Transnational flows of educational knowledge and research are fundamentally guided by the global geopolitics of knowledge—the historically constituted relations of power born out of the continuing legacy of modernity/coloniality. In the early nation-building stage of the 19th century, state-funded education was at the core of states’ pursuit for economic and social progress. Newly formed nation states actively sought new educational knowledge from countries considered more advanced in the global race toward modernity and industrialization. The transnational lesson drawing in education at the time was guided by the view of modernity as originating in and diffusing from the West. This created the unidirectional flow of educational influence from advanced economies of the West to the rest of the world. Central to the rise of modernity in Western state formation is the use of education as a technology of social regulations. Through the expansion of state-funded education, people were turned into the people, self-governing citizens, and then the population that was amenable to a state’s social and economic calculation and military deployment. But this development was embedded in the geopolitical context of the time, in which Western modernity was deeply entangled with its underside, coloniality in the rest of the world. Various uses of education as a social control were tested out first in colonial peripheries and then brought back to the imperial centers. Today, the use of education for the modernist pursuit of perfecting society has been intensified through the constitution of the globalized education policy space. International organizations such as the World Bank and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) act as the nodes through which transnational networks of education policy actors are formed, where the power of statistics for social and educational progress is widely shared. Both developed and developing countries are increasingly incorporated into this shared epistemological space, albeit through different channels and due to different factors. The rise of international academic testing such as OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) has certainly changed the traditional pattern of education research and knowledge flows, and more lesson drawing from countries and regions outside the Anglo-European context is pursued. And yet, the challenges that PISA poses to the Eurocentric pattern of educational knowledge and research flows are curtailed by the persistence of the colonial legacy. This most clearly crystalizes in the dismissive and derogatory characterization of East Asian PISA high achievers in the recent PISA debate. Hence, the current globalization of education knowledge and research remains entangled with the active legacy of coloniality, the uneven global knowledge structure.
Thanks to the concerted effort of the international community to promote basic education, driven by the Education for All (EFA) goals and Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), indices of education in Africa have improved dramatically since the 1990s. Although the access to schooling has improved, there are still issues of quality related to teachers, facilities, teaching and learning materials, and relevance of educational contents. Recently, under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the focuses of educational policies of African countries have been diversified, to concentrate not only on quantitative and qualitative improvement of basic education, but also on secondary, tertiary, and technical and vocational education and training (TVET). One of the problems which critics point out is that, regardless of the massive expansion of basic education, learning outcomes of school leavers in Africa have not improved. It has also been remarked that school enrolment has not directly led to poverty-reduction or decent employment. Another side-effect of the expansion of basic education has been an increased dependency on aid. So, although there is a constant demand for higher and more education among the general public, aid-dependent expansion of the system is unsustainable. Before colonization by European powers, many groups in Africa had a tradition of oral transmission of knowledge, although there were some significant exceptions of societies which had formal educational institutions. With or without formal institutions, African traditional societies had their own mechanisms of transmitting knowledge across generations. However, Europeans overwrote such existing modes of education by introducing Western school systems. With the paternalistic conviction of their civilizing mission, they refined traditional cultures and practices which could be maintained and taught in school, while replacing other “barbarous superstitions” with teaching of European subjects. Resistance to such impositions of European education eventually led to nationalism, which accompanied the desire to find a uniquely African epistemology and teaching method. At the same time, the mechanism of recruiting African white-collar workers through schooling, which started during the colonial period, planted a strong hope for social advancement through gaining school certificates deeply in the mind of African people.
The concept of bildung plays a central role in the history of European philosophy of education. Broadly speaking, the concept refers to the interplay between cultural, personal, and educational processes whose concrete contents vary with time and place but with an enduring interest in the self-formation of the subject. From the paideia of Greek antiquity via European modernization and beyond, bildung has been viewed as the true goal of educational processes, more essential than the fostering of skills and competences. Bildung ideals vary with cultural and social imaginaries. Along with the general bildung ideals that exist in all cultures, a more emphatic interest in the question of bildung—what it means and what it ought to mean—can be traced in the Graeco-Western tradition. In various languages and forms, notably as paideia, Bildung, and danning, this self-reflexive and sometimes contested notion can be seen as a catalyst for these societies’ capacity for self-reflection. Three historical phases of bildung theory stand out in this respect: the Greek polis democracy, 508–322 bce, Germany in the period 1770–1830, and the Scandinavian nation-building period, 1850–1900. In these very different historical contexts, the question of bildung, what it means, and what it ought to mean, can be seen to have stimulated self-reflection and self-formation at the individual, sociohistorical, and institutional levels of the societies in question. This complexity of the concept of bildung and its related paradoxes makes it an enduring source of philosophical and practical inquiry, as well as a focus point for social transformation.