RE­THINK­ING THE ROLE OF COM­PAR­A­TIVE ED­U­CA­TION

Sun.Star Pampanga - - PERSPECTIVE! -

GLO­RIA G. BONDOC

In the newly emerg­ing global eco­nomic or­der gov­ern­ments and pol­icy mak­ers are keen to seek ideas from other countr ies and rec­og­nize the im­por tance of look­ing com­par­a­tively. This ex­pan­sion of in­ter­est in com­par­a­tive ed­u­ca­tion brings new chal­lenges for the dis­ci­pline: re­search may be un­der­taken by non-spe­cial­ists ( by con­sul­tants and politi­cians or ed­u­ca­tion­ists from quite dif­fer­ent back­grounds); the short life­span of demo­crat­i­cally elected gov­ern­ments may lend at­trac­tion to ‘quick-fix’ so­lu­tions; statis­tics and data may be de­con­tex­tu­al­ized. Added to th­ese chal­lenges are the world­wide pro­lif­er­a­tion of ed­u­ca­tion providers out­side state con­trol and the trans­for­ma­tion of teach­ing and learn­ing brought about by the new in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy. This re­thinks the role of com­par­a­tive ed­u­ca­tion in the light of th­ese chang­ing cir­cum­stances and looks at the new op­por­tu­ni­ties they bring.

There was a time, in the 1960s and early 1970s, when com­par­a­tive ed­u­ca­tion was asser ting it­self as a new ‘ed­u­ca­tional dis­ci­pline’ on univer­sity cam­puses through­out North Amer­ica, West­ern Europe and East Asia. Spe­cial­ist jour­nals and so­ci­eties were launched. Gov­ern­ments, bent on re­form­ing their ed­u­ca­tion sys­tems, sought to glean ideas from de­vel­op­ments and in­no­va­tions else­where in the world. Then, dur ing the late 1970s and 1980s, it went through a ‘cri­sis of con­fi­dence’. It came un­der at­tack from aca­demics in the so­cial sci­ences as to its rel­e­vance: in what ways did it dif­fer from so­ci­ol­ogy, cur­ricu­lum stud­ies, ed­u­ca­tional ad­min­is­tra­tion and plan­ning, pol­icy-mak­ing and so on? Was there any­thing spe­cial about a com­par­a­tive re­search method­ol­ogy and was ther e any un­der­pin­ning theor y? What was its rel­e­vance to trainee teacher s, pol­icy-mak­ers and ed­u­ca­tional ad­min­is­tra­tors? Num­bers study­ing com­par­a­tive ed­u­ca­tion at un­der­grad­u­ate level in the United King­dom fell dra­mat­i­cally (Wat­son, 1982) but in the USA at least there was a fight back. Com­par­a­tive ed­u­ca­tion was clas­si­fied as a ‘field of study’ whose rel­e­vance was both unique and im­por­tant (Alt­bach et al, 1982; Alt­bach& Kelly, 1986). At the be­gin­ning of the twenty-first cen­tury, the pic­ture has changed yet again. There is no longer any need to jus­tify com­par­a­tive ed­u­ca­tional stud­ies; there is, how­ever, a need to re­fo­cus its ori­en­ta­tion; to en­sure that clas­sic mis­takes of mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion are avoided; and to seek new ar­eas for re­search. How and why has this change come about?

The grow­ing ‘glob­al­iza­tion’ of the wor ld’s eco­nomic sys­tems and the ap­par­ent tr iumph of ne­olib­eral, free mar­ket eco­nom­ics ( Rober ts, 1985; Fukuyama, 1992; Col­clough, 1997) have led many, if not all, gov­ern­ments to rec­og­nize that the fu­ture suc­cess of their coun­tries, even their sur­vival, in the global mar­ket place de­pends less upon their nat­u­ral re­sources than upon their hu­man re­sources. The over­whelm­ing ev­i­dence would now sug­gest that it is in­creas­ingly the cre­ation, ac­qui­si­tion, ma­nip­u­la­tion and use of knowl­edge that con­sti­tutes the ba­sis for in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion, es­pe­cially with the growth of in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy. Sin­ga­pore pro­vides a shin­ing ex­am­ple of this the­sis. The bet­ter the ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing pro­vided, the higher the lev­els of skills ac­qui­si­tion and the greater the knowl­edge base of­fered to the next gen­er­a­tion, the more likely is it that a coun­try, or re­gion, will thrive and be able to com­pete eco­nom­i­cally. The con­ver se is also true.

It is this recog­ni­tion that has led in­ter­na­tional agen­cies such as the World Bank (1995), the Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion and De­vel­op­ment (OECD), UNESCO (1996) and the United Na­tions De­vel­op­ment Pro­gramme (UNDP) to re-em­pha­sise the im­por­tance of ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing for both hu­man re­source de­vel­op­ment as well as for so­cio-eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, es­pe­cially in the poorer coun­tries of the world. This was the thrust of the 1990 Jom­tien Con­fer­ence on Ed­u­ca­tion for All, and of the World Bank’s em­pha­sis on the ne­ces­sity to de­velop pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion as the foun­da­tion for all other de­vel­op­ments.

Ed­u­ca­tion, es­pe­cially at pri­mary level, has a vi­tal role to play in the process of so­cio eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment. It is even more true to­day and in the next cen­tury with ad­vances in tech­nol­ogy, mi­cro tech­nol­ogy and com­puter re­lated in­dus­try that a na­tion’s ca­pac­ity for de­vel­op­ment hinges as much on the abil­ity of its peo­ple to ac­quire, adapt, and then to ad­vance knowl­edge as it does on its nat­u­ral re­sources. Lit­er­acy, nu­mer­acy, com­mu­ni­ca­tions and prob­lem solv­ing ski lls – higher or­der think­ing among the work­force – are es­sen­tial for eco­nomic sur­vival, let alone de­vel­op­ment. (World Bank, 1990, p. 1)

At the same time, the in­dustr ial­ized countr ies have been look­ing askance at the eco­nomic chal­lenge posed by the growth of the Newly In­dustr ial­iz­ing Coun­tries ( NICs) such as Mex­ico, Malaysia, South Ko­rea and Tai­wan, es­pe­cially as the Asian coun­tries have con­sis­tently out­stripped the USA, Aus­trala­sia and West­ern Europe in the In­ter­na­tional Eval­u­a­tion of Achieve­ment (IEA) sur­veys in math­e­mat­ics and sci­ence. Just as the launch of Sput­nik by the Soviet Union in 1957 led to some soul-search­ing and ed­u­ca­tional re­forms in the USA, so has the con­tin­u­ing growth of the Asian economies (Lewin, 1998) led many of the in­dus­tri­alised coun­try lead­ers and busi­ness­men to fo­cus on the role ed­u­ca­tion has played in their slug­gish eco­nomic per­for­mance com­pared to the on­go­ing high rates of growth in Asia. It has fre­quently been sug­gested that the in­spi­ra­tion for many of the ed­u­ca­tional re­forms in Aus­tralia and New Zealand and the United King­dom dur­ing the last two decades of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury had their ori­gins in a mis­read­ing of de­vel­op­ments in Asia.

At a time such as the present, when pro­found changes are oc­curr ing in the whole struc­ture of global eco­nomic, so­cial and cul­tural re­la­tions, and the role of ed­u­ca­tion in th­ese changes is com­ing to be rec­og­nized as fun­da­men­tal, all countr ies can only ben­e­fit from know­ing more about the cul­tural premises of each other’s ed­u­ca­tion. (UNESCO, 1993, p. 89)

The will­ing­ness on the par t of gov­ern­ments and pol­icy-mak­ers to seek ideas from other countr ies and to recog­nise the im­por tance of look­ing com­par atively, us­ing com­par­a­tive data and ideas to in­form pol­icy de­ci­sions, can­not be un­der­es­ti­mated in the newly emerg­ing global eco­nomic or­der.

— oOo—

The au­thor is Teacher II at Ma­cabebe West Dis­trict, Sto. Niño El­e­men­tary School

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