Ming Chee Ang
Despite the fact that Mandarin is not accorded official language status in Malaysia, and that ethnic Chinese communities accounted for less than 30% of the country’s overall population, Malaysia is the only country outside China and Taiwan with a comprehensive and complete Chinese education system. It is also the only country in Southeast Asia that has perpetuated the Chinese education system established during the colonial era.
The prolonged endurance of the Chinese education system in Malaysia is the result of many factors: heavy brokerage and lobbying efforts by ethnic Chinese political leaders; incorporation of vernacular schools into the Malay-dominated national education system in the backdrop of the Malayan nation formation stage; social mobilization of the Chinese education movement in Malaysia; and the increasing significance of Mandarin proficiency in the world.
In particular, the assimilation policies for nation building by the Malay-dominated regime have threatened the cultural distinctiveness of the Chinese-speaking communities. Resistance from the Chinese speaking minorities is manifested through their support of the Chinese schools. Moreover, the elimination of English schools during the 1970s has unintentionally favored the Chinese primary schools. Despite their standing at that time as the “second-best” option after the English school, Chinese schools that offered the benefit of trilingual education, stricter discipline, and more competitive academic performance enjoyed an accelerated boost in student enrollments. More importantly, many parents who do not speak Chinese began to appreciate the quality of Chinese schools, and the enrollment of non-ethnic Chinese students has continued to rise ever since.
Above all, China’s rapid economic ascendancy and growing political influence since the 1990s has enhanced the importance of Mandarin as a global language. This has added value to the importance of Chinese schools as language and cultural learning institutions for Malaysian. Such opportunity has enabled the Chinese school model to become one of the most successful and inclusive educational institutions for multicultural Malaysians.
Hannu Simola, Jaakko Kauko, Janne Varjo, Mira Kalalahti, and Fritjof Sahlström
The international debate on Finnish educational “success” had made relevant a cultural and historical analysis of Finnish education, with a focus on the effects of the ongoing preoccupation with the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results on basic education. Such international comparisons demand a strong theoretical approach, in part because the contrastive analysis of empirical “facts” and “realities” requires that they be situated in relation to their local and, in this case, national systems and contexts. It may be assumed that the quantitative indicators agreed on in intergovernmental negotiations between senior bureaucrats do indeed provide valid comparisons of education systems, as is the conventional wisdom in the field of economics. Nevertheless, these remain value-loaded collections of indicators of development that offer at best parallel lines of comparative analysis. The Finnish case argues for strong theory-based conceptualizations as the basis for, first, complex comparison and, second, shared models of policy action and intervention.
The comparative education field faces four interlinked challenges. First, there is a lack of theory building and development in the field, where politically and ideologically motivated investigative large-scale assessment practices are defining the state of the art. Second, the focus of the studies tends to be on empirically measurable end products instead of documented processes, which makes it possible to generate competitive rankings but reveals little about specific and shared developmental processes in educational systems. Third, although complexity and contingency are widely accepted in the social world on the general level, they appear to seldom reach empirical studies; the vast majority of standard approaches still advocate simple explanatory models. Finally, and paradoxically enough, there is a form of intellectual nationalism that inhibits the conceptualization and understanding of the relationship between, for example, transnational processes and nation-states. In this regard, comparative education needs a strong and ambitious theory-based framework with the potential to incorporate sociohistorical complexity, cultural relationality, and sociological contingency. Without a strong theory-driven approach, it is hard to go beyond merely listing the similarities and differences that facilitate the rankings but blur the processes.
At the research unit for Sociology and Politics in Education (KUPOLI) at the University of Helsinki, a new conceptualization was formulated in early 2010s and an ambitious research plan, Comparative Analytics of Dynamics in Education Politics (CADEP), was launched. The thesis was that to progress beyond the state of the art and arrive at a comparative understanding of educational systems, it would be necessary to focus on dynamics, with a view to grasping the fluid and mobile nature of the subject. This heuristic starting point echoed relativistic dynamics in physics, characterized as a combination of relativistic and quantum theories to describe the relationships between the principal elements of a relativistic system and the forces acting on it. It is curious that, though on the conceptual level the dynamics of a system are constantly referred to as being among its key attributes, there has been little progress on the analytical level in the social sciences since the seminal work of Pitirim Sorokin in the 1950s. The CADEP develops conceptually the theoretical understanding of dynamics to resubmit a specific social field of education to scrutiny by analyzing the relations between the main actors and institutions and essential discursive formations and practices. It is assumed that given its connection with relations and movement, the concept of dynamics will not reduce a mobile and fluid subject of study to a stagnant and inanimate object. There are four constitutive dynamics that make the Finnish educational success story understandable. Success and failure in basic education seem to be relative, and to reflect intertwined dynamics in policymaking, governance, families’ educational strategies, and classroom cultures. The emphasis of the understanding is on the contingent, relational, and complex character of political history.
China’s higher education system witnessed quite a few dramatic institutional changes in recent years. The state has been making a series of attempts to increase the quantity of higher education opportunities through massive expanding of higher education’s capacity (also referred to as the massification of higher education). Meanwhile, the system experienced marketization and privatization, in which the funding for higher education institutions (HEIs) increasingly depends on the non-state sector and student payments for tuition fees. The private (minban) HEIs and Sino-foreign HEIs began to develop in China. With a strong conviction to enhance the global competitiveness of top universities, master plans for developing world-class universities and disciplines were initiated, and talent programs were adopted to attract global high-skilled talent to HEIs in China to enhance the teaching and research capability of HEIs. In recent years, HEIs have been granted larger institutional autonomy with greater accountability. Higher education in China has experienced dramatic institutional changes in recent years and has made great achievements and gained international acclaim. Given such capacity, HEIs became one of the largest systems in the world. More and more higher education opportunities have been provided for students, and an increasing number of leading scholars in the world have been attracted to HEIs in China. However, the development of higher education has encountered several challenges—in particular, unequal opportunities for higher education attainment, difficulties for college graduates in finding employment, and the unequal development of higher education among disciplines, between universities, and across regions. Critical reflections on the development of higher education in China and the notion of broadly defined educational equality are required.
James H. Williams
This article looks broadly at the intersection of education, development, and international cooperation. It discusses trends in international cooperation in education for developing countries as well as ongoing challenges. Education has expanded rapidly throughout the world. Even so, the industrialized nations are decades if not generations ahead of parts of the developing world in terms of enrollment and learning attainment. For reasons of equity and economic development alone, it is imperative that all efforts be put to the task of achieving universal school enrollment and learning. To achieve such a goal in the context of what some researchers have termed a 100-year gap requires efforts on the part of national governments and international cooperation on the part of all nations of the world. International cooperation in education includes: (1) the institutions and architecture of international organizations; (2) development assistance, which is closely related; and (3) international agreements to promote education and other development goals. In a broad sense, these initiatives can be seen as moving toward increasingly cooperative relationships between wealthier nations and developing countries. International institutions involved in education include various agencies of the United Nations (UNESCO, UNICEF, ILO, UNHCR) as well as multilateral development banks (the World Bank, IMF, IDA, etc.); regional development banks (Asian Development Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, etc.); and bilateral development agencies. Development assistance is provided in the form of technical and financial assistance to national governments by bilateral development agencies, the multilateral development agencies, UN agencies, as well as an increasing number of non-governmental agencies (NGOs). The UN Declaration on Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child are foundational documents laying out the rights of all children to education and the obligation of governments to ensure children have access to quality education. Several global initiatives have led the way toward increasing educational participation in developing countries, including Education for All, the Millennium Development Goals, the UN Global Education First Initiative, and the Sustainable Development Goals. The article concludes with a listing of trends in educational development.
Diana Gonçalves Vidal and André Paulilo
Over the past several decades, scholars have focused special attention on the relationship between schooling and culture. The first forays focused on curriculum matters, trying to understand how educational policies affected the selection of content and its dissemination in schools. More recently, the concept of school culture has emerged as a frame for researchers, thanks to its ability to problematize how teachers and pupils experience school in terms of time and space. Placing these individuals in the center of the schooling process, the concept of school culture enables scholars to create a more comprehensive analysis of what happens inside classrooms and schoolyards. This tool offers an opportunity for researchers and teachers to debate the merits of tradition and innovation in education, pay attention to material culture as a part of school practices, and consider school community as a social actor. The concept has become commonplace in the academic production in many areas, such as educational sociology, history of education, educational anthropology, philosophy of education, and educational psychology.
William T. Pink
From a comprehensive analysis of the extant educational literature on school change, it is evident that two activities are essential for the successful reform of schools in the United States. While the focus in this article will be on the programmatic shifts implemented in U.S. schools, the danger of exporting these same failed programs to other countries also will be noted. The first requirement is a systematic critique of the major school reform strategies that have been employed since the 1960s (e.g., the Effective Schools model, standardized testing and school accountability, the standards movement, privatization of schools, charter schools, and virtual/cyber schools). The major conclusion of this critique is that each of these reform strategies has done little to alter the connection between schooling and their production of labor for the maintenance of Western capitalism: beginning in the early 1970s an increasingly strong case has been made that the design and goal of U.S. schooling has been driven by the need to produce an endless supply of differentiated workers to sustain the U.S. economy. Moreover, while both equality and equity have entered the conversations about school reform during this period, it becomes evident that the relative position of both poor students and students of color, with respect to their more affluent White peers, has remained at best unchanged.
The second essential requirement is the exploration of an alternative vision for school reform that is grounded in a perspective of equity, both in schools and in the society. Beginning with the question “What would schools look like, and what would be the role of the teacher in a school that was committed to maximizing equity?” such an alternative vision is built on the concept of developing broadly informed students able to play both a thoughtful and active role in shaping the society in which they live, rather than be trained to fit into a society shaped by the interests of capital. From this exploration of the literature emerges a new role for both schools and teachers that repositions schooling as an incubator for social change, with equity as a primary goal. Also addressed is the importance of inequitable economic and public policies that work to systematically inhibit student learning. A key element in forging a successful transition to schools functioning as incubators for reform is the ability of preservice teacher preparation programs to graduate new teachers capable of doing this intellectual work, and for current classroom teachers to engage in professional development to achieve the same end What is clear from a reading of this literature is that without this re-visioning and subsequent reform of schooling, together with a reform of key public policies, we must face the high probability of the rapid implosion of the public school system and the inevitable escalation of class warfare in the United States.