Comparative education

Jump to: navigation, search

Definition, Relevance and History

The history of comparative education was reviewed1 by David N. Wilson in 2003. In this work he defines comparative education as

an intersection of the social sciences, education and cross-national study which attempts to use cross-national data to test propositions about the relationship between education and society and between teaching practices and learning outcomes

while defining its "twin", international education, as

the application of descriptions, analyses and insights learned in one or more nations to the problems of developing educational systems and institutions in other countries

Why is comparative education or "comp ed" germane to the OLPC project? Because it provides a rich scholarly archive of educational culture "ethnographies" through which we can better understand the target markets.

In his review, Wilson notes the ancient roots of comparative and international education:

Writers since the beginning of recorded history have described aspects of education in countries they visited, with the notion that the educational structures and practices they examined might be useful for adoption and adaptation in their own countries... Such works include the philosophical and rhetorical treatises on education by Herodotus (484-425 BC), Thucydides (471-399 BC), Xenophon (430-355 BC), Plato (427-347 BC), Aristotle (384-322 BC), Cicero (106-43 BC), Scipio Africanus (185-129 AD), and Tacitus (70 AD) from ancient Greece and Rome; the descriptive and narrative accounts of Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela from pre-Inquisition Spain (1165-1173 AD), who voyaged as far as India; Niccolò and Maffeo Polo (the father and uncle of Marco Polo) writing about China (1254-1324 AD); and Abd al-Rahman Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406 AD) of Tunisia.

Modern study dates only from the early 19th century. (Readers may find it amusing to read excerpts from published accounts of education in Britain at the height of its imperial power in 1856, concerning children and adults.) Wilson's review takes note of several milestones in the modern era:

  • Basset (1808) and Jullien (1817) are "credited with the introduction of the scientific study of education from a comparative perspective"
  • First comp ed univ course (1899)
  • Comp ed enters its "scientific" era (1900)
  • 1st Western textbook on comp ed (1918)
  • Int'l. Bureau of Ed. (IBE), 1st int'l org in ed sector (1925)
  • IBE joins UNESCO (1948)
  • CES, now CIES, 1st comp ed society (1956)
  • WCCES, world council of comp ed societies (1970)

Systematic online resources

The enduring institutions above provide excellent online resources.

The International Bureau of Education, or IBE, at UNESCO provides lengthy dossiers describing the educational systems of its nearly 200 member states here. Essays profiling these national systems, comprising the World Data on Education (WDE) database, are indexed by state in a zoomable tree structure. The WDE covers a very wide range of topics, among them, the official rationale for education, gradations, finances, equipment, educational research and current issues. Most(?) of the essays are written in English - even those for the Russian Federation and China, whose national languages are "ruling" UN languages - but there are also many written in French and Spanish. (Crude translations are available through free third-party online translation engines, like Babelfish.)

Other material in the IBE national dossiers include reports, curriculum resources, bibliographies and links to the national education bureaucracies on the Web.


Since the 1930s, the IBE has requested Member States to present, at each session of the International Conference on Education (ICE), a National Report on the Development of Education. These reports can be considered as one of the main sources for comparing educational data across countries and over time, and a useful tool for the exchange of information and experience in the field of education. - source

These national reports are available online for the 46th ICE (2001) and the 47th ICE (2004). (Readers are reminded that government reports do not always correspond to the observations which astute disinterested parties might make.) Archives of some highlights from ICEs prior to the 46th are online here.

The World Council of Comparative Education Societies (WCCES) provides online links to research centers, journals and recent books concerned with comparative education. This includes some full-content material, e.g. a 2005 book titled ...Household Financing of Basic Education in Cambodia. (A recent Transparency International report on Cambodia is an interesting companion document.)

The oldest member society of the WCCES is the Comparative & International Education Society (CIES) founded in the US a half-century ago. Find online a history of the CIES and a history of its relationship to the WCCES. The online CIES membership directory reveals contact details for several parties in OLPC's headquarter city of Cambridge.

Current Issues in Comparative Education (CICE) "is an international online, open access journal inviting diverse opinions... of academics, practitioners and students. CICE shares its home with the oldest program [at Columbia University] in comparative education in the US... founded in 1898."

For "electronic journals that are scholarly, peer-reviewed, full text and accessible without cost" concerned with any aspect of education, look here.

Miscellaneous online resources

The Public Broadcasting System ("PBS") in the United States syndicates a video program series called Wide Angle with these taglines: human stories. global issues. and Six billion people. 200 countries. Somebody's got to cover it. Among their programs is this one: Back to School whose description partly reads:

In 2003 Wide Angle profiled seven children in seven countries-Afghanistan, Benin, Brazil, India, Japan, Kenya, and Romania-as they started their first year of school. Returning in 2006, we find that some of these children are already struggling, hanging onto their education by a thread...

The Web page links to streaming video but warns about limited availability during peak hours. Couldn't they BitTorrent this? Find one review of this three-year-period (sic.) episodic series here.

Britain's Guardian reports that in 2007 China will waive annual tuition fees of £9 to £12 for 150 million rural school children to try healing the education gulf that has opened up between rich and poor students since the start of the country's market reforms. The waived tuition is a lot for rural families who struggle to live on a reported average annual income of only £195. What Guardian maths calls the 15 bn yuan (£1 bn) plan explains why China might question spending all of US$150 million (1.17 bn yuan) for a million OLPC laptops: that would be nearly 8 per cent of the entire national rural tuition subsidy! The article even worries that, based on past promise-keeping, the national government might not even cover the suspended tuition fees by compensating the rural parties who will provide the schooling - what we call unfunded mandates in the United States. It also relays that state media reports rural school teachers are already owed over 10 bn yuan in unpaid back wages.

Schooling and economics

The OLPC program looks to improve the education of "the world's poorest children" by advancing an alternative pedagogy exploiting breakthrough context-optimized digital technology. Beyond the well-known issue of "Total Cost of Ownership" (TCO) for the OLPC laptops and associated infrastructure is the more basic question of the economic impact of education itself.

Gain insight into this latter question by reading a broad-ranging quantitative essay by an independent scholar which looks at the relationship between education and income in an international perspective: Is institutional education economically overrated?. This document also examines the implication of advancing digital technologies for developing world economies beyond laptop computers.

--Docdtv 22:11, 30 December 2006 (EST) - Link rot mended 30 July 2011, 8 June 2012.


1. Wilson, David N. (2003). The Future of Comparative And International Education in a Globalized World. International Review of Education 49(1-2): 15-33

It has been suggested that this article or section be merged with [[:{{{1}}}|{{{1}}}]]. (Discuss)