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After you have read this chapter you should be able to;

i) Identify the factors that influence National Systems of Education.

ii) Analyze the factors that influence National System of Education.

iii) Evaluate how these factors impact on the educational system of your country.


A national system of education is often defined from the perspective of formal education system. This includes institutionalized formal education from early childhood education, primary education, secondary education, tertiary education and university education. The informal and non-formal education subsets are often assumed to be part of the formal education and if not ignored altogether, they are given little attention. However, it is important the national educational system should be wholly inclusive of all the subsets of the educational system, that is, formal, informal and non-formal education.

In light of this simple understanding of a national system of education, it is important to note that, behind every system of education, there are factors or features that determine or influence and hence shape each one of the system. However, the national character of a given system of education is never determined by one factor, but rather a combination and interweaving of several factors. Some factors are dominant in one particular system while in another system, they would be less dominant. Consequently national factors of a country are closely related with nationalism and national system of education. As such, in the study of comparative education we should study the factors which make the education of a country national. These factors include geographical, economic, social, cultural, historical, religions, political, language and technological. In this chapter we shall study some such factors; 

1) Geographical Factors.

The geography of any particular place is often natural, which means that it is undefined by man. Man in this respect ought to behave in accordance with the geography and nature in particular. In this regard the education system cum school system is influenced by the geography of the particular region. By and large the geography of a particular area dictates the type of building and equipment, means and methods of transporting children to school, school going age of pupils among others. However, there are three major geographical aspects that influence the educational system directly. These are, climatic conditions, population distribution and land configuration. In regard to climatic conditions they influence the system of education in terms of ,content of education depend on the continental climate, for example, training of doctors in the tropics is likely to emphasize more on tropical disease like malaria. Extreme low temperatures in Continental Europe, affects accessibility to school by young children. Temperatures also affect the time at which schools can reasonably begin in the morning and when they end. In Norway, for example, the sun does not rise during winter until ten o'clock in the morning and often temperatures fall to negative 20 degrees. Thus in the Scandinavian countries there are no infant schools or early childhood education departments in some schools because of extreme temperatures. Climatic conditions also influence the education system in relation to time of vacations. In North America and many countries in Europe take school vacations during cold winter and others during hot summer. In hot climatic conditions especially experienced in arid and semi-arid areas, learning often takes place during morning hours when it is cool. When it is hot in the afternoon very little learning takes place due to excessive heat.

In regard to population distribution, which is often as a result of geographical influence also affects the educational system. Generally worldwide, population is either concentrated in the urban centers, or scattered in the country side. For example Australia has two systems of education, that is, one for the urban areas and the other for rural areas. In the urban areas there are well-equipped schools with adequately qualified teachers and administrative personnel. While in the rural areas, schools are small with one teacher for ten up to forty students. This is because farms are far from the nearest schools and daily attendance is difficult. Therefore the central government is responsible for their administration and financing. The government also provides the means and organization of correspondence, tuition and traveling teachers. As such most students receive education through correspondence and occasional visits by the traveling education inspectors.

In regard to land configuration, this also influences the education system in terms of architectural structure of farm houses, school buildings, village location and also the whole way of life and thinking of people because of the rigours of the climate, in some cases, because of closeness of family ties, boarding schools for children are non-existence, except for the few who come from far and inaccessible places on daily basis. By and large land configuration determines settlement and location of schools.

2) Economic Factors.

The type of education largely depends on the economic strength of any country. Also the economic factor determines the content and method of an education system. It is important to note that formal education is often possible where production exceeds consumption. In indigenous traditional education people were trained depending on the economic conditions and needs of the community. From an economic perspective, expenditure on education refers to the amount or percentage of national revenue spent on education by both individuals and the government. If the economic condition is poor, education becomes backward in many aspects while if the economy of a country is strong, then educational aims and the curriculum are given a special direction for making the country prosperous. For example, in the USA and Japan, education system is patterned so as to make the individual graduate, strong and capable enough to stand on his or her own feet after having received education. While in India, college and university graduate do not know where to go after completing their education and most of the students continue to stay on in the university as long as they can so that one can post pone for a few years the problem of the educated - unemployed.

Another economic influence on education is that, the poorer classes in communities tend to be content with minimum education for their children, and the richer classes are known to be able to keep their children longest at school because they can afford to meet the costs. In a subsistence economy, that is, one is which people are just able to make ends meet, educational systems tend to be informal occurring on the job. On the contrary, where there are enough grants in systems of education, minimum requirements are met and thus the quality of education is often high. For example, Britain, France, Japan and the USA among other strong economy countries, they provide enough grants that are allocated to their systems of education; actually they have enough funds to support all educational programmes in their education systems. Unlike the case of developing countries, where funds are very scarce, which affects even payment of teachers salaries, essential resource materials such as textbooks are not adequate and in some cases not even available. As such, this greatly affects the nature of the systems of education in terms of the content and methods in learning institutions and in essence the whole system of education.

In this regard, the growth of the capacities of individual citizens and national development is of great importance. In fact, the education system should be such that, it provides opportunities for the maximum development of each citizen. The aim here is to ensure that the wealth of the nation is not concentrated in the hands of a few capitalists who manage to attain some level of education. It is actually by developing individuals that the overall growth of the nation can be guaranteed. At the same time, there should be no-class distinction in the planning of education that should be permitted, because this results in neglect of the education of other more capable citizens. If this happens it often results in social disparities and in the long run weakens the nation. Proper planning of the education system also calls for the establishment of a proper national character, which if it lacks, then the necessary leadership and co-operation of the people will also be lacking. Lack of a proper national character, means that the national education system will not be able to realize its objectives. Consequently, with good leadership and people's cooperation, there is much that can be achieved even when adequate economic resources are wanting. Thus, there is evidence to show that there is a very close relationship between economic security and the national system of education of any country.

3) The Social and Cultural Factor.

Schools at large often and closely reflect the social patterns prevailing in a particular country. As such the education system is usually seen as a social factor which must reflect the ethos of the people that it serves. In this regard, it is the prime aim of education to ensure cultural continuity through fostering the growth and development of national characteristics that often act as stabilizing forces. In its simplest definition a culture of a society is the total way of life of the society. Every society consist of human beings and in whatever state they find themselves they always have some kind of educational system. This form of education of the society will always strive to perpetuate and protect its traditions and aspirations. As such a close study and analysis of each education system will always reveal the cultural concept and pattern of the community in question. Also the social patterns of the people in any particular community or country are reflected in its system of education.

It is important to realize that the culture of the people often changes at a slow pace. In each culture, there are certain values which are not affected by time and place, for example, faith in God, love for truth and non-violence and the ideal of universal motherhood and justice are the permanent values of many cultures of the world. However, radical reforms in a society may be slowed down or blocked at the level of implementation because of the cultural lag. In African the various projects for educational reform does indicate that there has been basic cultural charges in the life of a people from the colonial period into the post independence period. In many countries of the world today, changes have occurred in the attitude of the youngsters towards their elders, for example students do not show due respect to their teacher as students did some twenty five or thirty years ago. The teachers also now care more for the increments, in their salaries and other allowances then for teaching. In many meetings of teachers, there is more talk of groupism, backbiting and salaries, than of students' welfare. In some circles, guardians and parents also do not respect teachers as they did before. All these and others are a clear indication that the relations between parents and children, sisters and brothers, husband and wife, masters and servants and between many other units of society have undergone great changes. Thus, we have begun to discard many old mores and modes and are adopting more liberal attitudes. As such time and place have been changing many elements of culture and as a result it is being reflected in the education system in various ways.

Another view of cultural and social change is in the reshaping of the educational machinery to make for equality of educational opportunity for all. This has led to the widening of the school curriculum and increased emphasis on the importance of the right kind of technical educational for the new technological age. As a result, the old dichotomy between a liberal and a technical education is slowly broken down and the social distinctions which existed mainly because of that divide have become of no consequence and has been minimized with time. In this regard therefore, it is necessary to develop love for one's own culture through the education system because it strengthens nationalism. In order to make the country strong and prosperous, the spirit of nationalism must be nurtured. In each country there are various types of communities, classes, castes, and interests and due to the lack of national feelings many people ignore national interests. In many cases minorities are suspicious about the majority and in certain contexts this may be true of the majority as well. This makes it necessary to inculcate love for the country's culture and especially through the adoption of a national system of education.

4) The Historical Factor.

Each country of the world has its own history that shapes the nations aims, aspirations, activities and destiny. This is often reflected through the educational system. Colonialism has been an important historical factor that can be said to have shaped the education system of many African countries and others in the world. For example, the Berlin conference in 1815 was dabbed the scramble for Africa. At this conference the European powers shared African states like a cake. This latter meant that; the colonies had to take up much of what was in their colonial masters homeland and to date features in education of these former colonial master are reflected in their former colonies.

The missionary factor also contributed a great deal in shaping the systems of education in most African countries. Christian missionaries in particular from Britain, France, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, and USA among others, have largely influenced the development of the education system in Africa. In this regard, the present systems of education in many countries of Africa, Asia, North and South America are actual products of past colonial influence. As such, most of these countries in their present endeavors in education represent in most cases, heroic efforts of their colonial heritage.

Another historical element is manifest between periods in history when attempts were made to try and bring together groups within close geographical boundaries, for example, East Africa, South Africa, West Africa and North Africa. A close look at these groups reflects features in their systems of education that tend to have similarities. While on the other hand, historically there have been struggles for the creation of national states, with each state wanting to have its own unique national identity. The national factors of these countries often show differences that are reflected in their education system. As such, similarities and differences of education systems all over the world have a history behind them.

5. Political Factor

The political philosophy which controls the government of a country often has its inevitable impact on education. The political factor dictates the kind of administration the system of education will have. They also underlie the features in education system and the functioning of the same. For example, the fundamental ideas of socialism as a political philosophy were about the exploitation of labour by capital and this resulted in class mass. As a political philosophy, socialism recognizes property as the basis of the economic structure of the state which results in the concentration of civil and legal power in the hands of the property owning class. Socialism advocates for the nationalization of the means of production; where owners of means of production do not work and workers who produce do not own anything. A change of such a social order can only be achieved with reform in education. This would be through a state mechanism with full control of education and the curriculum and this means that the citizens must be trained by the state, for the state and in state institutions. In such cases, the details of the curriculum are often decided by the state authorities and involve functional training of citizens. The curriculum may also involve scientific training for social utilization purposes.

Good examples of countries that have introduced a socialist system of education are Mexico, Bulgaria and Cuba. The common features of their education system include monopoly of the state control on education, secularism, physical and military training political indoctrination in and out of school and also more emphasis on science subjects. In these states, freedom of individuals and the idea of tolerance are not accepted. Unlike these countries, France has a centralized system of education based on its political philosophy. In France, everything to do with education is controlled from the centre (metropole) which is the central government. In the case of USA and Japan, their education systems are highly decentralized, and are often based on the democratic influence and the capitalistic political philosophy of these countries.

There is also a close relationship between the national character and the national system of education. For example, the national character of USA is democratic as such its education system is democratic in most of its aspects. Nationalism also as a political ideology influences the system of education in a country. Nationalism could be defined as a psychological feeling within a group which believes they have common outlook and traditions based on myth of common ancestry. These common ancestries include race, language, religion and territory and often strengthen the consciousness of nationality. The racial aspect which is often within the political ideology of a country may play a significant role in determining features in the education system. Race refers to a tribe, a nation or a group of nations. Modern population includes people of different racial origins. The British colonial policy was based on the principle of decentralization and on the building up of a commonwealth of nations each of which should be free to develop its own culture and national character. Hence there is a close relationship between national character and national system of education and the former has been universally accepted as an important basis of national system of education. Thus the political system of a country is closely related with its educational programme.

6) Language Factor

Many languages may be spoken in a country, but only one enjoys the status of a national language. In every country the national language occupies a special place. Also every government tries to ensure that every one acquires the capacity to express himself through the national language. Without one's own national language, no country can be said to be strong.

Language in itself is a symbol of the people. Each community or group has an original language of its own which often suits its environment and stage of cultural development. It is through language that individuals become members of a community and this is important in building the national character. Through the native language, the child has the first expression of himself/herself and the world. However, in the modern world today, there is increasing use of foreign language especially in the school system. This requires a child before entering school to learn the foreign language. In most cases, before entering school the child acquires proficiency in mother tongue or native language and in so doing builds up vocabulary covering most of the objects of sense, impression and daily activities. This means using a different and a foreign language in school system means superimposing on this basis a language of ideas expressed entirely in a foreign medium and this often poses a problem to the learners.

In East Africa, Kiswahili has slowly influenced features in the education systems in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi. Kiswahili is a compulsory subject in primary schools in Kenya and Tanzania. In Tanzania Kiswahili is used as a medium of instruction in all primary schools. In South Africa, there are two linguistic groups, the English speaking and the Africans speaking groups. After the colonization by the British, English was enacted as a medium of instruction in schools. The inhabitants spoke Afrikaans and had been used to the Dutch school system. The use of English failed and in 1914 Afrikaans was recognized also as a medium of instruction in school for African speaking children. As such, in a South Africa, a bilingual system of education came into being, where some schools use English, while others use Afrikaans or even both.

French as a language is also used in former French colonies like Cameroon, Tunisia, Madagascar, Senegal, Rwanda and Burundi. Cameroon also emerges as a bilingual country with two official languages and two systems of education, that is, the Anglophone to the West and Francophone to the East. Although the Cameroon government has been trying to put the two zones together it has proved to remain difficult. Interestingly the ex-British Anglophone system of education continues to produce local syllabuses with the aim of making secondary school examination; the ex-French francophone system still clings firmly on the old and move formal baccalaureate.

By end large in Africa colonialism influenced the language of instruction in schools. In the former British colonies, pupils were taught in their vernacular in the lower elementary or primary school curriculum. The French colonies put more emphasis on French as a medium of instruction. To date most of the inherited systems of education still suffer from the effect of the colonial masters in the school system and at large in the education system. Thus the place of national language in the development of a national feeling cannot be over-emphasized. As such in a national system of education, special emphasis is placed on the study of national language.

7) Religious Factor

Religious loyalties also dictate aims, content and even methods of instruction in education. Indeed, religion and beliefs have also been known to influence and shape aspects in education system.

In Africa, European Christian Missionaries did influence and continue to influence the education system. The initiative taken by the Christian churches to extend education and their power to control development often explains many of the common elements which can be discerned in education systems in countries that were colonized by the Europeans. For examples schools days are from Monday to Friday and resting days are Saturday and Sunday. This is more so because some people have their worship days as Saturday and others on Sunday.

Religious organizations have also been and are still involved in educational development through building of educational institutions. For example, the catholic Jesuits succeeded in building up some of the greatest systems of secondary and higher education institution known in history. There is currently a catholic university establish in Kenya besides many catholic sponsored primary and secondary schools. The Muslim faithful also have their own establish institutions of learning as well as other religious groups such as the Hindus, Buddhists.

In Africa, the present systems of education have been influenced by the work which was initiated by European Christian missionaries who included Catholics, Protestant and Muslim. All these have influenced features in the education system in the areas, they occupied. Most current is that the primary and secondary curriculums have religious subjects being taught in schools in Kenya.

8) Technological Factors

Technological changes cannot also be ignored in education. Technology and especially modern technology also influence the education system of the country. Historically, emphasis on industrial and technical education followed the industrial revolution. Technology affects the type of education as well as the means of instruction.

With the emergence of computer technology, internet technology, this has revolutionalised the whole education system especially in the developed countries. Through information communication technology, home learning has been made possible. Universities are also adopting projects like AUV and e-learning. Today the influence of technology in education cannot be ignored. Indeed the challenge is for the educational administrators and policy makers to see to it that the right infrastructure is in place in order to allow the use of information communication technology fully and be able to reap its maximum benefits in the education system especially in the developing world.

Chapter Review

i) Identify factors that shape and influence education systems of the world. ii) Explain how any of these factors have shaped the education system of your country.

Challenges facing the Study of Comparative Education

Challenges facing the Study of Comparative Education

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After you have read this chapter, you should be able to;

i) Identify and explain the major challenges facing the study of comparative education in teacher education today.

ii) Suggest possible solutions on how to overcome these challenges.


As it is with all other disciplines of study, comparative education is also faced with some challenges in the process of studying it both to the learner and the teacher. These challenges are worth considering exposing the learner to them and allowing the learner to have an opportunity to suggest possible solutions, to these challenges. It is worth noting that the challenges are not exhaustive in themselves, taking into account the dynamics of the discipline at each and every stage. We therefore look at some of the predominant challenges to the study of comparative education.

i) Challenge of Definition;

The first challenge relate to the definition of comparative education as an area of study. As noted earlier various scholars define comparative education differently depending on their orientation. One big challenge among the scholars in relation to defining comparative education has been whether it should be defined by its content or method. Indeed to date scholars are still divided on whether comparative education is a field of study or just a method of researching on educational issues. In many universities in the developing world, the subject is seen just as a subset of history of education or sociology of education and is often taught by educational historians or sociologists. However the University of Nairobi has endeavored to train comparative educationist of which the author of this book is the first graduate. Other students are currently studying comparative education at the post graduate level and with time there will be scholars of comparative education trained in Africa. It is worth noting that, today many universities in Africa are offering comparative education as a core unit in graduate teacher education training as recognition of the fact that comparative education is a discipline in its own right, whether defined from the point of view of its content or its method.

ii) Challenge of Comparability

Most issues in comparative education are linked to the social, cultural, political, and economic realities of particular countries. These are further related to issues like equal opportunity, curriculum relevance among other issues which are all interpreted differently in different cultures and educational systems. In consideration of these different interpretations it becomes tricky and sometimes misleading affair to make comparisons of educational system and issues across national boundaries. For an effective comparison to be made, it calls for an understanding of all the parameters to be considered in comparison to have where possible one meaning and interpretation. This is only possible if one understands the various cultural and social contexts of the educational system.

iii) The challenge related to Method.

Over the years, some of the analytical tools used in the study of comparative education have been in most cases considered to be primitive as compared with the tools currently being used in other social inquires. For example, the use of questionnaires sent through post office prove to be unsatisfactory in that unreliable data is likely to be provided because of different interpretation given do different levels of education and the understanding of the purpose for which the data are collected. In other instance some of the social inquiries are difficult to use because of time and expanses involved. Also in comparative education different issues require unique methods to address them. As is with other social sciences, each study will require a specific method of study and as such comparative education faces the challenge of choice of method of approach in addressing educational issues and process being studied. A scholar in comparative education has a wide variety of methods from which to choose from and making the right choice often proves to be a big challenge in the study of comparative education.

iv) Challenge related to Subjectivity of Analysis.

In many studies, there is a human tendency to view issues with ones social background. Since we all come from various social backgrounds, some from the primitive, conservative and sometimes rigid, while others come from the modern, open minded and move receptive to changes. The social background brings with itself divergent views that are of comparative nature. As such, when people are not natives of the countries where the study is being taken, they tend to have biases and this poses challenges in comparative education since it results in subjectivity of analysis of the educational issues. All studies ought to be objective rather than subjective for that is the essence of every study even in comparative education.

v) Challenge related to Culture and Language.

Quite often than not, ones social background is greatly influenced by ones culture and language. Every country or regional of the world has its own culture and language. These in themselves pose as challenges in comparative education study since there is always a need for fresh studies as one moves from one cultural language group to another. In order for one to have a very good understanding of the issue of study, it will require him or her to employ a thorough examination of the terminology to be employed and used in the study. This is because any terminology used need to be clear to make the study meaningful and useful to the stake holders. Any ambiguity of terminologies may render the study useless and meaningless. Clarity of terminologies in terms of culture and language is of uttermost importance in comparative education studies.

(vi) Challenge related to the Dynamic Character of Education.

The character of education is often said to be dynamic because of the parameters that influence it. For example, it is impossible to find two different communities or societies or even countries which are at the same stage of development. The difference in stages of development of various countries of the world makes it almost impossible to compare two different systems of education. In regard to the time aspect, it is sometimes difficult to access the collected data on good time and this result in outdated data that is collected even before comparisons can be made. New discoveries are also made on daily basis and this influence the type of education offered in different parts of the world. In the so called first world or developed countries, new knowledge that is discovered is disseminated easily and quickly because of the development in technology. While in the so called third world or the developing countries they tend to lag behind in terms of embracing new knowledge. All these and others which influence the character of education, remains as a challenge in comparative education.

(vii) The Challenge of National Character

Just as education has its own character, so does each country have its own national character. In education theory and practice, we cannot understand the education system of a country without sufficient knowledge of the physical and social context, within which the educational system operates.

The character of a nation remains a challenge to comparative education because it influences the educational aims and content of that particular system. Many studies in many countries show that the national character is determined to a large extent by both physical and social environment. According to Michael Sadler a renown comparative education scholar said that "things outside the school often influences things inside the school''. When he talks of things outside the school system he has in mind, geographical, social-economic, historical, religion, technological and cultural environment. These aspects are the ones which shape the national character. As issues, they become important for our understanding of our educational system because they are what determine the national character which in turn influence or determine the education cum school system of country.

(viii) The challenge of Cost and Time.

Comparative studies by and large require substantial amounts of money and more real time. In conducting comparative studies, one requires relevant equipment, traveling, and assembling data from foreign sources. Obtaining the relevant equipment as well as traveling costs to collect reliable first hand data often prove to be enormous. This is why most comparative studies are done either through correspondence or through documentary analysis. This also is not assumed to be cheap. Because of these challenges and others, most universities and especially in developing countries find it increasingly difficult to allocate adequate funds for comparative research. This therefore remains a big challenge to scholars in comparative education.

Chapter Review

Please attempt the following questions;

i) Identify the challenges discussed above that affect the study of comparative education in your own country.

ii) What suggestions would you give to overcome these challenges?

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After you have read this chapter, you should be able to;

i) State and explain the various methodological approaches used in the study of comparative education

ii) Explain how educational reforms can be instituted using either of these methodologies.

iii) Apply the various methodologies in solving educational problems faced by educational institutions.


There are a number of methodological approaches used by scholars in their approach to the study of comparative education.  It is important to note that methodology in comparative education, as in other educational disciplines, is determined by the purpose of the study.  Like other social sciences, comparative education has been studied at different times of its development with different methodological approaches.  A close look at the various developmental phases reveal that, each phase has produced a different type of work, that mainly depend on the dominant views and motives for comparative education study. Starting with the simple narratives of education abroad during the phase of Travelers Tales, the methodological approaches of comparative education have progressively evolved into the current application of the sophisticated and complex methods of social sciences, which in most cases are empirically based. With a large clientele arising from its multi-disciplinary nature, comparative education scholars have not been able to agree on a single, universally accepted method of study.  This view has resulted in a multiplicity of debates and opinions of what method is best suitable for use.

In this regard therefore, we note that methodological approaches used in comparative education are divided into two broad categories, namely traditional approach and modern approach.  Under the traditional approach we have the descriptive/statistical method and the historical approach.  Under the modern approach we have sociological, analytical and synthetic approaches. We now look at each method independently:

The statistical/ Quantitative method

This method emphasized the collection, interpretation, verification and comparison of data in education by using statistical/Quantitative analytical charts.  The main aim was to facilitate borrowing of useful information or lessons from foreign countries.

In this method various type of educational data are collected about a country.  For example, the data about the number of students at a certain stage of education, expenditure on them, the percentage of  passes and failures  at various stages of education, expenses on teachers' salaries, school building and other items are all collected and the same compared with identical data of another country.  Thus, the progress or decline of education in any country is statistically analyzed. 

Although the method is still in use today, it is faced with certain shortcomings worth

mentioning such as:-

  • The unreliability of statistical data, particularly the inaccuracy of local record, which are compiled by officials who may exaggerate figures in order to hide any shortcomings.  Generally, due care is not taken in the collection of data.  Consequently, many of them are false.
  • There is also the imprecision of certain non-standardized term, when applied in different national context.  In many cases, the terms used do not connote the same sense.  Therefore their statistical analysis is falsified.
  • There is also the problem of feasibility of data interpretation without due regard to social influences and values and how they affect education.
  • This means, through the statistical method, we cannot understand the educational characteristics that could be as a result of social, cultural, economic, political, and religions situations of a country.

The verification of data in international studies is not always possible due to cost and travel constraints. Evidently the use of the statistical method is very limited.

Limitations of this approach

Descriptive Method

This method was used in the 19th century because the main purpose then in comparative education was to incorporate the good points of another country.  This approach therefore called for a detailed description of educational affairs of another country.  So many comparative educationists presented detailed descriptive accounts of the educational systems of the countries they visited.  Among them were Marc Antoinne Jullien de Paris, Victor cousin, Horace Man, Henry Bernard and Mathew Arnold. John Griscom of U.S.A (1918-19) visited Great Britain, France, and Holland, Switzerland and Italy and wrote a book entitled "A year in Europe'', he described their educational systems in detail.  From his report, an attempt was made in U.S.A to incorporate some of the admirable characteristics of the educational system contained in his book.  Victor cousin of France in (1831) published a report on the education system of France.

Some of the educational characteristics of Prussia that he described in his report were emulated in Great Britain and France.  However, he did not make a comparative study of educational systems of other countries in his report.  This meant that his report could only be evaluated by only persons who had a good knowledge of educational systems of other countries.

Mathew Arnold of Great Britain and Horace Man of U.S.A also did some work in the area of descriptive method approach. M. Arnold studied the educational system of France and Germany and published a report about France in 1859 and about Germany in 1865.  In his description, he drew the attention of his readers to those factors which distinguish the educational system of one land from the other.  Arnold's method was also followed by Sir Michael Sadder and Paul Monroe.  From their views, the study of comparative education became better organized. 

Horace Man visited Germany, Ireland, Great Britain, France and Holland.  In 1843, he published a report on the educational systems of these countries.  He pointed out the special characteristics of the educational systems that he had studied and specifically pointed out the specific elements that should be imitated by others.

He also paid attention to the evaluation of the educational characteristics and their utilities.  As a result of his work, later educationist also paid attention to the evaluation and utilities of characteristics of educational systems of other countries.

Henry Bernard published thirty one volumes of "The American Journal of Education" between 1856-1881.  In these volumes, he described the educational systems of the various states of U.S.A. and many other foreign countries.  He interpreted the historical background of each educational system that he described.  Michael Sadder on his part emphasized the point that we should study all those national factors, which influence the education system of a country and are responsible for its development and decline.  To him, he considered the study of comparative education as useful for one to understand his own system of education. Thus, we can argue here that, in the 19th century only those persons who were able to understand comparative education are those who had a good knowledge of educational systems of their own country.  These few example, are accounts, that show the descriptive method of comparative education and as a method, and was advocated for by those educationists who were interested in promoting and popularize the study of comparative education.

Limiations of this approach

Critically analyze the limitations in this approach.

The Historical Method Approach:

In this approach we study the modern educational problems. The method reveals the basis on which the modern education system is based. Knowledge gained at this point may help us in eliminating undesirable elements in the system and further strengthening of the desirable ones. It is important to note that, we employ historical method not only to know the past in order do to understand the present better, but so that we may improve the future by hinting at those factors which may be more useful. In this approach we also try to understand all those geographical, social, racial, political, religious and linguistic factors which influence the educational system of a country.

Scholars such as Nicholas Hans, Isaac Kandel, Schneider and Michael Sadler are known for popularizing this method. They basically agreed that selective cultural borrowing was possible and also emphasized that educational policies and practices have both cause and effect which is found in each society's unique historical experience, that Horace man called the national character. Most of these scholars suggested the development of a science of comparative education in which one could use to discover the universal causes or determinants of educational practices and also to establish terms of education.

Although the scholars who advocated for this approach did not offer a definite procedure to be followed, it is generally agreed that three things, stand out;

  • One should study each national system separately in its historical context, taking note of differences in terminologies and methods of collecting and classifying data.
  • One should also analyze the forces, and factors responsible for the noted differences that are grouped into four categories i.e. natural, religious, social- economic and political.
  • One should also adopt only those ideas and practices that best approximate and can be adapted to the recipient country's historical context.

This approach however is faced by the following short comings;

  • The data on which we base one study may not be reliable because in the collection of the same, due care is often not observed. As such the conclusions derived may not be very useful. One should therefore keep in mind that historical materials about education systems of various countries are generally not very reliable. This in turn limits the utility of historical data. Hence it suggests the need for more research do make the data more reliable.
  • The other shortcoming is that, historians are generally not impartial in their accounts. In most cases they want to conceal undesirable elements about the history of their own country and look on facts relating to other countries with some perceived prejudice. In this scenario the truth is not known. Consequently we cannot reach the right conclusions using this approach.

  • The third limitation of this approach is that, the past is unduly emphasized. Consequently the study of comparative education can be said to be unbalanced.


How would you use this approach in tackling educational problems in your country?

The Analytical Method Approach

This approach brings together the relationship that exists between the educational system of a country and its social, political and economical conditions. In any comparative study we have to use analysis. This is because through analysis one can separate the various elements and understand the importance of each independently. The analytical method is considered useful only when the social and educational organizations are compared.

The analytical method therefore follows the four main aspects of analysis.

i) Collect Educational Data: -This is where all educational information is gathered through descriptive and statistical methods and this forms the basis for the analytical method.

ii) Interpretation of related data: - This involves interpreting social, political, economic and historical data which is necessary in order to understand similarities and differences found in the educational systems of various countries.

iii) Determining standard for comparison: -In order for us to compare the educational systems fairly, we need to do so by having a certain standard. This standard will help us compare the similarities and differences of the various educational systems. The analytical method often formulates these standards. For example, the political philosophy, aims of education and the method of control of education are good examples of standards, for comparison. It is on the basis of these standards that one can analyze and understand the similarities and differences of the various educational systems of various countries. On the basis of these standards, for example, one can say that since there is a difference between the political philosophies of Kenya and Tanzania, then, we find differences in their educational systems

iv) Interpretation and conclusion; -From the above three aspects of analysis, we are able to interpret the collected data and make certain conclusions on the basis of comparison of the various educational systems of various countries.

However, the analytical method approach is also faced with the following two limitations;

i) This method does not pay adequate attention to the totality of the educational systems.

ii)The method is also prone to ignoring the inherent similarity, which exists in educational systems in spite of the differences in educational systems of the various countries.

Challenges of this approach

How would you address the challenges in this approach?

The Synthesis Method Approach

This method has been largely advocated for by Edmond King a renowned comparative educationist in his look "World Perspective in Education''. In this approach, the study of comparative education from an international point of view is considered to be of great significance. In this approach the problems of education are considered and studied on an international frame. This is evidenced by the fact that, when we study the problems of education in various countries, we find some universal truths in their inherent differences the main reason being that, there is much similarities in the needs and aspirations of the people of the globe. For example the United Nations organization, like UNESCO has contributed much towards the consciousness of this similarity. It is important to note that, the method of synthesis has not been fully developed, since it is at its infancy stage and comparative educationists need to develop it further. However an attempt to use it as a comparative study approach is still significant in comparative education.

The Scientific Method Approach

The scientific method approach emerged in the current phase of the development of comparative education. Its time frame dates, back from 1960s. However during this period intense methodological debate centered on the following:

  • The feasibility of relying on a particular method as opposed to a multi-dimensional approach.

  • The feasibility of the nation- state as the dominant research framework as opposed to intra-national, regional, continental and world systems analyses.
  • The over reliance on quantitative (statistical) as opposed to qualitative and descriptive research, and finally
  • The range of research concerns that have traditionally dominated studies in comparative education.

The results of the methodological debate culminated in new approaches to the study of comparative education. Some of the scholars have engaged in developing new approaches to comparative education study, while bearing in mind the dynamic nature of the discipline. In fact, some scholars have demanded and attempted to develop a science of comparative education that would finally place comparative education in the family of social sciences and at the same time maintain its distinctive position from them.

As such, the methods considered to be scientific that have seen developed, differ in their procedures and focus. Some of these methods include;

The Systematic Area Studies Method Approach;

This method was developed and popularized by G.Z.F. Beredy in his book "Comparative Method in Education "(1964). He used the interdisciplinary approach to systematically survey and analyzes education in different countries. The aim is to understand differences and similarities before borrowing and making any predictions. He argues that, since the study has to make sense out of similarities and differences among different educational systems, it is possible to seek assistance from other fields of study such as History, Sociology and Philosophy. In fact educational facts are so enmeshed in a matrix of other social sciences that comparative education cannot be studied in isolation. According to Beredy, the following steps are to be followed;

i) Description of aspects of Education; - This involves identification of the problem by clearly describing the problem from eye witness accounts, observations or even reading.

ii) Interpretation and explanation using the interdisciplinary approach; -

This involves giving explanation of the data collected, of the way things are in each country. Some of the reasons could be historical, social, cultural or religious.

iii) Juxtaposition or classification of data; - This involves putting the information into groups in categories of contrasting and comparable features. In this way similarities and differences can be easily and clearly seen.

iv) Comparison; - This involves comparing features in one system with those of another system. This helps in the formulation of possible hypotheses.

v) Conclusions and generalization; -This involves testing of the hypotheses generated, drawing of valid conclusions and recommendations while focusing on the causes of similarities and differences.

The Problem Solving Method Approach.

This method was developed and popularized by Brian Holmes in (1964) in his look entitled "Problems in Education: A comparative Approach". He borrowed the ideas of John Dewey ( a famous American Educator) based on the five stages of reflective or critical thinking which Brian applied to the study of comparative education to solve educational problems. The stages are;

i) Problem Identification

ii) Problem Analysis

iii) Proposed problem solutions

iv) Specification of the context - this involves looking at the factors, and conditions that are likely to influence the outcomes of the proposed solution; such as, conservative mental states like traditions, morals and beliefs. Also it involves prediction of anticipated results - i.e. making informed guesses about expected outcomes.

v) Comparison and conclusion; - This involves comparing the predicted outcomes (based on the proposed policy solutions) with the actual observable practices. It is more of an evaluation stage (i.e. have things worked out as anticipated?). It also involves making recommendations and conclusions from the observations, and then new lines of action are made.

According to Brian Holmes, he argued that, in the face of a problematic situation, possible solution may spring to mind. On further reflection the problem is better formulated. This further directs the solution to a certain kind of data out of which emerge refined possible solutions, which are then put forward as a hypotheses, which are then tested one after the other and a solution is arrived at.

The Scientific Method Approach

This method was developed and population by Harold Noah and Marc Eckstein in 1960, when they wrote a book entitled "Toward, a Science of Comparative Education". In this approach, they recommended the following procedure;

i) Problem identification and review of literature

ii) Definitions of central concepts, terms and indicators

iii) Selection/sampling of units of study or cases o be studied

iv) Data collection

v) Data Analysis and manipulation

vi) Interpretation of data -finding & results

vii) Drawing of conclusions and recommendations

As already mentioned earlier, comparative education uses different methodological approaches in its study. For example, some of the scholars in the 1980s such as Robert Arnove, Edmond King and Philip Altbach also wrote on methodology in comparative education. To them they questioned some of the assumptions on which the scientific methods developed earlier were based. However, instead of recommending any particular method for comparative education study, they proposed a combination of methods approach (an eclectic). To them, they argued that the method to be used should largely be determined by the purpose and design of each study. They were indeed skeptical about the possibility of developing an exact science that would allow where possible accurate predictions as had been suggest by the scholars of the scientific method approach (i.e. Noah and Eckstein). In this regard, it is important to note that methodological debate continues to date, which is a sign of a continued evolving and development of a dynamic discipline that deals with the equally ever-changing and complex field of education i.e. study of comparative education discipline.

Comparing the synthesis apprach

Compare and contrast the Scientific Method Approach and the Problem Solving Method Approach.

Chapter Review

Chapter Review

i) Identify the various methodological study approaches used in comparative education and describe the main features of each of the methods identified.

ii) Identify an educational problem in your country and show how you would use any of the methods discussed to carry out a comparative study to solve it.

iii) Critically discuss the merits and demerits of the problem solving approach as advocated for by Brian Holmes.

iv) Assess the practicability of a multi-dimensional approach in the study of comparative education.