Education in 2014: Torward neoliberal urbanism

Setiono Sugiharto, Jakarta | Opinion | Sat, December 28 2013, 11:15 AM

The best perspective we can borrow to envision what the country’s educational policy looks like is the notion of neoliberal urbanism — a neologism first unveiled by educational sociologist Pauline Lipman.

Taking a specific case from the US’ urban school system, Lipman argues that urban areas have undoubtedly become the forefront in creating neoliberal educational policy shifts. This has happened not only in the US but also in Indonesia.

Neoliberal urbanism is predicated on the assumption that urban life is the locus of not only the global economic, financial, cultural, industrial, and political aspects but it is also the potential hub of the construction and restructuration of neoliberalism in education. In fact, the path to neoliberal urbanism is underway, and can be seen from several emerging symptoms.

One clear symptom is the privatization of public institutions , such as in with most top-tiered universities in the capital, Jakarta. The previously state-owned higher education institutions have now become the private belongings of parties who have the authority and control over the marketization of such institutions.

Another symptom is the increasingly high demand for quality higher education in urban areas, which have prompted people from rural areas to flock to these areas, thus transforming the latter to a sanctuary of educational market places. As such, some big cities in Indonesia will in years to come become the global cities where the marketization of education flourishes and finds it fertile ground.

Still, other local schools in urban areas now fervently adopting curricula and assessment systems from advanced countries are mushrooming and are indeed ubiquitous in big cities in the country. Unlike in the past, with the current easy access to schools, toddlers, young children, and adults can enjoy education with an ostensibly “international” flavor without spending more to study overseas.

Probably the clearest symptom that approximates neoliberal urbanism is the incipient creations of a new world order in the Southeast Asian region through the so-called the ASEAN Economic Community (AEA). With the global economic rise of ASEAN, joint ventures in education between countries within the region and between such countries as Europe, US, and Australia will inevitably catapult ASEAN ,including Indonesia, as the locus of global-local, hence the coinage “glocalization”, education.

China Daily (Oct. 25, 2013), in its special coverage on higher education in Southeast Asia regions, reported that individual ASEAN governments stood in support of ASEAN’s global-local education by increasing public investment
in universities.

With such a trend, the Indonesian government is likely to create an educational policy that will facilitate the rapid construction of neoliberal urbanism. In this respect, neoliberal educational policies will be preferred, as they are deemed congruous with the spirit of the ASEAN Economic Community and the global communities within ASEAN regions.

While it is true that the creation of neoliberal policies prompted by the presence of global-local universities in urban areas within ASEAN countries bring immense benefits in terms of many aspects, the policies at the same time bring about paradox.

First of all, the policies will be more likely to take side with those who hail from the middle to high socio-economic background; this in the end will further the inequality and marginality in urban life.

Thus, the paradox here lies in the fact that while the urban brings ample opportunity to those seeking quality education and later seeking workplaces, it widens a social gap in the community. At this point, education will continue to be the consumption of the elites and serve as a tool to spread social injustice.

Second, as the policies will not be made in a political vacuum, there is a tendency that they will valorize certain norms and exclude or belittle others. There will surely be resistance against the issuance of these policies in the future.

Finally, closely related to the second point, unless local universities in the country are not poised to compete globally, the policies will be created only to sustain the hegemony of other economically and politically powerful countries. In other words, neoliberal urbanism will create power imbalances.

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The writer is an associate professor at Atma Jaya Catholic University.

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