One semester of Comparative and International Education, thus far

It’s a cold, foggy, dark Sunday evening at Kringsjå and I am ‘skyping’ an old friend in Uganda. I cannot remember how many times I’ve told her the name of my master program, but she keeps forgetting anyway. And I also have to explain to her that I am not training to be a teacher (I wish I could). But this comes at a good time, at a time when I want to make a few recollections and observations about one semester and comparative education as a field, so far. To Vicky, I hope you read this. To the class of 2015, my fellow ‘‘CIEans’’ (I made this up), I would love to know what you think of this master program at this point.

If I am to briefly describe the program that I pursuing now—the Master of philosophy in Comparative and International Education—at the University of Oslo, I would say it’s at the intersection of education, politics, economics, management, development, policy, planning and how all these areas manifest themselves in different education systems and cultures around the world. Education is rapidly changing, partly due to global forces (what some people like to call globalization), but also because of a multitude of factors that are inherent within a given education system. Some countries in the global north are investing more resources in things like ‘‘internationalizing higher education’’, while in the global South, issues like ‘‘education for all’’ are still distant dreams. In the global south, poverty, corruption and poor governance still loom large and their ramifications for education are indisputable. Some problems have to be eliminated before we achieve actual educational goals. We want to get all children into education, but we also have to make sure they are not in classes on empty stomachs.

The practice of comparing education systems and cultures is not new in our civilization. It has been going on since time immemorial, but the extent and implications of comparison have never been greater. We now have the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), Progress in International Reading Literacy Study and Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), all emerging nearly over the recent past. While, these studies and assessments didn’t mean much when they were first implemented, they are now gaining momentum and informing policy, politics as well as practice of education in many systems around the world. We now see that some of these studies have become benchmarks of where governments look for best practices. I guess some might argue that this makes educational policy borrowing a lot easier. But for those interested in just ‘‘transplanting’’, we have also been reminded that what works for Singapore might not work for Poland or Ghana.

The scope of this field is enormous, but for me, a discussion of the ever demanding challenges of education is another important part of comparative education. From foreign aid and dependence, to education in conflict, to educational access, to gender equality (and other forms of equality), to equity, to achievement, to girls’ education, to internationalization, to literacy programs, to social movements, to neoliberal agendas. The list is endless. We see that for some regions (particularly South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa), the problems are unprecedented. We might not apply a scale on educational problems, in terms which is greater than the other (some might argue that all are equally important), but it’s evident that some problems demand our attention more than others, and that some countries have tremendous misfortunes. While countries like Norway are struggling with issues like multiculturalism and the implications it has for the educational landscape, Uganda is dealing with infrastructural problems like an acute shortage of classrooms, and in some countries like Pakistan, the majority of girls do not get more than two and a half years of education. One thing for sure is that the industrialized world and the third world are facing a completely different set of problems. We acknowledge the significance of all the above problems, but we also realize that things like getting more girls and women into education are a very, very big deal for our generation.

After a full semester in this master program, my thinking on education is constantly evolving and being challenged. Like many people, there are many aspects of comparative and international education that I was ignorant about. One of the things that I appreciate now is that I have been introduced to the current global education challenges. You hear about all these things in the media and read about them in books, but having serious class discussions and seminars about them or having instructors who have actually worked on them is quite different. The class of 2015 is also one hell of a diverse and interesting group (with a little gender imbalance). It feels good to be in the company of people who are passionate about education and development. Of course the degree of passion and interest varies among the group, but I won’t go there. We have all continents represented, with the exception of Australia and Antarctica. When you think about it, this might be the first time (and last for some people) that you get to have conversations about education and on life in general with people from fifteen different countries. And that’s the beauty of international education programs. If that doesn’t sound like a big opportunity to you, then I don’t know what opportunity is. For our, Norwegian hosts, you don’t have to live in the east end of Oslo to truly experience multiculturalism, you can get a taste of it in our very multicultural class. As we go further into program, my biggest wish is that we all open up more about our experiences of education in our respective countries and places where we’ve travelled. Merry Christmas, guys.

First exam and my awful academic writing skills

Today, I passed my first course exam, which was a take home essay. Nonetheless, I still have a lot to learn about academic writing. Just like I expected, the feedback on my essay indicated that my academic writing is awful. What I struggle with the most is how to write more analytically. So far, my writing is rather more descriptive than analytical. I should probably blame this on my undergraduate education, but I have no time for blame game now. I am realizing that I have to polish my writing if I am to get descent grades, especially for my thesis. I’ve decide to spend a few days just learning how to think and write more critically and analytically. There’s a lot of work to do here and I am not even sure how to do it. I ask myself; How can I write more analytically and critically? What make this so difficult? I look at this essay now and I feel so embarrassed. What a shitload of crap! I seriously need to write better. I have to fix this if I am to kick ass.

Africa in unexpected places.

This morning, after breakfast, I went out to get some sun with a friend. We decided to sit somewhere on the ground and this is where my friend picked this black rock. He asked me ‘what do you think this looks like?’ The stone looked like the map of Africa! I am keeping this for good.

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Small talk is quite unusual for Norwegians, but I make it anyway. Who cares?

This morning I caught a train to Skøyen. Then, I suddenly started making small talk (something that Norwegians aren’t accustomed to) with this woman who was seated near me. ‘So, I can see you have lots of luggage. Are you moving?’ ‘No’, she said ‘I am heading to Lillehammer’ She added that it’s her sister’s birthday tomorrow and that they will be going be going somewhere for a week after the party. I ask where she’s from and she mentioned that she was from Drammen and that’s where she was born. ‘So, what are you up to?’ She asks. ‘I am heading to Skøyen’ I continued to do what I do best (making small talk) and chatting, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah (nothing interesting here). Then somewhere in the middle we talked about the ongoing elections and some political stuff—which I always avoid—in between. Politics is not always as bad (to talk about) as we think. Then age (I asked her to guess my age which she terribly failed) came up and some other things. Then we talked about work and here comes trouble. I ask what she does. She tells me and then she was like, ‘what about you?’ ‘Oh, I am a student’. ‘No, I mean work.’ She said. That’s when I told her that I do small talk. I cannot narrate what followed (but it was fun).

It’s on. Reading, reading.

I haven’t been posting here lately. School  is in high gear. It’s began to sink in that this is really happening. I get to have a second chance at graduate school. This time though, I get to do something that I actually love and thought about for a long time. There’s a lot of reading to be done. Sometimes its overwhelming, but then I have to remind myself that this should be fun in the first place. Everything about the program interests me so far. There’s not a bit that I don’t like. I feel good about this program. Even though there’s a lot to read, it doesn’t feel hard to do because I love the content. I am getting introduced to many themes about education globally and its very interesting. We just finished a course on academic writing. Much of it was very important. It got me thinking about my thesis topic early on and this is something that the instructor encouraged.

Housing situation

Tomorrow I will attend the first lecture of semester. Cannot wait. My housing situation is still uncertain, though. I have not yet found a permanent place to stay. Meanwhile I have to commute all the way from Asker to Blindern everyday! It’s a little tiresome but I hope to just get used to it for  some time. I have been told that the housing market at this time of year is pretty tough in Oslo. I am also still waiting in SiO‘s queue for a place at one of their hostels. I keep convincing myself that by the end of autumn I will have solved this.

First day @ Universitetet i Oslo

Thursday, 15. I attend the introduction meeting at school. The University of Oslo, here I come. My school is called ‘‘Utdanningsvitenskapelige Fakultet’’ I have been taking Norwegian language classes, but I still have trouble pronouncing this. First impressions- the master programme in comparative and international education really lives up to its name. Our class looks like a miniature version of UN. We have people from about sixteen countries and from all continents (well, may be not all, but that’s what it looks like) It doesn’t get any more diverse than this. I cannot wait to begin. Things look interesting and the program seems more intense than I had thought but I am excited.

Finally in Oslo, what a terrible trip.

At last, I managed to leave Svolvær for Oslo on Monday, 12. That trip ranks up there as one of the worst. I did my best to remain calm and I finally reached Asker. First, my flights were cancelled. As if that wasn’t enough, I was put on a wrong flight. My itinerary was supposed to be like this. I had to fly from Svolvær to Bodø, and from Bodø to Oslo. Both those flights got cancelled. I was booked on other flights. I reached Bodø and then when I boarded the plane to Oslo, I realized I was the only one without a seat number. Then I got pulled off the plane by this SAS employee like I had a bomb…. ‘‘You have to get of this plane now. You were not confirmed on this flight’’ No apology, no nothing. Like it was my mistake. That was very terrible service from SAS. I had to complain about the way I was treated before I got an apology! Anyways, I reached my destination and life goes on as usual.

In svolver 1

Time check, its 2:47 in the morning. I am in Svolvær. I’ve been staying in this place for almost 10 months now. I am on my desk setting up these web pages while listening to Of Monsters and Men’s My Head Is an Animal and munching on cookies. It’s probably my favorite album at the moment. I keep dreaming and dreaming and dreaming. Dreaming of a better life. I am studying Norwegian and it’s exactly four days since I last looked at my word lists or studied anything. I ask myself, why do I suck this bad at languages? I am struggling, but I am going to keep trying for I must learn this language.

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