I spent the last two weeks on a hugely interesting and stimulating seminar on comparative education in Uppsala, Sweden.
We studied in a very European atmosphere of students from Germany, Spain, Italy, Greece, Sweden, Finland (or so), Denmark and Poland. Our lecturers came from Universities in this countries and Cyprus. So we had all the traps and possibilities shown so nicely by the auberge espaniol.
But of course we did study a lot and learn a lot, not only academically but because we had so many different styles of lecturers and so intensive discussions on the subjects with participants with very diverse backgrounds. Some oft hem going for teacher training others for more sophisticated approaches to education or more theoretical ones.
By the way, I blog this from a Swedish Rail X2000 that offers wireless internet free in every first class seat and for a small fee in the second class, on all routes not just on some like German Rail.
Swedish school system
Amongst others we had a very interesting presentation on the Swedish school system by Jessica Lindvert, Mats Wennerholm, Jenny Kallstenius from the Swedish national agency for schools (Skolverket). The agency supervises the school system, does testing and evaluations and provides the national curriculum.
Increasingly the Swedish school system seems to have been transformed from a centrally lead and supervised one in which the roles of the commune has become more and more important and in which students carry a voucher with which they can access education on all school levels and choose which schools they attend to.
The presentation states, that: “So called independent schools, which is non-public schools are becoming increasingly common, especially at upper-secondary level. And the development is most significant in large cities.
Today 10 % of all pupils in compulsory school 6-16 and 20 per cent of al pupils in upper secondary school (year 16-19) attend independent schools.
Independent schools are mostly run by business groups and enterprises who run a number of schools at different places. Today A dozen of educational enterprises run over 30 percent of all independent schools.
An important reason why the proportion of Independent schools has grown so fast during the last decade is that they are entitled to public funding from the state if they can offer education that is equivalent to that provided in public school. The size of the funding is the same as the public schools. The system is based so called school voucher that every pupil can use when they choose which school the like to attend. The voucher is worth the average cost for a place at a public school. Restrictions prevent independent schools from charging top-up fees for pupils.”
Another interesting aspect was the fact that the Swedish school system gives, within reasonable boundaries, each student the right to instruction in its home language, the language his parents speak. The idea is if someone can speak the language he comes from and his parents talk with him at home better and is confident in that, then he can learn Swedish far more easily but also retains the linguistic bounds to his community.
For language teaching, quite independent from what language you teach we where shown two websites: the first one gives a visual dictionary of words with which you can learn them: www.modersmal.net the second provides you with the tools to write a text on a computer without a keyboard that has your special characters: http://gate2home.com
For all of you who are wondering what Comparative Education is, Hans Georg Kotthof a lecturer at the University of education in Freiburg gave a very good presentation from is beginnings as a domain of early modern travelers who went around Europe and tried to improve the educations systems of their respective countries. Like Julien de Paris to the modern examples of the PISA study and maybe even new post-modern approaches to Comparative education.
“Education, as all other sciences and all the arts, is composed of facts and observations. It therefore seems necessary to form, for this science as one has done for other branches of knowledge, collection of facts and observations, arranged in analytical charts, which permit them to be related and compared, to deduct from them certain principles, determined rules, so that education might become almost nearly a positive science. […] Researches on comparative anatomy have advanced the science of anatomy. In the same way the researches on comparative education must furnish new means of perfecting the science of education” (Fraser 1964:40-41).” (Esquisse et vues préliminares sur un ouvrage sur l’éducation comparée (1817) [‘Plan and Preliminary Views for a Work on Comparative Education’] (1817) )
So it began with the idea of improving or transplanting solutions to spread the use of best practices around and to your own education system. And then the spread of a „Historical-philosophical-cultural motif“ that „tries to analyse the education systems within their national contexts“ (Kotthoff).
A good example is Matthew Arnold, who despite being a Victorian English educationalist also was a very good poet. Their main focus lay on understanding and analysing but not as an empirical science. This paradigm had come to Comparative Education lately after the second world war with wanted to improve CE as a „real“ science and improve the situation of education again.
But came out oft he fashion around the 1970s because of „changing epistemological pattern in natural sciences: uncertainty rather than rule of law” (and the rise of the) “post-modern climate: devaluing of grand theories into grand narratives, favoured development of new cognitive domains in social sciences”
In the years since the 1980s Comparative education has become more and more diverse and big positivist studies have come as well as more postmodern approaches. But we have also seen the emergence of new unit ideas, not only nation but also the education system, time, praxis and social context.
And we have arrived that the ideas that make educational systems change in their application as they move from one setting tot he next. So we can rightly follow Cowen in saying: “As it moves, it morphs”