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International Education for the Millennium: Toward Access, Equity and Quality

reviewed by Robert Sylvester - October 03, 2006

coverTitle: International Education for the Millennium: Toward Access, Equity and Quality
Author(s): Benjamin Piper, Sarah Dryden-Peterson, and Young-Suk Kim (Eds)
Publisher: Harvard Educational Review, Cambridge
ISBN: 0916690466 , Pages: 317, Year: 2006
Search for book at Amazon.com

 Close on the heels of the Second World War, the victorious Western nations stumbled when it came to decisive action regarding the cause of education in the reconstruction of the world at large. In 1921, the League of Nations Committee on Intellectual Cooperation was created only after the term Education was removed from both its name and its mandate. The chance for educational improvements in the wider world was lost, for that moment.  The years that followed witnessed failed efforts by the committee to be able even to consider intellectual cooperation between and among nations without first considering the cause and the role of education in that process.

We now stand, nearly a century away from this historic misstep, and face the same calculus.  Can we honestly promote the cause of intellectual cooperation among nations in a globalized era, when the issues surrounding access, equity, and quality of education in the world at large threaten the very pace and standard of cooperation in the sciences, arts, commerce, and overall development of human resources? This most recent issue of the Harvard Educational Review Series faces this question and paints a series of increasingly poignant voices from those whose interests have been marginalized in the rush to recover from the horrors of two world wars and the burden of a global arms race during the Cold War. As the foreward reminds the reader, the future prosperity of the West is increasingly tied to the health, knowledge base, and social cohesion of all nations, especially those most challenged economically.

The new voices, however, are those of scholars from these struggling economies, who turn their own cultural lens to the rebuilding of complex institutions of learning in the midst of armed conflicts, natural disasters, disease outbreaks, breakneck urbanization, the rise of a disintermediated communications technology, and increasing evidence of conserving politics embedded in textbook choices everywhere.  These new voices, which are now being heard, may represent a turning point in the post-colonial and post-cultural eras.  The most recent HER has done well to paint these portraits and give the Western scholarly tradition a chance to use a new lens for considering the future of educational improvement worldwide.

While the stage offered for these voices represents a very important contribution to the advancement of the research literature in international education, it does so without a coherent vision outside of the political and economic theories that have dominated our research landscape for the past 85 years since the stumbling efforts of the League of Nations. The purpose of the collection of voices is, rightly so, set in the theme of social justice and the struggle against inequity in education (p. 2), especially as it is represented in the development of education in the global South. The second assumptionthat the three components of education development: access, equity, and quality should not be made unbearably distinct in planning termsis also set in a clear fashion.    

The first of the books three sections deals with the theories and historical review of the field of comparative and international education.  However, the lens used by Stromquist relies heavily on the internal movements of the Comparative and International Education Society for its landmarks.  While usefully reminding the reader of the important contribution to an understanding of human resource development as seen by Freire, the greater contribution of the CIE is portrayed in its historic access of its practitioners to the circles of power, rather than its influence on the development of institutional responses to the needs of human resource development. Such a narrow focus on economic and political praxis ignores the complexities of todays globalized environments, both local and international.  However, the republication of two of Freires seminal essays on literacy as cultural action and conscientization is a very effective and useful reminder of his overarching influence in the field today. Maclures call for a replacement of the dominant medicalized models of donor countries with practical support for the development of endogenous research networks is well-placed and serves as an effective bottom-up perspective in an era which is still dominated by the backroom dealings of Western government aid policies in shaping the reality of educational reform for emerging economies.

The second part of HERs most recent collection focuses upon facets in the reform of national systems of education in Tanzania, South Africa, Eritrea, and Mexico.  As in the first section, the editors choose to select an exquisite voice from the near past to frame our historical understanding.  The republication of Nyereres poignant essay and policy statement from 1985s HER issue contains the seed of an overall framework for the consideration of international education that the editors of the book could not seem to provide. The former head of Tanzanias ruling party, and then elder statesman of Africa, offered three fundamental assumptions that could be extended to a now globalized educational reform environment.  He states (page 109) first that every human being is fundamentally of equal worth and that the individual becomes meaningful to him or herself and to others only as a member of society and finally that literacy and numeracy&are valuable in their own right apart from the economic or political exigencies they facilitate. Extending these assumptions to the global stage, we might propose that the education of each child on the planet is a function of trust held by the entire human population, and that literacy allows for each member of that global society to engage in designing a future for themselves. Economic and political theories often ignore such lofty sentiment as they are designed to look at the near past and the near future rather than the trajectory of the human race as a whole.

Vavrus ethnography of policy stands in sharp contrast to the ideals of the policy document by Tanzanias former president.  One valuable insight into the present global and local realities is offered by Varvus: The distinction between international and domestic education has grown increasingly tenuous in an age when ideas about best practices and sound policy travel across borders at astonishing speed (p. 140). Stefanos analysis of the rise and struggle of women in Eritrea and Jansens autobiographical reflection of a black deans emotional labors in reforming higher education in South Africa both serve as high points in this collection.  Jansens contribution could usefully be extended into a full-length treatment.

The third part of the collection deals with the voices of local communities representing Palestine, Chile, the European Roma diaspora, and Uganda. These voices offer compelling reminders of the realities on the ground for populations of displaced and marginalized populations of the world.  While the traditional research framework of these pieces is less analytic at the national level, each provides sufficient evidence of the need to support, train, and encourage the growth of local research capacity, especially in the aid of educational reform.

The epilogue by Lewis represents a rather personal challenge to this reviewer as I too am engaged in the creation of graduate level instruction in international education for teachers.  In the absence of an accepted canon for such teacher training, we both may be left with an overarching question of planning for learning:  Whose future are we describing in our courses?  Is it our own view of the near future of the planet or the future that must be written by the children who are served by the teachers we train?  

Hopefully, educational researchers have learned a few lessons since the 1920s, when the victorious nations of the West feared for loss of their own sovereignty, and successfully built barriers against a day when lessons learned in one country could be quickly, dispassionately, and deliberately used for the benefit of any child anywhere.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: October 03, 2006
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 12757, Date Accessed: 10/22/2021 3:01:33 PM

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About the Author
  • Robert Sylvester
    Bridgewater State College
    E-mail Author
    ROBERT SYLVESTER has worked in international education from 1976 as a teacher and administrator and UNESCO teacher-trainer in Zambia and principal of an international school in Botswana. He is currently Assistant Professor of Education at Bridgewater State College in Massachusetts, responsible for courses related to teacher training in literacy and global education and has served as the Co-Editor for the Journal of Research in International Education.
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