Up until recently, my inclination would have been to state that schooling is converging in today’s
globalized world. This may be in part to having limited my scope when considering international education to international schools proper, and overlooking the comparative aspect of looking at national educational systems as a part of international education. I've discovered that, while certain structures and similarities exist within educational systems around the world, it would be difficult to state that the systems are, in fact, converging into a ‘global’ curriculum or pedagogy. What they seem to offer instead is a view of global education in which nations improvise around common themes based on their unique set of circumstances.
Anderson-Levitt (2003) presents a number of ‘isomorphisms’ in global education, and makes note of models and debates in education that are roughly common in much of the world (pp. 26-27). One of the arguments that Anderson-Levitt presents against a convergent globalized model of schooling is, that at any given time, the curriculum and pedagogy employed globally will vary due to the time and resources required for states to act upon changing preferences. An approach that begins in America might take years before being implemented in Asia, at which point a new approach will have become favored in the west. Another argument that Anderson-Levitt offers is that, even if nations agree on a single approach or pedagogy at the policy level, the enacted curriculum always differs from the official curriculum and is reflected differently in classrooms around the world (pp. 27-28).
Appadurai (1994) also seems to argue against any kind of convergence resulting from globalization in describing his framework for interpreting the exchanges of economic, human, and cultural capital. One interesting point he makes is that, while arguments against globalization often cite the overwhelming overtaking force of American culture as a negative, other nations may not view it as such a large issue, as they may feel more averse to absorbing the cultures of regional historical rivals (p. 295). Appadurai’s description of the interface and interaction between the 5 “-scapes” he proposes is one of disjuncture, and the model of the global cultural economy presented is one that is so complex as to defy the formation of a comprehensive understanding (p. 296). Again, this would seem to argue against convergence towards a single global standard in education.
Finally, Mundy (2005) describes how the current mass-schooling approach seen in nations around the world today was spread by colonialism and continued as a part of the nation-building process after World War II (p. 8). This global convergence at the institutional level belied great variation in implementation at the local level in different nations with varied labor, social welfare, and economic policies (p. 8). Mundy cites many studies that state nations modify globalization-focused reforms so much that common end-points are unlikely (p. 12).
I've now got the impression that globalization in education is not leading us to a point of convergence. The unique economic, cultural, and historical character of nations means that any single policy put forward by the forces of globalization will be put into practice in as many different ways as there are states that adopt it.
That being said, arguments for true divergence are few. Rather than convergence or divergence, international education seems to be creating ‘bounded diversity’ in education; nations producing their own unique version of the ‘western’ education structure imposed in colonial times and advanced post-WW2. Much like blues-players improvising to solo around a standard progression of chords, each nation ‘riffs on’ globalization policies, improvising their own system based on the unique pressures of Appadurai’s “-scapes” in their particular economic and socio-political context and bounded by the shared structures and systems described by Anderson-Levitt’s “isomorphisms”. Just like the 12-bar blues continues to provide a field for creativity and improvisation in the Blues, the potential for variety within the bounds of these shared educational structures and systems is nearly limitless.
Despite the diversity that remains prevalent in local implementations of educational policies, the boundaries remain, and perhaps prevent, the truly revolutionary changes in worldview and pedagogy described by Anderson-Levitt’s as ‘radical reforms’ (Anderson-Levitt, 2003, p. 28). The Blues as a medium can share a range of emotions from sweetness to sorrow to joy. But in a globalized education system bounded by the same, sometimes centuries-old western structures, from whence will come the educational raga, the rap, or the ritual dance to meet our needs in a rapidly changing world? Despite the local and regional diversity in education that remains in our globalized society, the shared boundaries of globalized educational systems may still prevent a divergence that will allow new songs to be sung and new voices to be heard.
Anderson-Levitt, K. (2003). A world culture of schooling? Introduction. Local meanings, global schooling: Anthropology and World Culture Theory. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. 1-31.
Appadurai, A. (1994). Disjuncture and difference in the global cultural economy. In Featherstone, M. (ed.) Global culture, nationalism, globalization and modernity. Newbury Park: Sage Publications. 295-310.
Mundy, K. (2005). Globalization and educational change. In Bascia, N., et al, (eds,) International handbook of educational policy. Dordrecht: Springer. 3-17.
One of the ideas that keeps presenting itself to me is the need for a greater intranational intercultural approach to international education, especially with respect to including local indigenous learning in curricula. Prior to beginning my doctoral studies, my idea of international education was very limited to global citizenship and the creation of shared values within a global community. Thinking about how to include non-Western ideas into international education has helped me to view the issues through the lens of the tension between the nation state and international concerns in international education.
Though international education has historically been a more euro-centric construct, the massive growth of international education in Asia (Bunnel, 2008, p. 13) and the student body demographic shift from expatriate to local majority enrollment in international schools might necessitate altering the definition of international education to meet the needs of their students’ national interests and identities. This balance between the needs of the nation and the need to create global citizenship and understanding has been a challenge within international education almost from the start, and one that I don't think will be solved any time soon. I’ve been trying to re-examine my schema from the perspective of the nation-state in international education, as opposed to a more global perspective, and to re-examine for myself the value of supporting national identity as a challenge within the international education movement.
As far back as the 1950’s the tension between the two competing approaches, the national versus the international has been affecting policy and how the term is defined (Sylvester, 2005, p. 132). The importance of the nation within of international education was quite pronounced early on, as one of its defining concerns was cooperation between nations for development (Sylvester, 2005, p. 129). Moving forward through time, UNESCO, in its work, continued to take care to take care to reinforce that the ultimate responsibility for the education of citizens lies within the structures of the nation state (Sylvester, 2005, p. 134). According to Sylvester (2005, p. 139), a big shift towards more of a focus on global interdependence occurred in the 1990s.
Tate (2012, p. 206) highlights the inadequacy of viewing international education as involving only the interaction between nation states when dealing with the needs of today’s students. One concern he has is that the name ‘international education’ might be leading to ideological inertia and resulting intercultural and intranational issues being overlooked in favor of issue affecting interactions between nations, but that the inclusion of ‘intercultural’ in the IB mission statement shows that steps are being taken in the right direction. (Tate, 2012, pp. 206, 207).
Supporting the value of a focus on the place of the nation within international education, Sylvester comments that international education runs the risk of eroding the myth of the self-sufficient nation and results in conservative movements to return to that place (Sylvester, 2005, p. 127). Recent headlines about political issues facing Canada’s southern neighbor might be indicative of such a movement occurring. On a recent episode of The Agenda with Steve Paikin about the allure of hate groups, radical religious movements, and white nationalist groups, experts, ex-skinheads, and embedded CSIS operatives all seemed to agree that such movements took advantage of citizens lacking in a positive sense of pride and identity (Bombicino, 2017). The nation state can provide its citizens with a sense of belonging, identity, and purpose that might help to transcend the sense of “insignificance and transience” that could lead to the proliferation of such groups (Tate, 2012, p. 207).
In addition to preventing negative and bigoted backlash resulting from a hazy sense of identity, national citizenship education provides students with the knowledge they will need to participate as citizens of their nation on the international stage. This begins with having the chance to gain authentic experience engaging with the plural cultures of their state (Tate, 2012, p. 207). Policies that ultimately prevent social justice issues will likely be national ones, so the role of the nation needs to be considered. Another positive to the inclusion of strong national citizenship in international education is provided by Tate (2012, p. 208) discussing Appiah’s approach to global citizenship that begins with the local, then moves outwards to embrace the national and global in turn. Tate (2012, p. 209) also cites Maalouf’s writing on the individual’s “ethical homeland” that includes national, cultural, and ethnic identities and how global citizenship might involve a universal understanding of human values overlaid on top of such a construct.
All of these ideas have highlighted for me the importance of striking a balance between global and national citizenship in international education. Before my current studies, I leaned more heavily towards a ‘one world, one love’ idealistic approach that didn’t see enough value in the national. Revisiting the importance of the nation state has helped me to better integrate into my personal framework intranational social justice concerns and the inclusion of local indigenous practices and knowledge in international education and has reaffirmed for me the value of supporting national identity and citizenship studies.
Appiah, K.A. (2006). Cosmopolitanism. New York: W.W. Norton.
Sylvester, R. (2005). Framing the map of international education (1969–1998). Journal of Research in International Education, 4, 123–151.
Bombicino, E. (Producer). (2017, Sep 11). The Agenda with Steve Paikin [Web Broadcast]. Toronto, ON: TVO. Retrieved from: http://tvo.org/video/programs/the-agenda-with-steve-paikin/the-appeal-of-hate
Bunnell, T. (2014). An overview of the current situation. The changing landscape of international schooling: Implications for theory and practice. New York, NY: Routledge. 1-17.
Bunnell, T. (2014). The previous landscape as revealed by the literature. The changing landscape of international schooling: Implications for theory and practice. New Yok, NY: Routledge. 18-33.
Maalouf, A. (1998) Les Identities Meurtieres. Trans. Barbara Bray as In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong. New York: Arcade.
Tate, N. (2012). Challenges and pitfalls facing international education in a post-international world. Journal of Research in International Education, 11, 205-217.
I’ve been trying my best as I work my way through the readings in my doctoral studies to come up with my own working definition of international education. It hasn’t been easy, but at the very least it’s encouraging that I’m not alone in finding it difficult. As Bray (2010, p. 711) states, the debate about the overlap between international education begins and comparative education ends has been going on for some time, and Tarc’s (2013) chapter provides a close look at how the dual forces of socio-cultural progressiveness and ‘pragmatic neo-liberal agendas’ and their sometimes opposed, sometimes parallel goals make defining the goals of international education a difficult prospect (pp. 4, 5). While seeking to define and determine boundaries for international education, both readings left me with a sense that the field may in fact ultimately benefit from its vague boundaries, malleable definitions, and overlap with comparative education.
For one, the intermingling of the two fields may support them in academia. Bray (2010), citing Becher and Trowler, suggests that to be considered a separate discipline, a field of study depends on the degree to which institutions have created separate departments to support the field, and the existence of well-supported professional journals publishing research related to the field (p.713). By their definition, education in its entirety might be called a discipline, albeit a ‘soft and applied’ one (p. 713). He cites further papers that place comparative and international education, and various combinations of the terms, in the hazy realm of sub-disciplines, fields, or sub-fields of study (p. 714).
Further complicating the drawing of boundaries between the two studies, Bray (2010) relates that historically, despite being labeled ‘comparative education’, the field hasn’t often focused on the methodology of comparison or definition of common units for comparison, and has focused for the most part on comparing national systems of education at the expense of other comparative studies (p. 714). Postlethwaite (as cited in Bray, 2010, p. 715), in discussing the renaming of The Comparative Education Society to the Comparative and International Education Society, states that many studies in comparative education, “do not compare, but rather describe, analyse or make proposals,” and that the name change reflected this reality. As Bray (2010) outlines the evolution of the editorial statements of the journal Compare, a trend towards a broadening of the scope of the articles emerges, including, finally, a number of different types of analyses within its purview (p. 718).
Is the trend towards an inclusive and overlapping definition of comparative and international education in the editorial policy increased over the years, so did the volume of published issues and quality content (Bray, 2010, pp. 719, 720). Insofar as blurring the boundaries of the fields (or sub-fields, or sub-disciplines as the case may be) has supported an expansion of the number of issues published and income to support the CIES, by Becher and Trowler’s criteria, the indistinct boundaries between international and comparative education that allow them to bolster one another may ultimately bring them closer to being defined as a discipline.
If one might find benefit then, in viewing comparative and international education as conjoined twins, as Bray (2010) refers to them, how might one define comparative and international education setting aside the need to separate them? Tarc (2013) outlines further difficulties in defining international education due to the conflicting goals of the different actors in the field (p. 2). He reports that,despite progressive socio-cultural goals being oft-considered the ultimate goal of international education they are the least researched (Tarc, 2013, p. 4). He posits that, most often, more ‘pragmatic neoliberal agendas’ drive international education (pp. 4, 5). Despite this, Tarc (2013) believes that both progressive and pragmatic goals can at times support one another (p. 7), and that individuals acting within neoliberal structures and processes can still advance ethical ideals. If neoliberalism is taken for granted as the dominant global economic theory, then framing progressive educational agendas in a positive way within its constraints might provide a way for high-minded educators to surreptitiously advance their ideals, or at least put forward policies that have a fighting chance of being adopted. Given the interrelation of the mechanisms for creating both pragmatic and dedicated cosmopolitan learners, having a loosely-defined definition of international education allows actors in the field to reflect on the complex relationships involved in their programs, and being able to reflect on the historical inequalities and exploitative practices that may have led to the social and economic substrate upon which new policies will be built can help to prevent reinforcing power imbalances (p. 15).
Finally, Tarc (2013) outlines his framework for studying international education in global times as existing in ‘trans-local’ spaces existing in one’s own and other countries, and includes ideas like aboriginal education that don’t immediately call to mind ‘international’ contexts (p. 3). He argues that increasing connections due to globalization necessitate expanding international education’s scope beyond simple interactions across geopolitical borders (p. 3) and that it needs to be redefined to account for present realities (p. 18).
Tarc’s analysis of the numerous actors involved in international education and the interconnectedness of their processes and outcomes, and his belief that the definition of the field should be updated in modernity both favor, at least for the time being, a broad and inclusive definition of international education.
I’m left with the feeling that a vaguely defined international education serves its actors well. Broadening the scope of the field to include significant overlap with comparative education research allows researchers flexibility when writing for publication, and allows international and comparative education journals access to more quality content to publish. On the applied end of the spectrum, given the spider-web of relationships between both idealistic and material goals in international education, it behooves actors of either inclination to be aware of the ramifications of their projects. Finally, given how rapidly technology and globalization are advancing, a flexible definition of international education allows for research in the field to be agile, current, and relevant.
Perhaps one of the reasons that defining international education remains so difficult is because the players in the field prefer it that way, whether or not they are aware of it.
Bray, M. (2010). Comparative education and international education in the history of Compare: boundaries, overlaps, and ambiguities. Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education, 40(6), 711-725.
Postlethwaite, T.N. (1988). Preface. In: The encyclopedia of comparative education and national systems of education, ed. T.N. Postlethwaite, xvii-xxvii. Oxford: Pergamon Press.
Postlethwaite, T.N. (1988). Preface. In: The encyclopedia of comparative education and national systems of education, ed. T.N. Postlethwaite, xvii-xxvii. Oxford: Pergamon Press.
Matthew Boomhower is a mid-career educator with 18 years of classroom teaching and educational leadership experience. He is Head of Innovation & Learning at an international school in Malaysia and is a proud husband and father.