The Tools of Transition: Education and Development in Modern Southeast Asian History
Although great importance is attached to the role of education in national development in Southeast Asia, its role has been ambivalent. In the colonial period, education was a central way in which societies mobilised to challenge and resist European rulers. Yet education has also been the central vehicle through which colonial and post-colonial states have sought to impose their own visions and discipline their subjects. Southeast Asia’s history has been marked by a cultural willingness to borrow and adapt ideas, practices and institutions from outside. Yet this has also been a source of anxiety and conflict. The ‘indigenous’ is often a product of an immediate post-colonial history, rather than the expression of a longer cultural experience. Historians can try to provide a useful narrative of regional thinking about education and development in Southeast Asia, particularly during its key ‘periods of transition’, and thus help to set educational developments within in a wider context. Providing a historical perspective, this paper attempts to map some of the region’s capacities and capabilities, and to examine how adequately they have been exploited by the formal educational sector.
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