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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

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

Rethinking Context in Comparative and International Education

aims of the presentation
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.
historical reflections and paradigmatic tensions
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 …
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:
‘… 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

challenges to positivistic foundations
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 …
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)

resurgence of positivistic assumptions
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 …
resurgence of context sensitivity
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.
the contemporary research context
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 …
emergent trends and new possibilities
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.

research and evaluation capacity partnerships 1994 2005

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
2 advances in narrative research
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!
  • 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.
  • 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