Shibao Guo and Yan Guo
China has experienced major shifts from a centrally planned economy to a market economy, from centralization to decentralization, from state ownership to privatization, and from a decisive state to a weakened state. Despite China’s economic miracle, the country also faces unprecedented challenges, including rising social inequality, rural-urban divide, regional disparity, environmental degradation, declining health and education conditions, and polarization between the rich and poor. China’s profound socioeconomic and political transformations have led to significant fundamental changes to education in China, as manifested in its decentralization, marketization, and privatization. One significant paradigm change relates to the devolution of education power and policy from a centralized governance model to local governments. With the privatization and marketization of its education system, China has adopted a market-oriented approach with the orientation, provision, student enrollment, curriculum, and financing of education. There is sufficient evidence to suggest that there has been a withdrawal of the mighty state from its paternalistic role in the provision and subsidy of public education. Unfortunately, the market economy has further increased education inequalities. The maldistribution of resources and education opportunities raises important questions about issues of social justice and equity regarding who gets how much education as the social good.
Fernando Hernández-Hernández and Juana M. Sancho-Gil
Researchers from various disciplines collect and generate field notes as a strategy to describe and reflect (through texts, photos, drawings, diagrams, or recordings) the complexity they face when addressing entangled and many-faceted phenomena. Field notes are as common research strategy not only to capture and amass instantly what researchers listen to, observe, think, and feel, but also to make explicit their reflexivity process, based on their observations and experiences. Field notes are not only a method for generating evidence, but a reflection of the ontological, epistemological, methodological, and ethical positionality that guide the researcher’s gaze. Paradoxically, although field notes are something most researchers use and are fundamental in their reports and publications, they are generally the hidden and idiosyncratic side of academic field work.
The preparation of field notes is an extremely intricate issue, as the very same meaning, purposes, and roles of field notes heavily rely on the ethnographer’s onto-epistemological positioning. It is useful, then to contextualize field notes within the tradition of ethnography, without ignoring the fact that they are used in a wide range of disciplines (including anthropology, deology, architecture, geography, ethology, archaeology, and biology). It is also important to problematize the practice of taking, collecting, and generating field notes by taking into account the fact that the traditional vision of field notes as written (alphabetic) notes is being challenged by the availability of mobile applications that enable researchers to create and organize multimodal information. It is important to note the relevance of the so-called “headnotes,” as there are many impressions, scenes, and experiences that cannot be written down or can be difficult or impossible to document. In addition, the text goes beyond the reflection of interaction by introducing the notion of intra-action to overcome the metaphysics of individualism underlying conventional understandings of “interactions.” The growing multiplicity of languages, modes, and means of expression and communication must be examined alongside the strengths and limitations of multimodal field notes. Finally, the practice of keeping field notes requires a recognition of the reflexivity imbedded in this process. Field diaries can be seen as the first step toward ethnographic reporting, and here reflexivity becomes a fundamental part of the analyses involved.
In South Africa, new legislation and policies on inclusive education in the post-apartheid era since 1994 have placed a strong emphasis on equity, equality, and human rights, as defined in the South African Constitution. As a result, a White Paper on building an inclusive education and training system was published in 2001. It acknowledges the failure of the education system to respond to the barriers to learning and development experienced by a substantial number of learners, including diverse learning needs caused by, for example, language, socioeconomic, or gender issues as well as disabilities. This policy document describes inclusive education as being based on the ideals of equity and equality and as a result recognizing and respecting learner and learning diversity within mainstream schools. As stated in the policy, in practice this means identifying and removing barriers in the education system to ensure that the full range of diverse learning needs are met in mainstream classrooms as well as providing support to learners and teachers in addressing barriers to learning and development.
Research studies on the implementation of inclusive education in South Africa, however, are finding that despite the development of a wide range of implementation guidelines since 2007, complex interrelated issues continue to complicate the development of successful inclusive schools. These issues include a continued divergence of views of inclusive education with a continuing strong belief in special education and separate educational settings by most teachers, therefore leading to a resultant lack of clarity regarding the implementation of inclusive education at the level of local practice in schools and classrooms. These differences in the understanding of inclusive education and its enactment in diverse school contexts also bring the question of power and agency into South African debates about inclusive education: who should decide which version of inclusive education should be the goal of the development of inclusive education in a specific school district or a specific school. Furthermore, contextual issues including the lack of financial and human resources, for example effectively trained teachers, effectively functioning district educational support teams for schools in specific school districts, lack of textbooks, and overcrowded classrooms, play a dominant role in the development of effective inclusive schools.
Roseli R. Mello, Marcondy M. de Sousa, and Thaís J. Palomino
Self-determination of the original peoples of any nation, preservation of their territories, preservation of traditions, and negotiation of customs facing national cultures are central themes in the debate about and among indigenous peoples in the world. School education is directly linked to such themes as an instrument of acculturation or self-determination and emancipation. As in other countries of the globe, throughout history, what happened and is happening in Brazil is not isolated fact. Current conditions are the product of colonization processes, the development of industrial society, and more recently of globalization. Such historical processes bring struggles, confrontations, transformations, and solidarity. In the legal sphere, international conventions, declarations, and treaties have influenced more or less directly the norms and laws on the subject: from the papal bull and treaties between colonizing kingdoms, to the Declaration of Human Rights, to Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization, the Brazilian indigenous issue, like that of many other countries, is also based on, supported by, or held back by actions, debates, and international interests.
But what makes the case of Brazil worthy of relevance for thinking about indigenous education? Two elements make up an answer: the specific way the governors establish relations with the original peoples, and the fact that Brazil has the greatest diversity of indigenous communities.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Juan Pablo Valenzuela and Carmen Montecinos
After over 30 years of a market model for the provision of educational services in Chile, the expansion of private providers financed through state vouchers, a decrease in public school enrollments, and a highly segregated educational system with unequal learning opportunities sparked in 2006 a social movement demanding changes to the model. In this article we discuss three structural reforms implemented between the years of 2008 and 2016 aiming to increase educational quality, reverse declining enrollments in public schools, the inequitable distribution of learning opportunities, and school segregation. The Preferential School Subsidy Law, passed in 2008, acknowledges that students who are growing up under conditions of social exclusion require extra support, thus in addition to the regular voucher a subsidy is provided to vulnerable students. The Law for School Inclusion, approved in May 2015, involves four main components: expansion of state subsidies, elimination of parental co-payment, elimination of for-profit voucher schools, and elimination of school practices to select students. The National System for Teachers’ Professional Development Law, approved in 2016, addresses improvements in teachers’ working conditions as well as more rigorous requirements for university-based initial teacher preparation programs. After presenting the antecedents and key provisions of each law, we analyze their potential impacts and the risk factors that may attenuate them. Three main areas of risks are addressed: externalities, institutional capacities at various levels of the system, and changes in the economic and political support needed for long-term sustainability.
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.