The discourse on identity of the researcher is largely centered on epistemological concerns of representation, power, and positionality in the anthropological realm. In educational research, in the context of a complex field such as school, this has raised pertinent questions about the dynamic interplay of forces when researchers are in the field, including the problems with the traditional categories of insider and outsider. A vast range of scholarly works on ethnographic methodology, Muslim identity in South Asia, feminist research, and ethnographies on schools point out that the dichotomy of insider and outsider is insufficient in engaging with the nuances of field and representation. While nativity obscures the process of identity negotiation and legitimacy, tropes of representation can hardly ever be simplified through a shared ethnic, gendered, religious, and class background in anthropological practice. The need is to expand the boundaries of reflexivity in educational research, thereby treading beyond the polarities of insider and outsider and take into account the fluidity in between the two. In negotiating with identities and boundaries, researchers often end up occupying an in-between threshold space in the field. It is by taking into account flexibility and malleability of identities that ethnographers can deliberate on the efficacy of piercing intimate relationships in fields such as schools and other educational institutions. For ethnographers unraveling the complexities of educational processes, the creation of a fresh vantage point can therefore help make meaning of the everyday life from the lens of participants.
A new approach to education has been proposed, called Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), with the goal of developing education in order to foster individuals who will contribute to the realization of a socially, economically, and environmentally more sustainable society. From the beginning of the 21st century, this has given rise to discussions and practices on related themes all over the world, including in Asia. While the environment surrounding education is markedly changing in Asian societies, with educational reforms actively pursued in many Asian countries and regions, their situations greatly differ depending on the context in which they find themselves. Today, departing from the conventional modes of teaching and learning that focus on the acquisition of an already systematized body of knowledge and skills, the field of education the world over is now shifting its focus to what is called key competencies, adopting and experimenting with new teaching and learning styles to develop abilities referred to as 21st-century skills. Based on these theoretical and conceptual discussions, a number of initiatives have been adopted as policies, school curricula, and educational practices in order to promote ESD in Asian countries. It is possible to divide Asian countries into three groups based on the place of ESD in their countries, as well as their degree of socioeconomic development and the popularization of school education: (a) countries that have accumulated experience in the practice of environmental education or development education; (b) countries that have been witnessing growing environmental consciousness and its rapid institutionalization in recent years, with varying degrees of implementation of environmental education; and (c) countries in which the elimination of poverty and inequality remains the most pressing issue and ESD is promoted in connection with development issues. Although the introduction of ESD is greatly affected by each country’s socioeconomic situation, it is important for all countries in Asia to promote equitable and sustainable education in order to realize a sustainable society. Thus, Asian countries need to form a social consensus to promote ESD, which requires the participation and responsibility of the whole of society.
Molly N.N. Lee and Chang Da Wan
In the past two decades, nearly all the countries in Southeast Asia have undertaken higher education reforms such as the massification, marketization, diversification, bureaucratization, and internationalization of higher education. All these reforms are aimed at widening access to higher education and diversifying its funding sources, as well as improving the quality, efficiency, and productivity of the higher education sector. Under such circumstances, much research has been done on how the governance and management of universities have changed over the years in these countries. The governance of universities focuses on the role of the state in providing, regulating, supervising, and steering the development of higher education in the country. The relationship between universities and the state revolves around the issues of autonomy and accountability. An emerging regional trend in the reforms of university governance is an increase in institutional autonomy in return for more public accountability. Several countries have shifted from a state-control model to a state-supervising model and from public provision of higher education to the privatization of higher education, the corporatization of public universities, and the establishment of autonomous universities. To ensure public accountability, most universities are subjected to both internal and external quality assurance. With the massification of higher education, universities usually enroll large numbers of students and become more complex organizations. In the context of governmental budget cuts, many universities are under great pressure to do more with less, to find ways to be less wasteful, and to develop better management in order to replace the missing resources. Various universities have adopted new public management techniques and a result-based management approach to improve efficiency and effectiveness. A central feature of new managerialism is “performativity” in the management of academic labor and the pressure for “academic capitalism.”
While countries across the Asia-Pacific region have since the early 2000s been very forthright in acknowledging the international conventions and declarations that promote inclusive education, there still seems to be a substantial gap between policy and school expectations in most educational systems. Many of the less developed countries have adopted the terminology in the Education For All framework and applied this within their own education policies. Thus, country policies promote an “inclusive approach to education” that enable children with disabilities to attend a regular school. Some policies go further and state that this should be with appropriate differentiation and support. Unfortunately, this is where the strength of the shift in education seems to end for many of the Asia-Pacific countries. There appears to be an ongoing lack of understanding that inclusion means that not all students will achieve through the “same old” ways and that outcomes will need to be different. In other words, governments promote inclusion through policy, but at the same time continue to expect schools to help all students to achieve the same curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment as the way to equity. Countries across the Asia-Pacific region, like elsewhere, vary enormously in their cultural diversity and in their ability to respond to inclusion. Models of teacher education, likewise, will vary and must be focused on what is contextually viable and culturally acceptable within each individual country. Cultural differences, beliefs, values, and understandings associated with inclusion and disability vary enormously across the Asia-Pacific region and are often firmly embedded within historical contexts. These invariably have strong impact on acceptance and in decision-making regarding what constitutes appropriate teacher preparation for working in more inclusive schools. Regardless of context, effective teacher education requires skilled teacher educators who have received full training in regard to inclusion and who are also aware of the needs of classroom teachers when asked to operate an inclusive classroom, within different cultural contexts, and the potential additional strains of large class sizes, and often limited resources. A variety of different models have been applied throughout the Asia-Pacific region to prepare teachers for inclusion with inconsistent outcomes.
Any analysis of inclusive and special education in Asia, past and present, must account for the immense variation in what constitutes Asia and recognize that finding patterns in the development of inclusive and special education across this vast continent is difficult. The variations relate to geographic topography, historical experiences, and cultural values, as well as to contemporary socio-economic and political conditions. For example, although both Oman and Timor Leste struggle with issues of accessibility and providing services in remote areas, Timor Leste’s mountainous terrain presents very different challenges from Oman’s desert conditions. Similarly, the different cultural influences of, say, Hinduism in Nepal, Islam in Jordan, and Buddhism in Cambodia have significant implications for attitudes towards disability, while differences in economic development between Japan and Bangladesh, for instance, have rendered the former a donor of international aid that sets the inclusive education agenda and the latter a recipient of both aid and agenda. While efforts to identify patterns in inclusive education globally have also attempted to define the nature of development in Asia, these analyses do not always account for the unique intra-continental variations. Overlooking these variations in socio-political and economic contexts becomes problematic when attempting to find solutions towards providing culturally responsive and culturally specific services appropriate to these unique circumstances. Additionally troubling is the more recent development of a geopolitical climate which assumes that inclusive and special education could and should, in fact, be the same, whether in Bangladesh or in Japan. Embodied by international aid agencies, such as the World Bank, the United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), these expectations have been captured within global policies, such as the 1994 Salamanca Statement on Inclusive Education, the 2008 UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, and more recently, the 2015 Millennium Sustainable Goals, and furthered through UNICEF’s and UNESCO’s curriculum packages and professional development training on inclusive education. There is a nascent body of scholars in some Asian countries that is beginning to identify indigenous alternatives, which, if allowed to thrive, could contribute to the development of an amalgamated structure of services that would be more appropriate to the individual contexts.