National and international education in South-East Asia: are they in conflict?

04 March 2013

On Wednesday 27 February 2013 Cambridge held a seminar in Jakarta for Cambridge schools, to discuss national and international education in the context of our experience in Indonesia.

Many countries place great importance on the concept of “national education”, cultivating a love of the student’s own country and a knowledge of its language, literature, history and values. We want our young people to become good citizens and patriots. This thinking is familiar in Indonesia, and also in other parts of Asia (including China, Malaysia and Thailand), Australia, Europe and the Americas. 

At the same time, many of the same countries are paying more attention now to promoting “international education” – not just for the children of foreign visitors but for their own young people. They want them to be more aware of global issues, learn foreign languages and develop as “global citizens”. These two trends raise some interesting questions – is there a conflict between the demands of national education and those of international education? Is one pursued at the expense of the other or can they be complementary? 

On Wednesday 27 February 2013 Cambridge held a seminar in Jakarta for Cambridge schools, to discuss national and international education in the context of our experience in Indonesia. The seminar opened with an introductory presentation by Isabel Nisbet, Senior Education Adviser at Cambridge Assessment Singapore, who set out the issues with examples from several Asia Pacific contexts. 

Having considered specific national and international programmes, Isabel Nisbet concluded that the relationship between national and international education resulted in five possible answers: 

1. The sceptical answer: either international education or national education will die out naturally, and so the question will answer itself. 

2. The international ethicist position: there is a conflict, and the international should prevail. 

3. There is no problem: national and international educational programmes are always fully compatible. 

4. A reciprocal relationship (at least in SE Asia): the more international the economy and education are, the more governments will want to strengthen national education to reinforce national values. 

5. A dynamic interrelationship: each feed into, informing and challenging the other. This is particularly important in SE Asian countries as there are differences between the traditions of Western post-war internationalism (based on the United Nations) and the philosophies of many of the newer nation states in SE Asia and of the older Eastern civilisations. 

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