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Michael Crossley Professor of Comparative and International Education Research Centre for International and Comparative Studies Graduate School of Education. Rethinking Context in Comparative and International Education. Aims of the presentation.

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Rethinking Context in Comparative and International Education

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Michael CrossleyProfessor of Comparative and International EducationResearch Centre for International and Comparative StudiesGraduate School of Education

Rethinking Context in Comparative and International Education


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Aims of the presentation

  • Examine how context has long played a central role in the intellectual history of the field of Comparative and International Education.

  • Develop a case for increased attention to context in contemporary educational research.

  • Demonstrate ways in which context sensitivity has been used to good effect in recent examples of comparative and international studies.

  • Identify innovative possibilities for the future.


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Historical reflections and paradigmatic tensions

  • Origins of the field in the Parisien intellectual climate of 1817 – and Marc-Antoine Jullien’s positivistic ‘Plan’ for ‘Comparative Education’.

  • Jullien’s influence is alive and well today – reflected in the statistical work of international agencies such as the OECD and UNESCO; and in large scale comparisons of student achievement (IEA studies or OECD PISA surveys).Continued …


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  • Much to be gained from such work, but it also has significant limitations.

  • Especially notable are failures to take adequate account of contextual and cultural differences between participating systems.

  • For South Africa – often at the bottom of the international league tables – Reddy (2005) argues that the potential benefits of such studies will only be realised if:


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‘… participating countries contribute more towards the shaping of such studies to meet their own needs. The power relations inherent in cross-national research also deserve greater recognition, and mechanism need to be set in place to help diminish these differentials. Information derived from multi-country studies needs more careful analyses if it is to be relevant to specific local contexts … and it is also important for the culture of the international organisations that promote and co-ordinate such work to change so that they can better accommodate the implications of different experiences and contexts.’

V J Reddy (2005: 76) ‘Cross-national achievement studies: learning from South Africa’s participation in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS)’, Compare 35(1) 63-77


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Challenges to positivistic foundations

  • Critiques of 19th century ‘transfer’ and ‘borrowing’ of educational policy and practice influenced Michael Sadler’s (1900) socio-political challenge to positivistic assumptions.

  • Acknowledging the influence of culture and context upon educational development.

  • Emergence of interpretive-hermeneutic paradigm within the field; pioneered by Sadler, Isaac Kandel (1933), Nicholas Hans (1964) and Vernon Mallinson (1975).

  • Drawing upon philosophy and history …


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We cannot wander at pleasure among the educational systems of the world, like a child strolling through a garden, and pick off a flower from one bush and some leaves from another, and then expect that if we stick what we have gathered into the soil at home, we shall have a living plant …

(Sadler 1900: 49)


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Resurgence of positivistic assumptions

  • Post-World War II developments inspired by ‘scientific’ approaches to research in the social sciences – and fields such as political science and economics.

  • Seeking law-like generalisations to assist systematic educational planning – in recently independent developing countries.

  • Harold Noah and Max Eckstein’s 1969 book titled Toward a Science of Comparative Education.

  • Brian Holmes’s (1965, 1981) ‘problem approach’ in the UK.

  • Reflecting changes in other fields of research at the time … and also contributing to the ‘paradigm wars’ of the day …


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Resurgence of context sensitivity

  • Lawrence Stenhouse’s (1979) Presidential Address for CESE – Crossley & Vulliamy (1984).

  • Case study for comparative education and renewed context sensitivity …

  • New units for analysis and qualitative fieldwork at the micro-level. Observed practice, lived experience and new ‘voices’.

  • A diversity of paradigms – critical theory, action research, postmodernism, post colonialism …

  • Challenges to the uncritical international transfer of educational policy and practice.

  • And contemporary concern with powerful global influences.

  • But all wrestling with the place of context in theoretical and empirical comparative and international research.


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The contemporary research context

  • Despite many and varied paradigmatic advances, the global research context is currently one in which positivistic conceptions of the social sciences are being prioritised once again.

  • This is the research context in which many must now work, St Clair & Belzer (2007) Comparative Education 43(4)

  • The ‘big science’ approach to ‘evidence-based policy’ (Furlong, 2004).

  • Vulliamy’s 2003 BAICE Presidential Address – need to defend diversity of qualitative approaches.

  • Especially in cross-cultural educational research where different world views add to the contextual, ethical and political implications.

  • ‘Context matters’ more than is realised …


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Emergent trends and new possibilities

Two examples drawing upon my own research and that of colleagues working in both the North and the South.

  • International, collaborative partnershipsFocusing upon the impact of globalisation on educational reform in different low income countries.Designed to:- combine insiders familiar with the cultural contexts involved, with outsiders who can bring fresh and challenging perspectives- engage practitioners in the research process- strengthen research capacity within the South (process goals)- bridge micro and macro-level levels of analysis (global, national, local)

    Pioneered such collaborative strategies and influenced development principles underpinning ongoing DFID/RPC initiatives led by colleagues in Bristol.


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Project

The Belize Primary Education Development Project (1994-1999)

The Kenyan Primary School Management Project (1996-2000 & 2001-2005)

Globalisation and Skills for Development in Rwanda and Tanzania (2000-2002)

All projects were funded and supported by the UK Department for International Development

Main Partnership Organisations

University of Bristol; Belize Ministry of Education; Belize Teachers’ College; University College, Belize; National Curriculum Development Unit; district education offices; participating schools

University of Bristol; Kenyan Ministry of Education Science & Technology; Kenyatta University; Centre for British Teachers; participating schools; other private research agencies and consultants

University of Bristol; University of Bath; University of Dar es Salaam; Kigali Institute of Education, Rwanda

Research and Evaluation Capacity Partnerships: 1994-2005


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2. Advances in narrative research

  • Building upon qualitative traditions and incorporating postmodern concerns for reflexivity and ‘voice.

  • Bridging social sciences and arts based investigations (life history, story, autobiography, etc) to understand education in context (Trahar, 2006).

  • Holmes & Crossley (2004) the arts, poetry and Calypso in the Caribbean …

  • Bainton (2007) and local understandings of tensions between Western and indigenous knowledge in Ladakh. Working with local artists, priests and farmers, as the wellspring for policy critique.

  • Context as both the focus and the methodology of research!


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Conclusions

  • The field of CIRE has long recognised the importance of context in educational research and development.

  • In a rapidly globalising world increasingly dominated by positivistic assumptions and the emergence of an evidence-based policy movement, attention to context is especially important.

  • Without this the dangers of uncritical international transfer of educational policy and practice will increase – and of theories and research methodologies.

  • Examples of innovative CIRE clearly demonstrate the benefits to be gained from context sensitive research strategies.

  • And there is much that mainstream educational research can learn from this comparative experience.


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References

  • Crossley, M (forthcoming) ‘Rethinking context in comparative education’ in R Cowen and A Kazamias (eds) International Handbook of Comparative Education, Dordrecht: Springer

  • Crossley, M and Watson, K (2003) Comparative and International Research in Education. Globalisation, Context and Difference, London & New York: Routledge


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