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Meeting the Challenges of Globalization with Curriculum Change

Module by: Carl Rotermund. E-mail the author

Summary: In this essay I will start with a critical examination of globalization. I will give a definition of globalization and present some current knowledge on the subject. During this examination, I will explore its intertwined relationship with education. Teachers and students face numerous challenges as the phenomenon of globalization spreads. In dealing with these challenges that are brought forth by globalization, many initiatives have been made. This brings me to curriculum change. It is my opinion that in order to meet today’s challenges due to a globalizing world, it is absolutely necessary to change school curriculum. In the remainder of this essay I will give my recommendations on how to change curriculum to meet these challenges.

Meeting the Challenges of Globalization with Curriculum Change

Carl Rotermund

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


In this essay I will start with a critical examination of globalization. I will give a definition of globalization and present some current knowledge on the subject. During this examination, I will explore its intertwined relationship with education. Teachers and students face numerous challenges as the phenomenon of globalization spreads. In dealing with these challenges that are brought forth by globalization, many initiatives have been made. This brings me to curriculum change. It is my opinion that in order to meet today’s challenges due to a globalizing world, it is absolutely necessary to change school curriculum. In the remainder of this essay I will give my recommendations on how to change curriculum to meet these challenges.

Keywords: Globalization, Education, Curriculum


Globalization is a phenomenon that is occurring in today’s world whether we like it or not. In effect, the phrase ‘whether we like it or not’ couldn’t be more fitting due to the obvious split of opinion towards globalization. Many like it, and many do not. But whether you a proponent of globalization or an opponent, the definition of it is usually unclear. So what is globalization and why is it so important for educators to understand it? In the first part of this essay I will summarize the beliefs of today’s experts on globalization and give some current theory on this happening. Then I will get into the challenges that teachers and students face with globalization and how I propose we should meet these challenges through the use of curriculum change.

The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines globalization as “the development of an increasingly integrated global economy marked especially by free trade, free flow of capital, and the tapping of cheaper foreign labor markets.” But is globalization really as simple as that definition makes it out to be? Of course the answer would have to be no. In reality globalization is a source of much anxiety in the academic world. There are many academics that are constantly researching globalization in hopes of achieving a better understanding of what it is. These researchers include social scientists, political scientists, cultural theorists, historians, economists, etc. And in the development of their research, they have to make efforts to avoid the appearance of a publicist to the gigantic corporate machines that celebrate globalization (Appadurai, 2000, p. 1).

No matter what kind of research these academics do, globalization can be many things with various manifestations, meanings, connections and interrelated complexities (Brown, 2008, p. 43). Because of this, there have been more than a few theories produced.

Most globalization theories have focused mainly on trying to define its specific elements and to determine whether or not these elements characterize anything new about the world. These studies tend to focus on finding a dominant trend in global exchange and either to welcome this trend as a sign of greater global interdependence and prosperity or to dismiss it outright as radically overstated, irrelevant or as being downright dangerous (Brown, 2008, p. 44).

There are some scholars, for instance Susan Strange, which believe globalization is nothing more than a falsehood and it is ‘a term used by a lot of wooly thinkers who lump together all sorts of superficially converging trends’ (Strange, 1995, p. 293). Then there are those who think the opposite and say globalization is an ideology which marks an ‘end of history’ and the start of a new human era of liberal interdependence (Fukuyama, 1993).

According to Appadurai (2000):

Social scientists (especially economists) worry about whether markets and deregulation produce greater wealth at the price of increased inequality. Political scientists worry that their field might vanish along with their favorite object, the nation-state, if globalization truly creates a “world without borders.” Cultural theorists, especially cultural Marxists, worry in spite of its conformity with everything they already knew about capital, there may be some embarrassing new possibilities for equity hidden in its workings. Historians, ever worried about the problem of the new, realize that globalization may not be a member of the familiar archive of large-scale historical shifts (p. 1).

There are also considerable debates amongst scholars on when globalization actually started occurring. There are many who believe that it started once the first human stepped off the African continent (Pieterse, 2004). For other scholars, globalization did not exist until global institutions were created in the 1900’s and therefore globalization was believed to be predominantly a twentieth century phenomenon (Bull, 2000).

Also you cannot talk about globalization without discussing whether the phenomenon is positive or negative. Brown (2008) says, “the processes of globalization are dialectic, in that they often have two contradictory sides: one side that promotes more interconnectedness, resulting in greater economic markets, democracy and peace between democratic states, while on the other side it simultaneously promotes the possibility for greater economic inequality, ideological ethnic conflict and a failure to secure human development” (p. 45).

So with all this discussion about globalization and all the various conflicting ideas, it is obvious to say that the true definition of globalization is unclear. However, despite all uncertainties about globalization, I can simplify its meaning with one phrase: “Globalization is what we make of it.” This is what Brown (2008) believes and I quote from his article, “globalization is often what people cognitively make of it, globalization can also be what people wish to make it. Thus, it is as important to know what people think about globalization and how this reinforces its dialectic behavior as it is to know what should be done to help change the future perceptions and experiences” (p. 45)

That last part of that quote, “what should be done to help change the future perceptions and experiences,” is what I plan to cover in the remaining parts of this essay. In the next section I will discuss some of the challenges that come with globalization and why there is such an intertwined relationship with education.


I start this section with a story from Njoki Nathani Wane because it paints a clear picture on how globalization can have negative effects on a student’s education. Wane, a native of Kenya, attended a small village school for grades 1 thru 4 and then transferred to a Catholic boarding school for grades 5 thru 12 (Wane, 2009, p. 159). Throughout his stay at the Catholic school, he went through numerous educational reforms brought on by the British and the Catholic nuns. These were attempts by the school to internationalize curriculum by using Western European models. For anyone who knows anything about colonial education can probably guess that these attempts were less than successful.

When Wane was in the Catholic school, he was repeatedly punished for speaking his native language, or refusing to go to Mass in the morning for worship, or for asking why the examinations were set and marked in Britain. There was little or no regard for his background, his values, or his history. All the nuns cared about was implementing European curriculum. For instance, he was forced to memorize European or American history, geography, economics, or sing “London Bridge is Falling Down” (Wane, 2009, p. 160). The school’s strategy to universalize education made the education irrelevant to Kenya natives. Because of the lack of consideration towards local knowledge and local people, educational reform failed. There were high numbers of failures and drop outs and it didn’t take long for the educational structures built by the colonial governments to crumble to the ground. Surprisingly, the colonial governments were clueless as to why their educational reforms failed (Wane, 2009, p. 161).

This of course was not an isolated incident. Colonial education has been happening in all corners of the world and it continues to be a problem today. According to Wane, this has to stop because colonial education has never been inclusive and many colonial educational structures still dominate numerous education institutions today (Wane, 2009, p. 161). Therefore Wane calls for a destruction of colonial education so people can reclaim their indigenous ways of learning.

It is hard to tell whether or not colonial education will ever go away. Chances are, globalization will continue to strengthen and education will continue to become universalized. Additionally, we are finding that teachers usually have a very simplistic understanding of their students’ identities and their own identities (Santoro, 2009, p. 33). So what can educators do to help resolve these issues? For one thing educators can examine their own cultures so they can begin to understand how information gets passed in their current educational system. Once they examine their culture, Wane (2009) says they should ask these questions: “(1) what was my education about?; (2) What did my education include and exclude?; and (3) Did the content reflect me or the people I identify with in terms of my history, my culture, and its contributions to the world? Hopefully, these questions motivate educators and curriculum planners to participate in developing educational materials from an inclusive stance and ensuring that the knowledge therein reflects all citizens” (p. 162).

Because many teachers have little working experience with multicultural contexts, the need to develop culturally responsive pedagogies has become extremely urgent (Santoro, 2009, p. 34). These inadequacies also contribute to teacher desire to leave multicultural schools and making those schools more difficult to staff. The students suffer greatly because the high turnover rate means they are usually with an unprepared teacher (Martinez, 2004, p. 5). In order to prevent scenarios like this from happening, teachers must know how to teach culturally diverse students and understand what their needs are. In order for teachers to truly understand the nature of their students of ethnic difference, teachers need to understand the nature of their ethnic identities, cultural practices, values and beliefs (Santoro, 2009, p. 36).

So it is clear that teachers need to be more prepared to face the challenges that globalization brings. But the important question is how can this be accomplished? Before I get into this in the final section of essay, which will be my answer to that question, I will wrap up this section with a quote.

Wane (2009) states the following:

An understanding of diverse ways of knowing and seeing will assist curriculum planners clarify the purposes of education reforms, and their relevance to local as well as global issue. The 21st century has become the century of information technology, migration and immigration. We are in and era where we cannot live in isolation, nor can we claim (or aim) to shelter our students in spaces where they will only be exposed to their own culture, knowledge, and traditions. Those days are gone. As educators who are aware of the “border collapse” it is necessary to develop an open and inquisitive approach to learning and teaching. There is a need to find ways to have the local and the foreign taught simultaneously (p. 176).

As we stare at the challenges brought on by globalization, as Wane put it, we ‘need to find ways to have the local and the foreign taught simultaneously.’ This should be our ultimate goal. To achieve this goal, we have to make serious curriculum changes.


We must be extremely aggressive with curriculum change if we are going to effectively address these problems. Change must happen by everyone at every level. Government officials, school administrators, teachers, professors, parents and even the students all have great roles to play in the success of change. But how can change happen without any kind of direction? All kinds of great ideas have failed because not every player was on board with the idea. We have to get everyone on the same sheet of music as I like to say. In doing this, clear cut goals for students need to be established. Additionally, the goals must be universal and at the same time they can’t be exclusive in any way. Essentially the goals must allow local and foreign material to enter in curriculum. The next question is what should the goals be? Suarez-Orozco and Sattin (2007) say “The world needs young people who are culturally sophisticated and prepared to work in an international environment” (p. 58). But that isn’t detailed enough. We really need to get into the weeds and determine some form of skill sets that students need in today’s world. In order to come up with some goals, I looked at the following experiment first.

Quoted from Milliron (2007):

Daniel Simons, a neuroscientist at the University of Illinois, explores perception, attention, and memory with some pretty intriguing methods. In one experiment, he asks an audience to watch a video of two three-member basketball teams, one wearing white shirts, the other black. In the video, each group passes their team’s ball among themselves, all the while weaving back and forth among the other team. It is a pretty confusing little scene. The audience’s job is to count the number of times the white-shirt team members pass their basketball to one another. At the end of the exercise, Simons begins the questioning: Who counted sixteen passes? seventeen? eighteen? But then he asks, who saw the gorilla? Yes, that’s right, who saw the gorilla? Most of the people who participate in this exercise, 70–80 percent, fail to notice that halfway through the video a man in a gorilla suit walks across the room, stops smack in the middle of the passing teams, turns to face the camera, beats his chest, then walks through to the other side. Most people absolutely miss the primate prancing across the screen. When shown the scene again, they cannot believe they missed it; they are confused, sometimes mad, and other times absolutely certain there are two videos (p. 31).

I love sharing that experiment because I was actually part of this experiment once. I also was part of the majority who did not see the gorilla. But why do I share this experiment in this essay? The experiment demonstrates something called perceptual blindness, (Milliron, 2007, p. 31). Milliron says, “This concept is related to the fact that we all have cognitive structures that make up our brain patterns; they are literally building blocks of how we think. These structures are based on key factors such as life experience and learning” (p. 31).

To simplify what Milliron is trying to say, we miss the gorilla because we are not looking for it. Because of the criteria set before the exercise, we develop cognitive structure to count the passes made by the players in the white shirts and nothing else. This cognitive structure makes us blind to other things that do not fit. We become even more blind the when we try harder at the task.

This experiment shows the necessity to think differently when we are at key transformational points in our business, personal, national, and international lives. Globalization is the gorilla in the room in today’s world and many people still do not see it (Milliron, 2007, p.32). So let’s make them see it.

Milliron recommends three important skills that we must teach so we can prepare students to earn and learn in this new world. Those three skills are critical thinking, creativity, and courage. If we outfit our students with these skills, they will be ready for a better life in a globally connected world (Milliron, 2007, p.34). Critical thinking is critical to virtually every profession. The ability to process information gives people the ability to contribute not only to companies but also communities. If we forget to teach critical thinking, we limiting our students’ ability to analyze, learn, and adapt. Of course critical thinking alone is not enough to help someone make it in the globalizing world we have today. That is why Milliron also talks about creativity as a needed skill. Some schools are known for preventing creativity which is a major problem. We must encourage creativity to the max extent possible because if you combine it with critical thinking, the outcomes have powerful promise. Courage, the final of Milliron’s skills, is also important because we need global citizens that are willing implement the knowledge they acquire. Courage is probably something that would be hard to teach, however, teachers can give students opportunities to display courage in class. Students can then take advantage of the opportunities to display courage and this in turn will boost confidence.

Although Milliron outlines some very important skills that need to be taught, I believe his list is incomplete. I would like add to one more skill that I personally feel is extremely important to teach to students. I feel it is necessary to teach students on how to be ethical human beings. This is something that can be taught and should be taught at every level of education. Milliron makes no mention of ethics in his journal. His intent was more geared towards explaining the skills required to become successful in the global workforce. I want to include ethics because I want students to learn how to become successful global citizens.

Alright, lets take a step back and review the key points I have made so far. One the first points I made was that we need to implement curriculum changes and with those changes we need to teach local and foreign material simultaneously. Additionally, the curriculum should be inclusive, not exclusive. And we have to clearly define the goals of the curriculum, which include critical thinking, creativity, courage, and ethics. What I decided to do with all these key points is develop a mission statement. The mission statement is very general on purpose because I want to be useful to every class, school, administration, government, or even world organization. This mission statement will guide people on how to develop their curriculums at whatever level they may be at.

Mission Statement

The mission of our educational system is to provide students with the skills needed to be successful global citizens. Those skills include critical thinking, creativity, courage, and ethics. Our system will teach the local and the foreign simultaneously and curriculum will be inclusive versus exclusive. This is the academic foundation that we will provide so are our young people can become culturally sophisticated and prepared to work in a globalizing world.


The mission statement I have created can be used in whatever manner he or she chooses. It can certainly be edited to meet your educational system’s needs but it is necessary that the principles of this statement are not lost. For someone who runs a classroom, ask yourself if your classroom is achieving this. If it is not, do whatever you can at your level to incorporate this into your classroom. There are abundant resources available to educators in regards to multicultural classrooms. One example I will share is You can navigate through the website however you wish but I want to point out the section on diversity innovations. Under that section, there is a tab for curriculum change where you will find many courses that have made transformations to become culturally diverse. For instance, there is a course from the University of Northern Colorado called Latino/a Literature and the Literature of the Americas. This course meets a lot of the criteria I mentioned in my mission statement. It teaches the local and the foreign at the same time, it is inclusive, and it makes you think critically. There are so many examples out there and teachers need to explore and implement them. There is no need reinvent ideas that are already out there.

As far as school administrators, take my mission statement and make it policy. By making it policy, curriculum developers will have freedom to include ideas and address cultural issues.

For government officials, make this mission statement law. This will make sure that every citizen is getting education that is tailored to their needs. Although the ‘no child left behind’ program was good in theory, in has caused exclusion. By implementing these very basic principles into law, it will help refocus our attention where it should be. The focus should be on creating global citizens.

International organizations can also implement my mission statement. By making the statement international law, not only can we can help the countries that need direction in their educational systems, we can also help individuals who are feeling the effects from colonial education.

Leadership, commitment, and vision are essential for systemic change in education. I have provided the vision, so now it is time to commit and lead. Initiate curriculum change at every level and we will successfully meet the challenges brought on by globalization.


Appadurai, A. (2000). Grassroots Globalization and the Research Imagination. Popular

Culture, 12(1), 1-19.

Brown, G. W. (2008). Globalization is What We Make of It: Contemporary Globalization

Theory and the Future Construction of Global Interconnection. Political Studies

Review, 6, 42-53.

Bull, H. (2000). ‘Beyond The State System?’ in D. Held and A. McGrew (eds), The

Global Transformation Reader. Cambridge: Policy Press, 577-582.

Fukuyama, F. (1993). The End of History and the Last Man. New York:Penguin.

Martinez, K. (2004). Mentoring new teachers: Promise and problems in times of teacher

shortage. Australian Journal of Education, 4(1), 95-108.

Milliron, M. D. (2007). Transcendence and Globalization: Our Education and Workforce

Development Challenge. New Directions for Community Colleges, 138, 31-38.

Pieterse, J. N. (2004). Globalization and Culture. Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield.

Santoro, N. (2009). Teaching in culturally diverse contexts: what knowledge about ‘self’ and ‘others’ do teachers need? Journal of Education for Teaching, 35(1), 33-45.

Strange, S. (1995). The Limits of Politics. Government and Opposition, 30(3), 291-311.

Suarez-Orozco, M. M., & Sattin, C. (2007, April). Wanted: Global. Educational

Leadership, 58-62.

Wane, N. N. (2009). Indigenous Education and Cultural Resistance: A Decolonizing

Project. Curriculum Inquiry, 39(1), 159-178.

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