Kirstin Kerr and Alan Dyson
Countries across the world struggle to break the relationship between socio-economic disadvantage and educational outcomes. Even in otherwise affluent countries, children and young people from poor and marginalized families tend to do badly in education, and their lack of educational success makes it more likely that they will remain in poverty as adults. Moreover, socio-economic disadvantage and educational failure in these countries tend to be concentrated in particular places, such as the poor neighborhoods of large cities or of post-industrial towns. This has led policy-makers and practitioners in many administrations to favor area-based initiatives (ABIs), which target such places, as one set of responses to social and educational disadvantage. Some ABIs are limited to funding schools more generously in disadvantaged areas or giving them additional support and flexibilities. The more ambitious initiatives, however, seek to develop multistrand interventions to tackle both the educational and the social and economic problems of areas simultaneously.
The evaluation evidence suggests that these initiatives have so far met with limited success at best. This has led some critics to conclude that there is a fundamental contradiction in their use of purely local interventions to tackle problems that originate outside ABIs’ target areas, in macro-level social and economic processes. However, it is possible to construct a convincing rationale for these initiatives by understanding the social ecologies that shape children’s outcomes, and by formulating holistic interventions aimed at reducing the risks in those ecologies and enhancing children’s resilience in the face of those risks. There is, moreover, evidence of a new generation of ABIs that has begun to emerge recently. These new ABIs are able to operate strategically and over the long-term, rather than being bound by the short-term nature of policy-making. These newer initiatives may offer a better prospect of tackling the link between social and educational disadvantage, even in unpromising economic circumstances, and even within the context of “politics as usual.”
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.
Few would deny that processes of globalization have impacted education around the world in many important ways. Yet the term “globalization” is relatively new, and its meaning or nature, conceptualization, and impact remain essentially contested within the educational research community. There is no global consensus on the exact time period of its occurrence or its most significant shaping processes, from those who focus on its social and cultural framings to those that hold global political-economic systems or transnational social actors as most influential. Intersecting questions also arise regarding whether its influence on human communities and the world should be conceived of as mostly good or mostly bad, which have significant implications for debates regarding the relationship between globalization and education. Competing understandings of globalization also undergird diverse methodologies and perspectives in expanding fields of research into the relationship between education and globalization.
There are many ways to frame the relationship of globalization and education. Scholars often pursue the topic by examining globalization’s perceived impact on education, as in many cases global convergence around educational policies, practices, and values has been observed in the early 21st century. Yet educational borrowing and transferal remains unstraightforward in practice, as educational and cultural differences across social contexts remain, while ultimate ends of education (such as math competencies versus moral cultivation) are essentially contested. Clearly, specificity is important to understand globalization in relation to education. As with globalization generally, globalization in education cannot be merely described as harmful or beneficial, but depends on one’s position, perspective, values, and priorities.
Education and educators’ impacts on globalization also remain a worthwhile focus of exploration in research and theorization. Educators do not merely react to globalization and related processes, but purposefully interact with them, as they prepare their students to respond to challenges and opportunities posed by processes associated with globalization. As cultural and political-economic considerations remain crucial in understanding globalization and education, positionality and research ethics and reflexivity remain important research concerns, to understand globalization not just as homogeneity or oppressive top-down features, but as complex and dynamic local and global intersections of people, ideas, and goods, with unclear impacts in the future.
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.
John N. Hawkins
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education. Please check back later for the full article.
The demographic, historical, cultural, and political-economic complexity of the vast Asia Pacific Region poses a great challenge to making sense of the region’s higher education (HE) trends. Yet, several of these trends are indeed enduring and comparable. The interplay of these trends and developments continually shape the architecture of higher education in the region. A sampling of these trends focuses on one of the basic frames of higher education, namely that of increasing access, equity, and capacity. This, in turn, has led to the tension between massification on the one hand, and issues of quality assurance on the other. While national development is often the primary goal of tertiary education, regionalism has increasingly challenged these more parochial concerns. Within the region, student and faculty mobility, migration, and internationalization have emerged with greater force within the sometimes confusing context of globalization. At the upper end of the HE spectrum, the pressure of seeking to achieve excellence in research and innovation has resulted in another predicament, leading to what might be called an accelerated academy. These forces and factors, among others, are influencing the pathway of HE in the Asia Pacific region as we move into the 21st century.