Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Flat World? Economic Forces Influencing Education

It seems like most in North America are afraid of "offsourcing." What is offsourcing? Offsourcing is simply outsourcing work, services, or the production of a particular product offshore or across the globe to a country like India, or China, because they can deliver the product or service for cheaper than in America. I realize the whole issue of offsourcing is certainly not a popular notion, especially with the news filled with doom and gloom stories of people losing their jobs because of the recession that has hit North America. This past week, the Canadian government introduced the new federal budget with $40 billion dollars worth of spending initiatives to bolster the economy and pull it out of recession. The United States is discussing similar measures to prevent the auto industry from collapsing and driving the American economy into the ground further after the recent real estate fiasco that buried a number of US financial institutions. So I can understand why North Americans are a little nervous and a little less than enthusiastic to share in India's exuberance of new found riches with the thousands of jobs transplanted from the US or Canada to call centres in India.

However, we can look at the present situation with a doom and gloom attitude, or see this as an opportunity for us to get better at what we do, and seize further opportunities. I like what Rajesh Rao said, as quoted by Freidman (2005), instead of complaining about outsourcing the western world would "be better off thinking about how you can raise the bar and raise yourselves into doing something better." I think this is the right perspective. We can complain and bellyache about the situation, or we can do something about fixing it; making it better. The reality is, people want to have hope. I can barely watch the news for all of its negativity and hopelessness. I want to hope for possibilities of a better future for our First Nations people. Why are so many in Canada enamoured with Barack Obama, especially in our First Nation world? Because he consistently speaks of hope, people want to have hope for tomorrow. I believe that the media is in a large way responsible for the recent recession, because the consistent message from the media has been one of mass hysteria mingled with fear mongering ultimately undermining people's confidence to invest, spend, and buy. What we need to hear is the good that is coming from a development of a global economy.

Recently, I watched a video on by Hans Rosling, (2007) New insights on poverty and life around the world, where he elegantly demonstrates how the global economy is producing tremendous improvements in the lives of people around the world, especially those in developing world. Countries like India now have more educated people in the field of technology and software development comparable to the US and Canada than ever before, and yet charging a quarter the cost to have the same thing done in North America.

Recently, we were commissioned to build an interactive game by the Office of the Treaty Commission here in Saskatchewan. We gladly accepted the opportunity to develop such a learning tool for students to learn about the Treaties in Canada though the entertaining medium of an online game. We approached various gaming companies in Canada, who never returned our calls. We then turned to the United States, and were shown a little more interest, but prices were out of reach for the budget. Finally, we turned to a gaming company in Pakistan, which did the work for us and were absolutely wonderful to work with. What that experience taught me was that we need to be far more competitive in North America, and not so begrudging of those who do the work more affordably and with little complaint. Why shouldn't they profit from the opportunity? Wealth should not be restricted to Canada or the US.

I hate seeing the poverty in the media of people starving, children dying, and HIV destroying families. I want for people around the world to have an opportunity to prosper. The virtues of caring and kindness cannot be limited to my world, but must include a global perspective. Hytten and Bettez (2008) propose we need to be globally aware and empathetic so that we can be responsible global citizens caring for everyone and our environment. So if a little offsourcing takes place to make another person's world better, that's a bonus. I guess I have to be better at what I do then as well.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


The world is going global. It is not very hard to make a case to support that statement. When I was growing up in northern Alberta, Canada, as a young boy in the 60’s, living on a First Nations reserve without running water, electricity, and gas heating, we were literally cut off from the world. Our world was confined to our localized area in which we lived and depended upon for our sustainability. We carried the water from the river to the house; we used kerosene lanterns in the evening, and burned firewood to keep us warm. That was only forty years ago and yet the picture described is reminiscent of a Little House on the Prairies episode. But what stands out for me is how little information and news we had about the world as we know it today.

Today, I can go into any northern community in Canada and nearly every home has a satellite dish attached to the house with 200 channels and a computer is connected to high speed internet. The world has come to them. They still live in isolated, remote communities that may only be accessed by plane, but they are connected to the world events and people around the world. Recently, I flew into a northern community of Black Lake, Saskatchewan (north of the 59th parallel), where I met with the Education Director for the local school. On her computer, she had a live feed of a church service being held in Medigorje, Bosnia and Herzegovina, where thousands of devote Catholics make their pilgrimage to visit the statue of Mary. Her parents, along with thirty-four Athabascan Dene, were at the service half way around the world, and she was watching it live on her laptop.

Later that morning, the entire school of Dene students watched the inauguration of Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States of America get sworn into office on CNN, being beamed into every classroom in the school. It was an historic day, and as First Nations people, we were able to share in that momentous event as if we were there in person.

Our world has become smaller in many ways. Suarez-Orozco & Qin-Hilliard (2004) suggest that “globalization means that the lives of children growing up today will be shaped in no small measure by global processes in economy, society, and culture.” Clearly, television and internet are shaping the Dene world that once was limited to hunting for caribou and fishing for livelihood, and celebrating cultural events with traditional drumming and singing. Now youth wear their iPods to schools loaded with the latest rap music downloaded from iTunes. These youth no longer understand their identity as a singular culture, but as multiple identities as C. Suarez-Orozco argues that require youth to “function in diverse, often incommensurable cultural realities.” Globalization has not necessarily taught our youth to be better individuals, but rather has appealed to mass conformity or homogenization of identity that looks more American than First Nations. Maira discusses how cultural citizenship among immigrant youth in the United States has shifted from their countries of origin to a more “flexible citizenship” representative of two or more cultural contexts. While this research was focussed around the immigrant context, this phenomenon appears to be happening in our remote, isolated world in northern Canada.

While globalization is neither good nor bad, significant changes are taking place in cultural values and identities that are causing confusion and a sense of loss for many First Nations people. The changes have taken place so rapidly, that it has allowed for little time for gradual adaptation and understanding of what is transpiring. Educational institutions can play a significant role in helping youth transition and understand the complexity of challenges that arise from being exposed to other cultures and other worlds. Along with the exposure comes an increased expectation for youth to possess higher order and diverse cognitive skills for dealing with the wealth of information being thrust upon them. But in order for educational institutions to assist youth, they must examine whether they adequately equipped or resourced to prepare our youth for lies ahead. Do they understand the real issues youth are facing today? Unfortunately, many educational institutions are still using pedagogical methodology from the distant past, and are not engaging our youth with technology and creativity that assists them in facing the global world.