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close this bookProspects - Quarterly Review of Education, Vol. 15, No. 3, 1985 (Issue 55) - Trends and Experiences in Adult Education (UNESCO; 1985; 172 pages)
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View the documentTrends in comparative education - Brian Holmes
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Trends in comparative education - Brian Holmes


Brian Holmes (United Kingdom). Professor of comparative education and Pro-Director of the University of London Institute of Education. Author of numerous publications in comparative education, including Problems in Education, Comparative Education: Some Considerations in Method, International Guide to Education Systems for Unesco, International Bureau of Education.

Comparative educationists have always realized that by studying other countries' systems of education they would gain greater insight into their own. The nineteenth-century pioneers were administrators who were establishing or expanding national systems.1 They hoped to borrow ideas and practice from abroad without wishing to destroy what they liked about their own schools. At the same time they agreed with Jullien de Paris that through the collection, classification and analysis of foreign data they would be able to induce principles of policy.2

Several pioneers collected information either by using existing or by establishing special national agencies. International contacts among them were frequent but an international dimension was added to data collection in the twentieth century when the International Bureau of Education (IBE) was set up, first as a non-governmental and then as an intergovernmental organization in Geneva.3 After 1945 the creation of Unesco and other international agencies transformed the situation by ensuring that a data base was available in the light of which policies could be formulated, not on whim and prejudice, but on carefully classified comparative information.

Academic interest in comparative education has been to explain observable differences between national systems. Michael Sadler was undoubtedly one of the first pioneers to emphasize that to understand the ethos or spirit of a national system of education, knowledge of what went on outside the schools was as important as knowledge of activities inside them.4 Since then, comparative educationists have identified the societal causes of educational development and used them to explain differences between national school systems.

Trends in comparative education can therefore be analysed in terms of attempts to collect and classify data more systematically and in terms of the contribution comparative education can make to our understanding of educational change. As for the first trend, the machinery for collecting data has improved enormously. Understanding the planned development of education depends, however, on the soundness of social scientific research methods. Profound theoretical differences now divide workers in the field and paradigm shifts are undoubtedly taking place.5 Both trends testify to the robust health of comparative education although in some ways it remains neglected by other social scientists.

In this article I shall first briefly describe improvements in the models for classifying data, recognizing that this process is never entirely objective. Then I propose to refer to some of the debates, largely among academics, about the paradigm within which comparative educationists should work in the belief that the assumptions we make about research methods have a powerful influence on the concepts and practice of educational planning. Finally, some reference will be made to the growth in comparative education literature and to the work of some non-governmental agencies.

The classification of data

Taxonomies and models are vital if data about education throughout the world are to be collected and classified. Nineteenth-century European interest was in the numbers of children attending school. During the first half of the last century elementary schools grew in number. In the second half of the century more attention was paid to the expansion of secondary schools. To be sure, as William Torry Harris pointed out, terminology gives rise to ambiguities.6 The unambiguous translation of terms like primary and secondary schools and higher education is not easy. Harris recognized that what was termed a 'secondary school' in one country could well be called by another name elsewhere.

Determined efforts have therefore been made to devise models to compare school enrolments at various levels of education. Franz Hilker did pioneering work in this field and in 1963 Saul Robinsohn and Brian Holmes organized a conference at the Unesco Institute for Education in Hamburg to discuss how relevant data in comparative education could usefully be classified.7 It was agreed that school systems should be divided into levels and stages broadly representing age bands and the points of transfer within systems. Three main levels - first, second and third - were accepted. Each level may have to be divided into stages in order more precisely to locate points of transfer, to identify different school types and to compare the numbers and proportions of children at each level and stage. Differentiating each level horizontally and vertically makes it possible to plot the school careers of individual pupils and groups of children as they pass through the school system.

This model was broadly the same as the one adopted in the preparation of Unesco's World Survey of Education in which an international 'summary and largely statistical account of the general movement of education' for the period under review was given about each level of education in turn throughout the world and in the main geographical areas.8 These World Surveys and the literature listed in Unesco's International Guide to Educational Documentation9 initiated a trend and presented a picture not only of current enrolments - the 'state of play' - but revealed trends of development. The Unesco Office of Statistics keeps up-to-date statistical information about total populations, school age populations and the numbers of males and females enrolled in the first, second and third levels of education.10 In contrast to the World Surveys, the new terminology is used. One advantage of these statistics is that scholars can see at a glance, by comparing enrolments over a period of years, to what extent national governments are achieving the aims of education laid down in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

More detailed comparisons of educational provision depend upon locating the types of courses offered at each level. To meet this need Joseph A. Lauwerys and his collaborators worked on a Unesco taxonomy, called International System of Classifying Education (ISCED).11 As for documentation, another aid to research workers, the faceted Education Thesaurus prepared by Unesco/IBE under the direction of Leo Fernig,12 is tremendously valuable to librarians and others who wish to retrieve educational materials on the basis of carefully classified headings. Finally, a much less detailed taxonomy developed by Brian Holmes for the IBE in Geneva has persuaded Member States of Unesco to submit to the secretariat information under clearly defined indicators, namely Aims, Administration, Finance, The Organization and Structure of School Systems, Curricula, Teacher Education and (implicitly) Third Level Education.13 The information provided makes it possible to compare each aspect of education and trends of development.

Data collecting schemes, which allow themes and processes to be compared, are briefly described below.


Educational aims can be compared by consulting government statements of 'what ought to be the case', or of hoped-for outcomes. Victor Cousin and Henry Barnard were well aware that constitutions and legislation were sources in which government aims can be found.14 The trend which these nineteenth-century comparative educationists set in motion, of recording the details of legislation in their reports, has been continued.

Another source of educational aims are the writings of philosophers. Choice of national philosopher is somewhat arbitrary but in order to facilitate comparisons I have suggested that 'ideal typical models' (in the Weberian sense) should be established. Against these simplified models - and I have suggested they may be drawn from Plato, Condorcet, Locke, Marx and Dewey15 - international and national recommendations about aims can be analysed and compared. Certainly internationally agreed models are now available.16 It is evident from the statements submitted to the IBE by national governments that education ought to be regarded as an inalienable human right, provided on a permanent or lifelong basis for all, regardless of nationality, gender, race, religion, language, social class position, family circumstances and place of residence.

This widely accepted model reflects a major shift of emphasis from one which could be drawn up for Western European school systems before 1940, when for the most part academic secondary and higher education were regarded as privileges for those whose parents could pay or for very able youngsters. Since 1945 great interest has been shown by comparative educationists in policy debates about concepts such as 'secondary education for all', 'equality of opportunity in education', 'comprehensive schools' and 'mass higher education'.


Aims have to be translated into policies and then implemented. Traditionally, comparative educationists have recognized the important role played by administrative systems in the realization of aims. Among others, Isaac Kandel drew a sharp distinction between centralized and decentralized administrative arrangements.17 His conclusion that centralized systems were authoritarian and decentralized systems were democratic was useful but very crude. Today, systems analysis models facilitate comparison of policy formulation, policy adoption and policy implementation in nations. It is now appreciated that the participants, the alliances formed and the forums in which policies are debated differ in accordance with the aspect of education under consideration.

For example, educational aims and objectives are discussed nationally by members of a wide range of social consensus groups. Policy issues, such as comprehensive schools, are frequently party politicized. On the other hand, salary scales are negotiated between those who pay for educational services, at national, regional, local or school level, and the teachers who provide the service. Curricular policies are debated almost exclusively by teachers. Differences between teachers may lead to controversy but eventually it is they who formulate policy. National, regional or local governments may adopt curriculum policies and issue regulations but finally they are implemented by teachers in lecture halls and classrooms.

As for teacher education, ministries may determine how many applicants are admitted to teacher training institutions and public authorities may issue certificates to teach, but the power of university academics to control many aspects of teacher training policy remains considerable. By the same token, the traditional autonomy of universities and the academic freedom enjoyed by university teachers ensures that university policies are usually formulated, adopted and implemented by academics themselves. The high costs of providing university places for large numbers of students and the dissatisfaction which erupted in the late 1960s encouraged comparative research into the administration of universities.

A few examples demonstrate the crudeness of Kandel's simple distinction between centralized and decentralized administrative systems. In England and Wales, teachers' salaries are negotiated in a national committee; the content of education is largely determined by teachers in individual schools under the influence of examinations which are run by teachers. Salary schedules in the United States are local, but the federal government's supreme court decisions on desegregation have to be obeyed. Curricula in Japan are laid down centrally but teachers in prefectural and municipal schools are paid according to scales established regionally or locally. Other examples would demonstrate that in most countries some decisions are made nationally while others are taken at the local level or in individual schools.

To analyse and compare educational administrative systems, I habitually use a formal organization model adapted from the writings of Talcott Parsons.18 This and other system analysis models are symptomatic of analytical trends based upon Kandel's early work.


Far more attention is now paid by comparative educationists to the finance of education. In the 1956 World Year Book of Education, the editors invited contributors to analyse the processes by which resources were raised for education and how capital, personnel and equipment were allocated in the face of competing demands.19 Commentators saw this innovative volume as drawing attention to education as a form of economic investment rather than as a human right. According to Friedrich Edding, the volume initiated comparative studies into the economics of education.20 During the early 1960s, economists studied the relations between education and economic growth at the request of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and national governments.

In sharp contrast to the view expressed in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the assumption that the expansion of education depended on a nation's economic position, after 1956 economists and some comparative educationists accepted that investment in education would promote economic growth everywhere. Recent comments suggest that even if such a causal relationship exists, which is doubtful, it should be analysed in specific national contexts and that economic and social development should be considered as important as economic growth.

The costs of providing schools for everyone make heavy demands on national budgets. More is now known about how money is raised and allocated. Internationally, to estimates of per capita expenditure has been added information about public expenditure on education as a percentage of gross national (or domestic) product (GNP). Economists like Michel Debeauvais are hopeful that just as GNPs or GDPs can be established and compared internationally, so statistical indicators of total national educational provision would allow meaningful comparisons to be made about the 'wealth' of national educational systems.21

The task of collecting relevant financial data on an international scale is beyond the resources of individual scholars. Fortunately the statistics collected by Unesco and OECD make macro-comparisons of the amounts spent on education as a proportion of GNP possible. Differences need to be explained and case-studies, like that of Harold Noah on Soviet schools,22 are needed if we are to know precisely how money is raised and allocated and how the burden is shared. There is ample evidence to show, of course, that the recipients of additional or certain kinds of education benefit economically.

The ways in which the running and capital costs of education are raised have been classified. Historically, property taxes have been important sources of revenue. Income and sales taxes may be raised nationally, regionally and locally. In some countries taxes are raised specifically to support the schools, in other countries the educational budget is allocated from general taxation. The total amounts of revenue from private tuition fees and from international contributions should be included in estimates of the money spent on education. These figures are less easily calculated, but without them financial pictures may be distorted. As costs rise phenomenally, public authorities are looking carefully at how money is spent, with the intention of increasing the financial efficiency of national systems.

The sources of revenue are well described in the first phase of a project by the OECD's Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI) on educational financing.23 In ten country studies, presented in three volumes, a brief history is given of how primary education is financed and present policy objectives are listed. The analysis is designed to show how financial arrangements help to achieve objectives. Since concern is to equalize provision, the processes of allocation are examined. Frequently a proportion of the money made available from national sources is in the form of earmarked grants. On the other hand block grants, used at the discretion of the local authorities, allow for a degree of local participation in decision making. Fairly general information permits regional differences to be assessed and expenditures on schools in rural areas, small towns and large cities to be compared.

The wealth of information now available makes the dilemma clear: How can equality and freedom be reconciled in financial terms? The pressure to equalize provision within nation states and between them requires that considerable sums are raised nationally and internationally. National involvement in the allocation of funds may strengthen national or federal control and may inhibit greater local participation in the formulation and adoption of policy. Since participation is now an 'in' word, the dilemma, which has been discussed in comparative education literature, is obvious and will not be easily resolved.24 It is a problem which comparative insights might help to solve.


International interest in curricula is a fairly recent innovation. Interest grew out of successful attempts to expand education and equalize access to school systems. The explosion of knowledge has created major problems of selecting content. Curriculum ideas and practices are, however, extremely difficult to change.

Curricula at the three levels of education can be described and the government submissions to the IBE in Geneva (on which the International Year Books of Education are based) give comprehensive accounts of the subjects taught in schools.25 Superficially, a much clearer picture can be gained for those countries where curricula are laid down in national or regional legislation, decrees or regulations. It is less easy to obtain a clear overall picture of the content of education for countries in which, within national theoretical and practical constraints, teachers in individual schools are largely responsible for deciding what should be taught and to whom.

The problems of introducing curriculum reforms can best be analysed through comparative education research. One aspect of such analysis is the classification of major curricular theories. In the IBE bulletin on 'Curriculum Innovation at the Second Level of Education' a distinction is drawn between essentialist, encyclopedic, pragmatic and polytechnical curriculum theories.26 Essentialist theory goes back in Europe to the quadrivium and trivium and later to the seven liberal arts. Encyclopedic theory emerged in the work of Comenius and the eighteenth-century French reformers. Pragmatic theory was one outcome of the debates which took place in the United States during the late nineteenth century.

Essentialist theory suggests that a sound general and liberal education can be provided through a few carefully selected, i.e. essential, subjects. Encyclopedism insists that all human knowledge should be included in school curricula. Central to pragmatic curriculum theory is the assertion that the content of education should be based on the knowledge young people need if they are to solve intelligently and collectively the problems they face and are likely to face as young adults. Polytechnical theory is a twentieth-century Soviet version of earlier proposals.27 It stresses the upbringing of children in a socialist society. Like encyclopedism it maintains that the whole socio-economic and historical experience of mankind should be included in school curricula. As in the case of American theory polytechnicalism asserts that a sound general education should be provided through vocational activities.

Historically each theory has its national advocates. Cross-national transfer is difficult because teachers are unwilling or unable to accept new theories and more often than not are unable to translate into practice the new curriculum theory they are prepared to adopt. Particularly serious is a situation where technical assistants attempt to transfer curriculum theories known to them. In recently independent countries the advocates of different theories compete. Approaches to the content of education inevitably change little in practice.

The same may be said about teaching methods. They are difficult to describe and classify in spite of the fact that they are legitimized by aims and epistemological theories. Where the principal aim of education is to pass on the accumulated wisdom of one generation to the next, teaching methods are likely to be didactic and rely heavily on carefully selected textbook and documentary sources. If aims are child centred, teachers should encourage pupils to 'learn by doing' or from 'experience' in less structured situations. Social centred aims should encourage teachers to socialize their pupils into an understanding and appreciation of work. In fact comparative observation confirms that throughout the world teaching methods are very similar and have not changed much except in a few experimental schools.

On the other hand, standards of achievement have been compared and methods of evaluating such achievement can be classified. Among the most common forms of assessment are examinations which demand written answers to unseen questions; oral examinations; practical examinations; the evaluation of course work; and objective type tests. In terms of the emphasis placed on each type of assessment, there are major national differences which make cross-national tests of achievement difficult to devise.

Major comparative tests of achievement have, however, been carried out over the last twenty-five years by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA).28 A well-financed non-governmental organization, it set out, after some initial work at the Unesco Institute for Education in Hamburg, to measure and compare achievements in mathematics. The reasons for choosing mathematics in the first instance were that the subject was regarded as having a universally understood world language, also it was thought achievement in mathematics would be some measure of the economic productivity of national societies. Subsequent studies compared achievements in civics, science and other subjects. The research was not policy orientated. Flawed though the approach is, the amount of data collected is impressive. Correlations between achievement measured on internationally valid tests and teaching methods, type of school and a number of socio-economic variables, while interesting, cannot easily be interpreted in national policy terms. These studies rely heavily on psychometric techniques and undoubtedly set a new trend in empirical comparative education research.

Paradigm shifts

Since 1945 the assumptions on which the IEA research are based have been increasingly questioned. First, the paradigm incorporating European traditions of positivism and induction was challenged by some philosophers of the natural sciences. Influenced by this movement a small number of comparative educationists began to search for new paradigms. Then, stimulated by Alvin Gouldner's The Coming Crisis of Western Sociology, positivism came more and more under attack. Some paradigm innovations have been proposed which involve a rejection not only of the assumptions of philosopher-historians like Kandel, Hans and Schneider but those of empirical social scientists, among them C.A. Anderson, Torsten Husén and Michel Debeauvais.

Of the post-1945 comparativists, no one set out more precisely than George Bereday a model for comparative education research based on induction as the method of scientific inquiry. He made explicit the assumptions of the pioneers and the modern social scientists. His claim that comparative educationists should be taught to observe facts objectively suggests that any comparative inquiry should start with the collection and classification of observable facts. Knowledge of the language and visits to the country are prerequisites for Bereday. Subsequent steps in his method involve juxtaposing data, discovering the antecedent, historical, philosophical, economic, psychological, political, anthropological and sociological 'causes' of educational events, and simultaneous comparison to induce generalizations about education. These steps exemplify accurately J. S. Mill's detailed account of scientific method.29

The method influences the research of Kandel who looked for administrative causes; Hans who emphasized historical factors; Schneider who looked for Triebkräfte and Lauwerys who constantly spoke about the determinants of educational policies. Margaret Scotford Archer's book The Social Origins of Educational Systems is within this tradition.30

Socialist comparative educationists, beginning with N. K. Krupskaya, have worked within the same European framework, although they are primarily concerned with economic factors. A number of writers have discussed methodology - notably H. Tchakarov from Bulgaria, W. Kienitz from the German Democratic Republic, T. Wiloch from Poland and M. A. Skololova, E. N. Kuzmina and M. L. Rodionov from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.31 For the most part, within a positivist framework, Marxist comparative educationists accept a direct relation between the progress of societies from capitalism to socialism and the development of educational systems. Much of their work reflects the sharp distinctions they draw between education in socialist and capitalist countries.

Western comparative educationists continue to accept well-known theories of reality, causation, the nature of knowledge, and political and sociological theories about the nature of society. Pure inductionism as the method of science has been abandoned to some extent. The general but modified position adopted by many Western comparativists was well summed up in the report of a conference held at the Unesco Institute for Education in Hamburg on Relevant Methods in Comparative Education by Harold Noah, who said that 'A comparative study is essentially an attempt as far as possible to replace the names of systems (countries) by the names of concepts (variables).'32

Innovations have been proposed. A breakthrough was made by Robert King Hall of Teachers College, Columbia University, when under his inspiration the 'problem-solving approach' provided the methodological framework for the study of problems brought about by technological innovation in The World Year Book of Education 1954 (Education and Technological Development) prepared jointly by Teachers College and the University of London Institute of Education. Since then, using John Dewey's method of reflective thinking and Karl Popper's critical method exemplified in The Open Society and its Enemies,33 I have built on Hall's innovation. The starting-point of inquiry in my method is a common problem or problems. Alternative solutions (which are very evident in comparative perspective) are then analysed in depth in particular national contexts. The taxonomy of specific socio-economic and political conditions which should be taken into account in order to anticipate the success or failure of a policy is drawn from Popper's critical conventionalism (dualism). In my paradigm the explanation of events is not found in their antecedent 'causes' but in our ability to predict events from hypothetical statements (proposed solutions) under stated societal circumstances. Few comparative educationists have wholeheartedly accepted this approach in spite of the many references made to it in Western and socialist textbooks and articles, perhaps because so few scholars in the field were trained in the natural sciences. Nevertheless in a less technical way than I would wish, the starting-point of much recent research is a perceived educational or societal problem.

Disenchantment among sociologists with positivism led to a revival of interest among them in the Frankfurt school. Alternatives to positivism have been promoted vigorously by neo-Marxists. Among the major comparative educationists only Edmund J. King, Martin Carnoy and R. F. Arnove seem to have embraced some features of the approaches suggested.34 The rejection of method is radical; the emphasis on the ecology of national situations into which technological innovations are introduced is less significant than the general theories which inform it, since such studies can be incorporated in other paradigms.

Hence methodological trends are not clear and a certain amount of chaos reigns. Paradigm shifts are infrequent, partial and reluctantly accepted by only a few scholars. Paradigms created by Plato continue to influence the work of some social scientists, while others work within alternative paradigms legitimized by Marx. Indeed, from Plato to Marx a host of theories, beliefs, models and techniques have been established. Any of several are available to comparative educationists, many of whom, like Thomas Kuhn's commonsense scientists, do substantive research without worrying about the theoretical assumptions on which it depends. Nevertheless there is greater awareness of the need to make methodological principles explicit, but it is likely that approaches based on positivism, pragmatism, relativism and neo-Marxism will compete and continue to inform research for some time to come.

Non-governmental organizations after 1945

Research is constrained by the availability of resources and the terms of reference of the organizations which promote it. As stated, comparative educationists can now use data collected by international agencies, most of which avoid ideological stances. Critical analytical studies are needed if we are to understand education better and more effectively contribute to educational planning. Individual scholars in universities are free to do whatever they like. International governmental organizations are not. Collaboration between comparative educationists is therefore a prerequisite. Not all co-operative international research, because of its sensitive nature, can be undertaken by governmental organizations.

One response to these demands was the creation of comparative education societies. The first was set up in the United States after William W. Brickman had convened several conferences in New York. Membership grew rapidly and the society's journal, Comparative Education Review, has become a major periodical in the field. A succession of editors have maintained its high standards which in style and content is rather similar to the International Review of Education started by Schneider in Munich during the 1930s and revived under the editorial direction of the Unesco Institute for Education in Hamburg.

Several other comparative education societies now flourish. At a meeting in London, distinguished comparativists from all over the world and from international organizations came together in 1961 to form the Comparative Education Society in Europe (CESE). Every attempt was made to encourage scholars throughout the world to join. A few from Eastern Europe did so - from Poland, the German Democratic Republic, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. Since the society had only individual members it was, unfortunately, not possible to bring Soviet comparative educationists into membership. The biennial conferences held by CESE on selected themes have given rise to proceedings reports which have added significantly to the literature.35

Sections of the European Society were established in the United Kingdom and the Federal Republic of Germany. These have been followed by Spanish, French-speaking, Dutch-speaking and Italian societies. A separate Canadian International and Comparative Education Society was formed by members of the original American society.36 Japan,37 the Republic of Korea,38 China, Egypt, Brazil, Colombia, Australia and Venezuela have flourishing or embryonic societies. Many of them hold conferences and publish periodicals either independently or in association with national education societies. In the early 1970s a World Council of Comparative Education Societies brought the founding societies together. The intention of some of its founders was that it should advise international organizations on research; others wanted it to be a forum for discussion. In the event its publications have been general rather than technical. Most of the publications emanating from the constituent societies have been analytical and thematic. Few are highly technical or statistical but they complement international agency reports.

Major research has been carried out by non-governmental organizations and university centres. Prior to 1940, Kandel's International Year Book, and the Year Book of Education published in London, provided a wealth of information about education in countries throughout the world. From London also Hans tried to build up statistical data about education in the British Commonwealth. During the Second World War Kandel's International Year Book ceased publication. The London Year Book of Education was revived in 1948, and has been published, with a short break, ever since. Its value lies in the analysis of selected themes which are exemplified in articles from many countries. Traditionally these volumes are free from ideological bias without the analyses being bland.

Another major international research project (apart from the IEA studies) which should be mentioned was initiated by Professor M. Hiratsuka at Kyushu University. The significance of this research, apart from the methodology employed, was that it was designed specifically to help Japanese educationists reform their system of moral education, which had been criticized by the Allies after the war, and replace it with social studies. His team of social scientists conducted attitude tests in Japan, the United Kingdom, France and the Federal Republic of Germany and made depth studies in each country of the historical origins, administrative styles and sociological influences associated with moral education. One important outcome of this research was a revised programme of moral education in Japan which incorporated democratic ideals without doing violence to Japanese traditions and feelings. Unfortunately the study has received less attention among comparative educationists than it deserves as one of the few that set out to make a real contribution to the reform of education in the country of the scholars involved.

The previously mentioned IEA research has had little or no direct effect on policy, partly because the authors of it had no educational or societal problem in mind, but principally because they failed to take into account the ethos, which according to Sadler gives to each school system its unique characteristics, in the countries investigated. The need for studies which take into account the historical origins, ethos and unique characteristics of national systems has been met in the growing number of national case-studies prepared by national organizations, international agencies and individual scholars. Such studies have a long history and have been written either by foreign observers, on the basis of legislation and personal visits, or by nationals of the country.

Among the early reports which have been rightly praised are those prepared by T. Darlington for the English Board of Education entitled 'Education in Russia'.39 The United States Office of Education has commissioned a series of studies on national systems of education. Experts in the Research Institute of the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences in Moscow concentrate on specific national systems. Zoya Malkova is an authority on education in the United States.40 Vera Lapchinskaya conducts research on education in England. M. A. Skololova at the Lenin Pedagogical Institute compares education in socialist and capitalist countries, and immediately after the Second World War helped to re-establish schools in the German Democratic Republic.

Individual scholars have been encouraged to prepare analytical case-studies. Several publishers commission books on national systems of education and bring them together in well-known series. Some university centres have made particularly significant contributions to research in this respect. A great many research studies of education in the German Democratic Republic, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and China have been published by scholars in the Federal Republic of Germany.41 In some cases research has focused on a particular aspect of education or a particular author, for example A. S. Makarenko has been the subject of a great deal of research at the University of Marburg. Many books written by Western educationists have been published in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The problems of development in China since 1949 are increasingly topics of research by Chinese scholars and sinologists in other parts of the world. Distinctions are often made between schooling in industrialized and economically developing countries. Significant trends can be recognized in the growing literature about developing and Third World countries. They are written either by local authors or foreign experts and are clearly based on a great deal more information than was available to nineteenth-century authors, who relied heavily upon the observations they were able to make on extended visits to these countries. Books written from a comparative viewpoint on such countries as Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, France, Sweden and Denmark have swelled the literature.

Equally important is the growth in comparative accounts of education in Muslim countries. The historical development of Muslim education had been well documented. More recently studies have been prepared on education in Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan, Indonesia and the West and North African countries. Scholarly discussions on the extent to which the principles of Islam can be reconciled with European science have appeared in print. Journals on Muslim education keep readers up to date. These developments constitute a most significant trend in comparative education.

Case-studies therefore have a place in comparative education. Whether written by individuals or prepared for national or international organizations, they complement in a useful way the statistical and documentary evidence which has been accumulated in recent years.

Practical reform

In view of developments in comparative education, it is sad that educational planning has made so little progress. By their terms of reference it is not possible for international agencies to do more than suggest to member states the principles in the light of which reforms could be initiated. Too often these principles are derived from ideologies rather than from carefully considered data and analyses. International and regional forums such as Unesco, the Council of Europe, the Organization of American States and the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) have made it possible for governments to compare notes and formulate most general aims. Undoubtedly alternative policies are presented but practical arguments are unlikely to modify ideological positions.

In practice educational plans are implemented in many developing countries by uncritically transferring educational practices. Comparative arguments are sometimes used to persuade opponents that alternative policies should be adopted. For the most part technical assistants appointed on contract with the approval of host governments, either by an international organization or a friendly national government, are the agents of the planned development of education. Their task is to train counterparts in the host country who can ensure the successful survival of an innovation usually introduced from abroad. These planners may or may not be involved in the formulation of policy - that is the task of consultants who make brief visits to host countries and recommend policies to which they are already committed. Usually the technical assistants who follow them accept the same policy. The assumption that they are ideologically neutral because they have been appointed by Unesco, for example, is mistaken. Certainly they are less committed to a particular point of view than the early missionaries and colonial civil servants, who were convinced of the benefits they were bringing to the countries they colonized. The justifiable suspicion that they were interested in exporting Christian ideas and strengthening the authority of the colonial powers is supported by historical evidence. Whatever their intentions, the British missionaries and colonial officers set up schools modelled on those they knew best, the schools of their own country. Similarly the French, Italians, Belgians and Dutch created systems of education which replicated their own. One advantage was that colonial administrators frequently spent their professional lives working in the system they helped to create, thus providing the continuity needed if schools are to flourish.

Colonialism is no longer acceptable, but some of the unintended consequences of technical assistance are worth mentioning. The evident goodwill associated with the growth in technical assistance, the creation of Unesco's International Institute for Educational Planning and the enlargement of a body of expatriate educational consultants and planners who move from one country to another, has not solved the problem of planning the development of educational systems. It is abundantly clear, for example, that modern technical assistants, unless they have a sound background in comparative education and understand the ethos of the countries they visit, can do no more than propose innovations based on their own system or on general discussions in international forums. Comparative education research makes clear that the success or failure of an educational innovation depends very much on the national circumstances into which it is introduced. Neo-colonial solutions and panaceas are not likely to work but they are all too evident in modern planning. An emerging trend is to convene meetings of experts to discuss specific problems and policies rather than the general aims of education.

The terms of reference of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and its Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI), for example, show the direction in which comparative research should move to contribute to the reform of education. Certainly, before CERI was set up, too much emphasis was placed by OECD on outdated methods of research and the role education could play in promoting economic growth. CERI made possible more broadly based research into innovation and educational policies designed to solve practical and pressing problems. A range of them have been examined comparatively, including compulsory education, innovation strategies, curricula in the 1980s, strategies of compensation, higher education, secondary education, social background and education, and equal opportunities. Each represents problem areas to which alternative solutions may be offered. The resulting policy studies are an explicit recognition that comparative education research should be concerned with practical problems and policies as required by the problem-solving approach.42

Typical techniques include, on the advice of member governments, the formulation by the secretariat of pressing problems. A group of experts is then called together to analyse the dimensions of the problems before each of them undertakes field-work in various countries. Their reports are finalized into a coherent and policy orientated document. In some reports less attention is given to prescribed general solutions than to the presentation of policy alternatives. The research which gave rise to reports on innovation strategies and to proposals for short cycle higher education is an example of the successful application of these techniques.

The pilot study carried out by OECD in Sweden introduced techniques designed to persuade national governments to look carefully at practices and to reconsider them. OECD appointed an examining team which visited Sweden to observe and discuss Swedish educational policies and practices and their planning techniques. The visit coincided with the publication of a national report on education which served as a reference point for discussion. A Confrontation Review by the OECD committee took place later. The object of the exercise was for foreign experts to challenge host country assumptions and to stimulate educationists to review policies with the intention of introducing change. This innovative study has been followed by a considerable number of national policy reviews. The procedures represent a new development in the practical application of comparative education to the planned reform of education.

Compared with previous approaches the comparative analysis of problems and policies has become more sophisticated. Broad themes inform research. Colonialism, for example, is outmoded, but neocolonialism continues to influence policies in recently independent countries and debtor nations in ways discussed above. Under new circumstances several issues now occupy the attention of comparative educationists. The movements of people throughout the world has created multi-cultural societies in which it is difficult to say what ethos informs them. The problems of policy in such countries are intractable. Comparative insights into the cultures of ethnic groups living in these societies are needed if realistic policies are to be formulated. In terms of international relations the problems thrown up by dependency theory are equally pressing. Originally designed to explain economic underdevelopment, dependency theory has received considerable attention from comparative educationists who want to identify and remove the 'causes' of educational underdevelopment. Dependency and interdependency was the theme of the Fifth World Congress of Comparative Education Societies (WCCES) held in Paris in July 1984. It was attended, as was a similar conference in London in 1977, by scholars from more than forty countries. In so far as the theory points to the dangers of transferring educational practices from wealthy (and donor) countries to poorer (and recipient) countries, comparative education has come full circle. The warnings of the nineteenth-century pioneers about the dangers of uncritical educational transfer have, after a period of euphoria, at last been heeded by economists and planners with a less than adequate background in the historical origins of comparative education.

The confidence of educational planners, some of whom are comparative educationists, in panaceas to societal problems is ebbing fast. Future progress in the area of educational planning will depend to a large extent on the critical contribution made to policy discussions by well-qualified comparativists working inside international organizations and in universities. Research will have to be undertaken on the basis of co-operation. One of the most hopeful trends in the field is the development of organizations and forms of collaboration which makes this ideal a practical possibility. In conclusion it may be said that present trends in comparative education reflect earlier traditions and include novel features. Aims remain the same in that comparative educationists wish to understand their own systems better, and contribute to the reform of education not on the basis of whims and prejudices but in the light of carefully collected data and an analysis of the problems facing national governments.

Considerable advances have been made in the collection and classification of data. International agencies have played a major role. We can now compare national aims and policies and see statistically how far they have been achieved. Models have been constructed to analyse the processes of policy formulation, adoption and implementation. We now have far more information on how school systems are financed and how the money raised for education is allocated. The expansion of educational provision has created curriculum problems for educationists everywhere. Programmes have to be devised to meet the needs of very gifted children, youngsters of normal ability and pupils who have special needs. The explosion of knowledge has made it necessary to work out principles of selecting knowledge for inclusion in curricula. Comparative educationists are not only aiming to describe and compare the content of education in national systems but to analyse it in the light of nation-specific theories.

Policy everywhere is to ensure that all teachers are trained and receive their training in institutions of higher education. Admission policies, the content of teacher training courses, certification procedures and the emergence of a teaching profession comparable to other professions now fall within the scope of comparative analysis. Of particular interest is the explosion of comparative research in the field of university and higher education. Until 1960 relatively little work had been carried out on university policies and practices, principally because academics were determined to retain their autonomy and freedom. Since then, comparativists have engaged in research about every aspect of higher education, paying particular attention to the extent to which access to higher education has been equalized and systems of administration have responded to the admission of large numbers of students whose concept of university life differs markedly from previously held views.

A significant trend in comparative education is represented by deliberate attempts to consider problems and issues of policy in depth and in comparative perspective. Techniques bringing experts together for this purpose have been developed. Educational transfers, very evident in colonial territories and frequently proposed by the first generation of technical assistants, are no longer accepted uncritically by comparative educationists. In this respect, planners have become more cautious and are less prepared than before to propose universal panaceas to perceived social and educational problems.

Finally, advances in the collection and classification of data have been accompanied by vigorous debates about appropriate methods of research. Those based on positivism and induction are now in competition with alternative approaches. Of these, the 'problem-solving approach' is gaining adherents and neo-Marxist paradigms are receiving more attention. The consensus about method which prevailed until about 1960 no longer exists. Some comparative educationists initiated critical discussion about the methodological foundations on which the study of comparative education was built. They anticipated debates which subsequently took place among sociologists and economists. The apparent chaos which now reigns about method in comparative education is replicated in the other social sciences. It sometimes disguises the very solid achievements which have been made as a result of the establishment of international organizations and growth, in centres such as London, Bochum, Frankfurt, New York, Ann Arbor, Moscow and elsewhere, in the number of students completing doctoral research theses in comparative education.

Within diversity there is unity. Comparative educationists are committed to the provision of education as a human right in ways that will benefit society. Their agreed task is to see how these aims can be achieved.

The future of comparative education is secure. Trends of development are apparent. To participate in these developments is an exciting prospect.


1. See Brian Holmes, 'Los precursores de la educación comparada, Revista de Educación, No. 260, April 1979.

2. M. A. Jullien de Paris, L'esquisse et vue préliminaire d'un ouvrage sur l'éducation comparée, No. 243, Geneva, IBE, 1962.

3. Pedro Rossello, The Forerunners of the International Bureau of Education, Geneva, IBE, 1943; Unesco, The International Bureau of Education in the Service of Education Development, Paris, Unesco, 1979.

4. M. E. Sadler, 'The Unrest in Secondary Education and Elsewhere', Board of Education Special Reports on Education Subjects, Vol. 9: Education in Germany, p. 44, London, HMSO, 1902.

5. See Brian Holmes, 'Paradigm Shifts in Comparative Education', Comparative Education Review, Vol. 28, No. 4, November 1984, pp. 584-604.

6. W. T. Harris, Annual Report of the Commissioner of Education for the Year 1888-89, Washington, D.C., 1891.

7. Brian Holmes and Saul B. Robinsohn, Relevant Data in Comparative Education, Hamburg Unesco Institute for Education, 1963.

8. Unesco, World Survey of Education, Vols. 1-5, London, Unesco/Evans Bros., 1954-71.

9. Unesco, 'Education 1955-1960', International Guide to Educational Documentation, Paris, Unesco, 1963.

10. Unesco, Statistical Year Book and Statistical Digest, Paris, Unesco.

11. International System of Classifying Education (ISCED), Paris, Unesco, 1975 (abridged version). See also Leo Goldstone, 'An International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED)', Prospects, Vol. III, No. 3, 1973, pp. 390-7.

12. Unesco/IBE, Education Thesaurus, Paris, Unesco, 1973.

13. Unesco/IBE, International Guide to Education Systems (prepared by Brian Holmes), Paris, Unesco, 1979.

14. See Victor Cousin, Report on the State of Public Instruction in Prussia (translated by Sarah Austin), London, Effingham Wilson, 1836; Report on the State of Education in Holland (translated by L. Horner), London, John Murray, 1838; Board of Education, Massachusetts, Seventh Annual Report of the Board of Education, Boston, Mass., Dalton and Wentworth, 1844; Henry Barnard, National Education Systems, Institutions and Statistics of Public Instruction in Different Countries, New York, Stuger, 1872.

15. See Brian Holmes, Comparative Education: Some Considerations of Method, Chapter 6, London, Allen & Unwin, 1981.

16. Unesco/IBE, International Yearbook of Education, Vol. XXXII - 1980, Paris, Unesco, 1980; IBE/Unesco, Recommendations 1934-1960, Geneva, IBE, 1962.

17. Isaac L. Kandel, Comparative Education, Boston, Mass., Houghton Mifflin, 1933; The New Era in Education, London, Harrap, 1955.

18. See particularly the article by Talcott Parsons in Andrew W. Halpin (ed.), Administrative Theory in Education, Chicago, Midwest Administration Center, University of Chicago, 1958.

19. R. King Hall and J. A. Lauwerys (eds.), The Year Book of Education 1956: Economics and Education, London, Evans, 1956.

20. Friedrich Edding, Internationale Tendenzen in der Entwicklung der Ausgaben für Schulen und Hochschulen, Kiel, Universität Kiel, 1958; Ökonomie des Bildungswesens, Freiburg, Rombach, 1963.

21. Michel Debeauvais, 'The Role of International Organisations in the Evolution of Applied Comparative Education', Diversity and Unity in Education, London, Allen & Unwin, 1980.

22. Harold Noah, Financing Soviet Schools, New York, Teachers College Press, 1966. See also for example J. Hallak, The Analysis of Education Costs and Expenditure, Unesco/IIEP, 1980; Financing and Educational Policy in Sri Lanka, Unesco/IIEP, 1972.

23. CERI, Educational Financing and Policy Goals for Primary Schools: Country Report. Vol. I: Australia, Canada, Germany; Vol. II: United Kingdom, United States, Yugoslavia; Vol. III: Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Italy, Paris, OECD, 1979.

24. Brian Holmes (ed.), Equality and Freedom in Education, A Comparative Study, London, Allen & Unwin, 1985.

25. Unesco/IBE, International Yearbook of Education, op. cit. Detailed submissions are held at IBE, Geneva. See also J. Cameron, R. Cowen, B. Holmes, P. Hurst, M. McLean, International Handbook of Education Systems, Vols. I, II, III, Chichester, Wiley, 1983,1984.

26. Unesco/IBE, 'Curriculum Innovation at the Second Level of Education', Educational Documentation and Information, Bulletin of the International Bureau of Education, 48th year, No. 190, 1st quarter, 1974.

27. S. G. Shapovalenko (et al.), Polytechnical Education in the USSR, Paris, Unesco, 1963. See also Margrete S. Klein, 'The Challenge of Communist Education', East European Mimeographs, New York, Boulder, Columbia University Press, 1980.

28. Torsten Husén, International Study of Achievement in Mathematics: A Comparison of Twelve Countries, New York, Wiley, 1967; International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, 1970, Stockholm, IEA/Wenner-Gren Center, 1970.

29. J. S. Mill, A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive (8th ed.), London, Longman, 1970.

30. Margaret Scotford Archer, The Social Origins of Educational Systems, London, Sage, 1979.

31. See M. S. Bernstein and M. Pschelowa, 'N. K. Krupskaya als Begründerin der Marxistischen Vergleichenden Pädagogik', Vergleichenden Pädagogik, Heft 4, 1967. Krupskaya's ideas on the importance of comparative education and her views on relations between education and society are presented. She is regarded as a founder of Marxist comparative education. H. Tchakarov, 'Methodologische Probleme der Vergleichenden Pädagogik', Vergleichenden Pädagogik, Heft 1-2, 1966, presents an excellent analysis of Marxist comparative education. N. Tchakarov, Problems in Comparative Education, Sofia, 1969. M. A. Skololova, E. N. Kuzmina and M. L. Rodionov, Comparative Education, Moscow Publishing House, 1978. Werner Kienitz, Rudolf Beyer and Margaret Riess, in 'Über die Rolle der Vergleichenden Pädagogischen Zentralinstituts', Vergleichenden Pädagogik, Heft 1-4, 1969, give an account of the development of comparative education in the German Central Institute since it was founded in 1949 and show how greater stress is placed on experiences in the USSR.

32. Reginald Edwards, Brian Holmes, John van de Graaff, Relevant Methods in Comparative Education, p. 114, Hamburg, Unesco Institute for Education, 1973.

33. K. R. Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies (5th ed.), London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1966; Brian Holmes, Comparative Education: Some Considerations of Method, op. cit.

34. See Edmund J. King et al., Post Compulsory Education, Vols. 1 and 2, London, Sage, 1974, 1975. He is regarded by E. H. Epstein as a neo-relativist. Martin Carnoy (Education as Cultural Imperialism, New York, McKay, 1974) and R. F. Arnove are regarded as neo-Marxist. For a discussion of these issues see Comparative Education Review, Vol. 27, No. 1, February 1983.

35. Conference Proceedings have been published after every conference since 1963. Short titles include Comparative Education Research (1963), General Education (1965), The University (1967), Curriculum Development (1969), Teacher Education (1971), Recurrent Education (1973), School and Community (1975), Unity and Diversity (1977, 1983).

36. The Canadian International and Comparative Education Society publishes its own journal.

37. Major comparative research is called for by the National Institute for Educational Research, The Japanese Society has a large membership.

38. East West Education is a comparative education volume published by the East West Education Research Institute in the Republic of Korea.

39. The Darlington Report for the English Board of Education, 'Education in Russia', Special Reports on Educational Subjects, Vol. 23, London, HMSO, 1909.

40. Z. A. Malkova and H. G. Hofmann (eds.), Educational Policy of the Capitalist States, Moscow, Pädagogika Publishing House, 1983.

41. Studies have been made in Bochum and Frankfurt, many of them on education in the German Democratic Republic and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, under the leadership of Professor W. Mitter and Professor O. Anweiler respectively. A series of Bibliographische Mitteilungen published by the Institut für Pädagogik Arbeitstelle für vergleichende Bildungsforschung, Ruhr-Universität, Bochum, lists important publications including those prepared in Bochum. Equally useful are the Mitteilungen und Nachrichten and vergleichenden Bildungsforschung of the Abteilung Allgemeine und Vergleichende Erziehungswissenschaft of the German Institute for International Educational Research. See also the volumes prepared in Marburg, Marburger Beiträge zur Vergleichenden Erziehungswissenschaft und Bildungsforschung.

42. See titles in the OECD/CERI catalogue which include Equal Educational Opportunity; Alternative Educational Futures in the United States and in Europe (1972); Social Background and Educational Career (1972); Development of Secondary Education (1969); Policies for Higher Education (1974).

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