Looking more closely at the conflicting motivations within international education has been illuminating, as was learning about the major research approaches. In order to review and synthesize what I’ve learned, I’m going to review each of the research approaches described by Dolby and Rahman and try to reflect on them through the lenses of dichotomies presented by Allan (2008) and Tarc (n.d.) with the hopes of more clearly defining the ultimate goals of each. Of course, the lines will be blurred and every approach exists on a spectrum. The exercise is simply one in reflection that might spur some debate.
Tarc (n.d.) outlines two visions for international education: the ‘instrumental’, involving actual interactions that “cross political borders” (p. 1) and the ‘normative’, which seeks to foster international understanding (p. 2).
Allan (2009) describes discourses within international education. Two macro-discourses are the ‘multinational’, which concerns ‘market-driven globalization’ (p. 154), and the ‘international’, focused on “global citizenship and cultural literacy” (p. 157). Dolby and Rahman (2009) outline six broad research approaches in international education into which much of the research being done in the field can be placed. They are comparative and international education, the internationalization of higher education, international schools, international research on teaching and teacher education, the internationalization of K-12 education, and globalization in education.
Comparative and international education is divided into four trajectories. The first, tries to compare education in different national contexts to promote reform (Dolby & Rahman, 2008, p. 681). The second, traditional international education, focuses on practices in a single national context, avoiding comparisons (p. 682). Both seem to fall more within Tarc’s (n.d.) ‘normative’ vision, since they don’t really involve interactions between states or systems, but rather compare and promote an understanding of the systems involved. The data obtained from such studies would most likely be applied to Allan’s (2009) multi-national discourse as countries try to improve their national education systems based on the data. A third trajectory that Dolby and Rahman provide is based on development in the third-world. While the application of the data would almost certainly be considered ‘multinational’ within Allan’s (2009) framework, within Tarc (n.d.) would likely label it ‘instrumental’ as the actors involved would be sharing resources across national boundaries.
The internationalization of higher education has a complicated history involving both colonialism (Dolby & Rahman, 2008, p. 684) and international efforts to promote peace after war (p. 685). Dolby & Rahman outline three research trajectories sociopolitical, economic, and academic, focusing mostly on the latter two. The economic focus fits well within Tarc’s (n.d.) ‘instrumental’ vision and Allan’s ‘multinational’ discourse as it concerns bringing international students and dollars across borders. The academic research trajectory, on the other hand, focuses more on the experiences of the students and strongly contrasts in it’s alignments. I’d say that it’s focus on understanding the experience of international students would make it more ‘normative’ (Tarc, n.d.) and ‘international’ (Allan, 2009).
Research on international schools focused on defining the boundaries of what is considered and international school would seem to be ‘normative’ (Tarc, n.d.) as the debate is largely philosophical and centered around curricula and school visions, but also contains ‘instrumental’ concerns like the demographic of the student body. Similarly, the presence of both philosophical and socioeconomic concerns would include both ‘international’ and ‘multinational’ discourses (Allan, 2009). Research on ‘Third Culture Kids’ would tend to be more ‘normative’ and ‘international’ as it seeks to foster understanding and focuses less on economic concerns. Finally, research into the effect of changing national and global contexts might involve and analysis of both of Tarc’s (n.d.) and Allan’s (2009) visions and discourses.
International research on teaching and teacher education came out of a very ‘instrumental’ and ‘multinational’ desire to rebuild Europe and improving the quality of education globally (Dolby & Rahman, 2009, p. 695). Research into teacher education leans towards the ‘instrumental’ and ‘multinational’, when it focuses on preparing teachers for a global market, and the ‘normative’ and ‘international’ when it prepares teachers for an international population. Another research trajectory focuses on international policy development. It links to work done in the comparative and international field (Dolby & Rahman, 2009). It would seem ‘instrumental’ and ‘multinational’ as it seeks to improve economic performance in countries through education reform. The final trajectory studies the effects on teacher’s lives of changes in the global context (Dolby & Rahman, 2009, p. 696). The research seems to focus a lot on ‘multinational’ (Allan, 2009) and ‘instrumental’ (Tarc, n.d.) concerns and how they have affected the social status and practice of teachers globally.
Internationalization of K-12 education comprises the four separate trajectories of peace education, multicultural education, human rights education, and environmental education (Dolby & Rahman, 2009, p. 701). All four fields have a focus that seems ‘normative’ and ‘international’, though environmental education and human rights education would likely engage in ‘multinational’ discourse as the issues discusses would often involve interactions between states and global economic concerns.
Finally, globalization in education follows four different trajectories as well. Black education from the Revolutionary Nationalist perspective is class-focused (Dolby & Rahman, 2009, p. 705) and seems more ‘multinational’ and ‘instrumental’ while the Cultural Nationalist approach seems more ‘normative’ and ‘international’. Anthropology and education, the second trajectory, involves the movement of people globally, and ‘instrumental’ (Tarc, n.d.) concerns, and both ‘multinational’ economic and ‘international’ cultural issues. World models, the third trajectory, analyzes national elementary curricula. Two paradigms, the equilibrium and conflict paradigms, seem to approach the study from the ‘international’ and ‘multinational’ perspectives respectively, with the equilibrium focusing on cultural concerns and the conflict focusing on economic ones. Lastly, a trajectory focusing on critical inquiry into the effect of globalization on education takes a ‘multinational’ economic and ‘instrumental’ approach to its studies.
Ultimately, every one of the research approaches in Dolby & Rahman’s paper includes discourses and views of international education that overlap and blur between the definitions provided by Tarc and Allen. That said, their delineation of discourses and visions are a very useful tool for examining the goals of varies fields and placing the research and concerns on a spectrum. They provide not so much a map that clearly defines and outlines the approaches to international education, but more of a compass to provide a sense of direction as questions arise.
Allan, M. (2013). Understanding international education through Discourse Theory: Multinational, international, multicultural or intercultural? In Pearce, R. (ed.) International education and schools: Moving beyond the first 40 years. London, UK: Bloomsbury Academic. 149-166.
Dolby, N., and Rahman, A. (2008). Research in international education. Review of Educational Research, 78(3), 676-726.
Tarc, P. (n.d). Framing international education in global times. (Draft). Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/30350428/Framing_International_Education_in_Global_Times_DRAFT
Matthew Boomhower is a mid-career educator with 15 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.