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.