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Project: National Education and State Elites

National Education and State Elites

Image Copyright: Belgian Development Agency (Vietnam)/Eric de Mildt

Since independence, national educational systems have been used by state elites to facilitate nation-building, and pursue developmental goals.

Public education institutions are critical sites for building national identity and societal cohesion and for producing human capital for the state and economy. Because most of the ASEAN states are multiethnic societies, the role of education in constructing national identity and facilitating societal integration have become intertwined with the maintenance and reproduction of ethnic diversity.

State elites, however, implemented largely pro-assimilationist educational policies which privileged the construction of a culturally and linguistically homogenous nation over the cultural and language rights of minority citizens. Culture and language wars in education thus have remain recurrent issues. Provision of education is also about enhancing citizens’ life chances and this means it has to address the questions of access and equality of opportunity.

Hence education is a key site and mechanism for state redistributive strategies and management of ethnic identities and conflicts.

How have globalization forces impacted and shaped the development of the national educational systems? Globalization has brought about four overlapping shifts since the end of the Cold War that refashioned the role of education systems in the re/production of nation-state regimes. These are:

  • Shifts in governance;
  • The growing privatization and internationalization of education;
  • Education and ASEAN integration;
  • The pluralizing of identities; and
  • English and minority languages.


Researcher-in-charge: Dr Lee Hock Guan (hockguan@iseas.edu.sg)