Comparative Education Perspective: Need and Direction


Mahesh Nath Parajul, PhD

Comparative perspective in the study of the society has long been there along with human civilization.  People developed this practice of comparing oneself and one’s context with other people, places and context and this has provided a strong reason for human advancement.  Comparing with others and knowing one’s situation – opportunities and constraints – provided a strong impetus for development and social change.

The wide diversity of the human society and culture across the world or even a small area provides a strong rationale for bringing comparative perspective in understanding human processes.   Comparative perspective in education was developed mainly with the purpose of explaining or exploring as well as theorizing what is happening and what causes the happenings.  While such explorations help to understand and address both the problems as well as opportunities at the practical level, theorization further supports to see processes and phenomenon at the wider level and context.   Both these processes of exploration and theorization are thus integral aspect of comparative education research.  It is thus a useful tool to explain why western hill areas in Nepal are ahead in educational indicators and while some districts in central tarai lack progress in education.  If we could theorize these phenomenon, this would provide a strong foundational basis to bring changes in the existing situation.  Comparative perspective has been used as a very useful frame to explain things at all levels – international, national, local, a small community or even at a household level.

Traditionally, comparative perspective has emphasized a post-positivist approach.  This was thought necessary for generalizing the findings for larger areas and populations.  Given the dominant approach of ‘scientific research’ and also given the dominant influence of neo-liberalism and globalization, the mainstream comparative education research was also ‘scientific’ and probably it is still so.  However, there is also growing demand and realization for a more varied approaches that derive from local geographies, histories, politics and cultures.   Reasons behind such demand is the concerned that the comparative research that derive from global frame or perspective cannot explain the localized concerns like why large number of adolescents in Nepal are not able, or not interested, to complete their school cycle and go for job.  Several other more specific and more localized questions could be raised in case of all areas.  Understanding and explaining such concerns demand strong considerations of local social, cultural, political, and economic context.  Adopting such an approach would thus bring comparative perspective more close to address local concerns in education.

One such concern in education is fulfilling the cultural gap that exists in many countries like Nepal.  The populace the schooling has been serving has been highly diverse.  Given their different geography, history, and socio-cultural context people and their patterns of living and livelihood has been widely varied.  The schooling across the world however has largely been homogenous.  Its design, curriculum, instructional mode, assessment system, all are very much homogenous.  Be it in Nepal or elsewhere in the developed or developing countries, schooling has been designed and practiced in the same ways.  This makes that homogenous schooling does not, and cannot, address the need of diverse populace thus contributes to large cultural gap.  Comparative education research here can play a meaningful role in fulfilling such gap by exploring and theorizing, in a local cultural context, the reasons behind such gap as well as by developing ways to fulfill such gap.  For this, the comparative education researchers should adopt a multi-disciplinary approach and should interact with researchers and practitioners across the field.  Such interaction across the field would considerably enhance the scope of comparative education researchers to contribute to meaningful social transformation.

Adopting such localized approach does not mean that comparative perspective should ignore the post-positivist approach.  Depending upon the purpose, standardized approach could be the best approach to study the given issue or at times both approaches could be used.  Comparative education researcher should not be limiting themselves on debating which approach, rather should focus on understanding and addressing the educational concerns.  There must of course be debates and discourses on methodological aspects and their philosophical and theoretical bases of comparative research perspective focusing on strengthening the whole comparative genre.

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