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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  1. Comparative education poses comprehensive techniques to uniquely identify the strong points of related courses. What I love about comparative education is that it continually pushes boundaries and not allowing any standard to dictate what should be explored. - Layce of Studygeek.org

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  2. Thank you for your valuable information Layce

  3. this are real challenges facing the field of comparative education and in my view comparative education is a whole mountain to climb hence need to analyze it in regard of political,social,economic,cultural aspects of various countries..but echo!


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