The development of comparative education
Human beings are in the habit of making comparisons between things that around them. Comparison can take place wherever we have more than one thing that has the same purpose. We compare to make up our minds and to choose between two or more choices. Comparing can take place also for more scientific reasons for example to find out the relationship existing between, or among the things being compared.
But what is comparative education? It is fully established academic field of study that involves the analysis and comparison of educational systems, such as those in different countries.
The main goal of this field is to improve the quality of educational systems. One example of large scale comparative macroanalysis is the PISA study, in which Finland has ranked very highly each year.
The historical development of comparative education can be divided into three or five stages depending on the bases the division has been made. The three stages are: descriptive stage, predictive stage and scientific stage.
If the division is made according the motive of comparative study and genre of work the stages are (1) the travelers’ tales, (2) travelers with a specific educational focus, (3) understanding of other nations, (4) study of ‘national character’ and its deterministic role in shaping national systems of education, and (5) quantitative research. The first two of these are included in the descriptive stage, third in predictive stage and last two in the scientific stage.
The earliest stage, the period of travelers’ tales, was prompted by simple curiosity. Second came a period of educational borrowing, when the desire to learn useful lessons from foreign practices was the major motivation. In the third stage, international educational cooperation was stressed in the interests of world harmony and mutual improvement among nations. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, two more stages have appeared, both concerned with seeking explanations for the wide variety of educational and social phenomena observed around the globe. The first of these attempted to identify the forces and factors shaping national educational systems. The second, and the latest, may be termed the stage of social science explanation, which uses the empirical, quantitative methods of economics, political science, and sociology to clarify relationships between education and society.
These stages are far from being discrete in time: each of these types of work in comparative education has persisted down to the present and may be observed in the contemporary literature, and rarely can any contributor to the field be confined within a single category. But the categorization suggested, loose though it is, provides a convenient, unforced framework within which to review the development of the field.
STAGE 1. The first and most primitive comparative education observations were the tales brought home by travelers to foreign parts. Such reports were essentially the work of amateurs who included in more general descriptions of institutions and practices abroad details of foreign ways of raising children. These rapporteurs tended to emphasize exotic information simply because it threw into sharp contrast the familiar practices and institutions of their homelands. Curiosity was the mainspring of their voyages, and local color the attraction of their descriptions. Only the rare observer could extract systematic conclusions with explanatory value from a mass of indiscriminately reported impressions. In the form of superior journalism, this style of work remains a prominent feature of writing on foreign countries today.
STAGE 2. From the beginning of the nineteenth century, coincident with the rise of national systems of education in Europe, journeys abroad were made by travelers with a specialized interest in educational matters. No longer motivated by general curiosity, they went the rounds of foreign countries to discover information useful for charting the course of education in their own countries. This group of precursors of modern comparative education were predominantly educational politicians, experts, and activists. Often they traveled not at their own expense, or following their private interest, but as emissaries, sometimes self-appointed, of their national governments. They concerned themselves with educational theory, methodology, finance, and organization. Teacher training, instructional methods, and alternatives to traditionally accepted curricula were matters of major importance for them. Though their reports now focused sharply upon the schools, characteristics associated with travelers’ tales persisted: many of the reports took the form of encyclopedic descriptions of foreign school systems, perhaps enlivened here and there with anecdotes, but rarely explanatory. Of necessity, objectivity and detachment were lacking, for these educational emissaries, committed as they were to the cause of education in their own countries, mostly saw and reported from abroad merely what they judged would advance their domestic enterprises.
STAGE 3. This was a period, too, when exchange of information about foreign countries and particularly about foreign education was considered desirable simply to break down the barriers of ignorance that divided nation from nation. Encyclopedic work was still the fashion, but it was argued that the very process of systematically amassing and publishing information on foreign countries would require extensive exchanges of scholars, students, and publications. The resulting network of international contacts would of itself help promote international understanding, as well as the improvement of social and, in particular, educational institutions around the world.
STAGE 4. Coincident with the rise of the social sciences towards the end of the nineteenth century there came a recognition of the importance of the dynamic relationships knitting education and society. Education was seen as the mirror of society; but society, in turn, was molded partly by the schools. Changes in one were revealed in the other. The concern now was to understand the interaction of education and society by analyzing the historical forces and contemporary factors that had shaped both. Moreover, exponents of this approach were interested in more than laying bare the nature of these relationships. They began to consider the possibility of using their conclusions to steer educational reform and so engineer the future shape of society. In this phase of comparative education, studies of foreign schooling became to a considerable extent studies of national character and the institutions that help form it. They relied heavily on history and tended to strike a deterministic note. Problems of cause and effect preoccupied comparative educators, but inevitably their discussion quickly descended into a familiar circularity: national character determines education, and education determines national character. Where to break in to this perplexing circle was a question not easily answered.
STAGE 5. A significant strengthening of the explanatory powers of the social sciences took place after World War 1. Many governments improved the quantity and quality of their statistical series, and statistical techniques became much more sophisticated. Partly in response to these new possibilities, the social sciences came to rely more and more upon quantitative methods; and the demands of researchers stimulated the production of yet more statistical material. This was particularly true in economics and sociology, and in later years this trend extended to political science and even to anthropology. Quantitative methods were adopted not only in the social sciences, per se, but also in some branches of education, particularly in psychology and psychometrics. In this manner, the humanistic origins of the social sciences, which accounted for their early philosophical and historical emphases, were gradually overlaid by new concerns and methods of an empirical and quantitative nature. Comparative education slowly followed the same path.
Since World War II these trends have accelerated and the empirical orientation of the social sciences has begun to reshape comparative education. Contemporary cross-national study in education is thus founded upon the twin bases of vastly increased bodies of data and improved techniques in social science research. Empirical, quantitative methods in comparative education are still beset with serious difficulties, but there can be little doubt that their potential contribution to the field is so great that they will have to be reckoned with.
It is now possible to review a century and a half of development and progress since the proposals of Marc-Antoine Jullien de Paris in 1817. This was the period when “pantometry” held sway, indiscriminate measuring was a fad, and hopes were strong that a science of education could emerge from massive collections of data, expressed wherever possible in numerical form.2 The early quantitative approaches in comparative education failed (as did pantometry in general) partly because they were inappropriately applied, partly because the sources of data and the means of their collection were even more limited than they are today, and finally because the dangers arising from personal and cultural bias were barely recognized.
At that time the failure of primitive quantitative approaches was not crucial since comparative education was directed mainly toward selective cultural borrowing and was little concerned with the problems of explanation. However, suspicion of statistics persisted even as comparative education moved toward the search for explanation. The qualitative interpretations of Sadler, Kandel, and Hans were magnificent attempts to explain the dynamics of education and society, largely without reference to statistical and quantitative data. From Sadler on, the common approach relied on the identification of forces and factors (Triebkr�fte) in the search for explanation. Initially, the emphasis was historical; later, sociological, political, and even anthropological factors were introduced. However, the most recent stage in comparative education and cognate fields reverses the classic post-Sadlerian approach: the forces and factors that previously had been the bases for explanation have now themselves become objects of inquiry.
At the same time as the social sciences were developing increasing sophistication in quantification, nonquantitative explanations tended to be ignored. If comparative education was to fulfill its potential as a tool for educational planning, it had to offer a means of reliable prediction. Without a quantitative base, it appeared, this could not be adequately achieved.
In summary, then, during a century and a half comparative education has moved from the stage of curiosity to the stage of analysis. This movement may be discerned along three dimensions: from indiscriminate data gathering to vastly greater precision; from philanthropy in international educational cooperation to professionalism; and from analysis based on intuition toward scientific explanation.
First, comparative education has advanced from the stage of curiosity exemplified by Bache’s enormous and indiscriminate collections of pedagogical material to the equally vast but now highly structured collections of data of the IEA project. Second, the early workers in the last century were imbued with humanitarian and philanthropic intentions. They saw the international exchange of educational information as good in itself, but with the exception of Jullien they could not conceive of it as a possible object of conscious, planned, international cooperation. Since the foundation of the International Bureau of Education after World War 1, and of Unesco, OECD, and the World Bank after World War II, Jullien’s dream has been partially realized. The work of these organizations is in the hands of specialists. Thus, what began with philanthropy has ended with professionalism.
The third and perhaps the most significant dimension along which comparative education has advanced concerns the search for explanation. Early workers were motivated by a vague sense of the differences among nations, an interest in what was going on abroad, and the intention of learning useful lessons. Even when the search for explanations superseded these earlier motivations and when the theories of comparative educators developed comprehensiveness and a sense of the dynamic interrelation of education and society, their approach was largely intuitive. In the most recent phase, a new order of work has appeared in which no explanation can be deemed satisfactory unless validated by rigorous scientific testing. In the beginning, Comparative Education was not really Comparative but descriptive as the people were mostly concerned with the description of educational systems of each country without necessarily comparing one educational systems with another. However, the 19th Century witnessed an increased interest in the study of Comparative Education as education started to be studied in a Comparative form. As a matter of fact, what can be regarded as serious studies in the field of Comparative Education could be traced to the early 19th century after the Napoleonic wars. Since there was no war among
the Europeans, there was peace among them and they needed something that could enhance their interaction with one another. Therefore, a consideration was given to the study of comparative education as a strong channel through which the youths of various European countries could be more unified. To this end, John Griscom travelled to Europe and on his return, he published his findings on educational institutions in the countries visited such as Great Britain, France, Switzerland, Italy as well as Holland between 1818 and 1819. In the same vein, Victor Cousin, a representative of the French Minister of education visited Prussia in 1931 and also on return home, published his findings on the Prussian educational institutions and practices, His findings were later translated to English and enhanced the educational development in France, England as well as in America. Another pioneer in the field of Comparative Education was Horace Mann of America who after a six-month visit to Europe also published his findings in 1843 on educational institutions and practices in England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Germany as well as Holland. His report was purely on the comparison of the school organization and methods of instruction. Matthew Arnold of England visited both France and Germany in 1859 and 1865. On his return home, he made some remarks particularly on the educational institutions and practices in both France and Germany. Like others, he advised that some useful aspects of the educational system of France and Germany should be integrated into the systems of education in England. What can be viewed as second generation in the study of Comparative Education could be traced to Sir Michael Sadler who in one of his publications: how far can we learn anything of practical value from the study of Foreign Systems of Education which was published in 1900, went further than other pioneers before him who were more utilitarian and straight forward in the description of the foreign educational systems studied by them. While contributing to the development of Comparative Education study, Kandel cited by Hans (1958) observed that: The chief value of a Comparative approach to educational problems lies in an analysis of the causes which have produced them, in a comparison of the differences between the various systems and the reasons underlying them and finally, in a study of the solutions attempted. In other words, the comparative approach demands first and appreciation of the intangible, impalpable spiritual and cultural forces which underlie an educational
system, the factors and forces outside the school matter even more than what goes inside it. In the same vein, Friedrich Schneider, a German speaking and Director of the Institute of Comparative Education, Salzburg started the editing of the international Review of Education in four languages in 1930.
In his 1947 publication, he gave the following as the factors that can influence the educational theory and practice of any country: (a) National character
(b) Geographical space
(f) Economic life and politics
(i) Foreign influences and
(j) The development of pedagogies
Like others, he applied historical approach to the problems of education of all the countries visited by him. In his own contribution to the development of Comparative Education, Sergius Hessen, a Russian Philosopher looked at Comparative Education from a Philosophical Education point of view. In his book published in 1928, he selected four problems as an educational policy focus. The problems are (a) compulsory education (b) The school and the State (c) The school and the church and (d) The school and economic life. Hessen was perhaps the first education philosopher to apply philosophical approach. Also, the Comparative Education Society, introduced by Brickman, came into being at a conference in New York in 1956. This society assists in the publication of journal called “The Comparative Education Review”. In addition, it holds national as well as regional conferences and seminars. In 1961, a similar society was established in Europe after launching the new society in London. The membership of the Society was extended to the experts in the field of Comparative or International Education in the tertiary Institutions or the International organizations. Like others, it holds its conferences every two years and publishes the proceedings of its conferences. Meanwhile, similar societies
have been established in Canada, Korea as well as Japan. Perhaps World-Wide today, the discipline is one of the subjects being offered in all the Universities and Colleges of Education. The Society for Comparative Education was founded in Nigeria in 1983 while the World congress on the discipline came into being in the year 1982 for Cooperation among the people involved in the study of the subject as well as the general development of Comparative Education.
Phases in the Development of Comparative Education
The phases in the historical development of Comparative Education can be divided into three namely: (a) Descriptive and borrowing stage (b) Predictive stage (c) Scientific stage.
During the first phase of the development of Comparative Education, the educational comparativists involved in this stage include: Marc-Anthony Jullien de Paris, 1817, Mathew Arnold of England,Victor cousin of France, Leo Tolstoy and K.D. Aushinsky of Russia, Domingo Sermiento of Argentina, Horace Mann and Henry Barbard of America. At the borrowing stage, the education data collected would be compared so as to make use of it for the best educational practice of the country studied for the purpose of transplanting it to other countries.
The second phase in the study of comparative education took place in the first half of the 20th century. The stage could be regarded as a stage of Prediction because at this stage, the study of comparative education has gone beyond the borrowing stage. At this stage, the educational comparativists studying the educational institutions and practices of another country will be in the position to predict what is likely to be the success or failure of adopting the educational practices of the country studied by his own country. It should be remembered by both the students and the teachers of comparative education that the students and the teachers of comparative education that the basis on which a country’s educational practice is based may not necessary be the same thing with that of education
comparatives studying the education system of other countries. The educational comparativists involved in this stage included: Friedrich Schneider and Franz Hilker of Germany, Isaac Kandel as well as Robert Ulich of America., Nicholas Hans as well as Joseph Lanwerys of England including Pedro Rosselo of Switzerland. They tried to find out the reasons behind the educational practices of the country visited by them and they became more careful in transplanting the educational practices of another country to their own. 3.3.5 Third Phase
The third stage can be regarded as the scientific period or analytical period. This stage took place in the second half of the 20th century. The period witnessed rigorous analysis as well as objectivity in the study of educational practices of other countries. At this stage, before transplanting the educational practices of another country to one’s country, such educational practices have to be subjected to a critical analysis unlike the first stage when the educational practices of the country visited can be borrowed or the second stage when the implication of transplanting the educational practices of another country can be easily predicted. The comparativists involved in this stage included: Schneider, Kandel as well as Uich.
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