A brief introduction of neo-colonialism in education

“…the continued domination of the colonizer in a time of globalization.”

Neocolonialism is practically colonialism through the backdoor, where former colonies continue to depend on colonial masters in terms of political, economic, cultural, as well as psychological dependence. The term neo-colonialism was first coined by Kwame Nkrumah, who was Ghana’s first president, through his book Neo-colonialism, the Last Stage of Imperialism in 1965. 

Read More: https://www.marxists.org/subject/africa/nkrumah/neo-colonialism/index.htm


Education neocolonialism can be described as the influence of Western paradigms on non-Western educational contexts. According to Altbach (1982), the continuing influence of the Global North on the Global South in the area of education can be divided into three categories for analytical purposes – (1) dependency, (2) international center-periphery relationship, and (3) neo-colonialism. Essentially, Global North are considered as developed countries, while Global South are considered emerging countries in terms of development and economy.

Read more: Altbach, P. G. (1982). Servitude of the Mind? Education, Dependency and Neo-colonialism. In Altbach, Philip G., Arnove, Robert F., Kelly, Gail P. (Eds). Comparative Education. NY, New York: McGraw-Hill.


Firstly, as a colonized nation, there is a sense of dependency on the Western world due to its greater resource, as well as power. Thus, in the context of education, this creates educational dependence. As Altbach (1982) puts it “industrialized nations dominate the world’s research production, mass media, information system, and advanced training facilities” (p.188). Hence, dependence will continue due to the simple fact that the industrialized nations are more advanced in terms of research institutes, educational facilities, and publishing firms. This form of dependency also shows the power dynamics that exist between the colonizer and the colonized, which translates into the influence of the Western hegemony that penetrates into the education sector (Altbach, 1982). Thus, countries from the Global South find themselves at a periphery position, while industrialized nations are considered at the center. This leads to the core-periphery relationship, where countries like in Malaysia, which has a colonial history, have the proclivity to rely on the west for “expertise, licenses for technological innovations, books, and many other artifacts of modern culture” (Altbach, 1982, p.188). 

International center-periphery relationship

The second analytical framework according to Johann Galtung is the international center-periphery relationship. It can be described as the “centers and peripheries within individual nations, and that these also intersect on an international scale” (Altbach, 1982, p. 189). This means that “within both the industrialized nations and Third World countries there are centers that have major control and access to wealth and education” (Altbach, 1982, p. 189). In the Global South, the centers generally consist of small elites which are concentrated in the urban area. They are “directly involved in the Western-oriented segments of the economy that relate to international trade and modern business forms (which often have foreign collaboration or ownership) or other organizations” (Altbach, 1982, p.189). As Galtung stated, power and access belong to the concentrated urban population. In such situations, the elite groups in Global South centers may see benefits from strong ties to the industrialized world (Global North). In the case of the education system, the Global South centers look to the Global North for ideas to implement within their national education system. In the case of Malaysia, urban parents have a louder voice on education reforms, in comparison to rural parents, as they have power, language, resources, and social capital to push for their agenda. 


The third analytical framework relates to neocolonialism, the “conscious policies of the industrialized nations to maintain their influence and power over the Third world” (Altbach, 1982, p.190). This is based on the previous analytical framework – dependency and center-periphery concepts, which is rooted on essential inequalities among nations. The difference between dependency and neocolonialism is the latter “assumes a considerable amount of choice by both parties to the relationships” (Altbach, 1982, p. 190). In layman’s term, this means the periphery nation adopts the core nation’s policies out of choice, instead of force. A perfect example to illustrate neo-colonialism in education is the use of textbooks. In the case of Malaysia, imported English textbooks were fully adopted to be used in English language teaching in Malaysian classrooms. 

Featured image from FMT

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