and systems to many parts of the world – Scottish Education academic and vocational is very highly regarded in the UK and overseas – but the competition – including increasingly corporate competition has really got its act together in many parts of the globe.

  2. Joe

    Thanks – you make a good point about global connections. The Scottish Government’s International Education agenda sets out two main areas of study:

    International Education Policy and International Benchmarking.

    My own reflection at this moment in time is that many schools and authorities are engaging with the former area but with a focus on learners’ experiences and don’t actively engage with benchmarking agenda – and all that that are includes.

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