The Theme of Educational Transfer Assignment

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One of the reasons we have historically looked elsewhere to learn about schooling is to borrow policies and practices for our local contexts. But can practices and policies in other places really be imported into new contexts with similar results? The readings this week consider problems with borrowing and lending, and the question of “translation" in this process.

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Research in Comparative and International Education, Vol. 1, No. 1, 2006 doi: 10.2304/rcie.2006.1.1.2 The Theme of Educational Transfer in Comparative Education: a view over time JASON BEECH Universidad de San Andrés, Argentina ABSTRACT This article analyses notions of ‘transfer’ in the literature of comparative education, searching for continuities and discontinuities in the way that the process of educational transfer has been construed. The analysis shows that the theme of transfer has been fundamental in comparative education from the early nineteenth century until the present day. Although some of the questions addressed in the field since its origins are still crucial today, it is suggested in the final part of the study that these problems should now be addressed in a world in which educational space has become more complex, as supra-national and sub-national actors become increasingly important in the production and reproduction of specialised knowledge about education. In the field of comparative education ‘foreign influences’ have been studied through the notion of ‘educational transfer’. This has been a fundamental theme in comparative education, to the point that Cowen (2002) identifies ‘transfer’ as one of the unit ideas of the field. Overall, the concept of ‘educational transfer’ can be defined as the movement of educational ideas, institutions or practices across international borders. This article offers an analysis of the mainstream literature in comparative education, identifying the key changes over time in the way in which processes of educational transfer were understood. It will be argued that some continuities can be traced in the way that the process of educational transfer has been understood in the comparative education literature. Although different scholars had different views about educational transfer, overall they followed an interpretation of this process in which educational transfer was construed as responding to the following pattern: (1) a local problem was identified; (2) solutions were sought in foreign educational systems; and (3) a ‘tested’ institution or educational practice (that had worked or was believed to have worked) was adapted to the new context and then implemented. These processes occurred in a chronological order as described above. Educational Transfer in the Literature of Comparative Education Interpretations of the process of educational transfer can be traced back to the early nineteenth century, when Jullien de Paris (1775-1848) started with efforts to create a ‘science’ of education. Although the theme of transfer was mostly implicit in his writings, it was one of the major concerns within Jullien’s work. From Jullien’s point of view, education was an independent ‘aspect’ of social reality that could be analysed separately from its socio-historical contexts. For example, when establishing his ‘series of questions on comparative education’ (Fraser, 1964, p. 50), no explicit consideration was given to the socio-historical context of education. Since education – in Jullien’s view – was independent from its context, then educational ‘improvements [were] capable of being transported from one country to another’ (Fraser, 1964, p. 37). Jullien saw educational transfer as a desirable process, and this was the ultimate goal of his Plan. He believed that educational comparisons would ‘give birth to the idea of borrowing from one another what ... is good and useful’ (Fraser, 1964, p. 46). 2 Educational Transfer in Comparative Education Consequently, Jullien interpreted the ‘faithful imitations’ of the Ecole Polytechnique of Paris in Russia and Austria, and the propagation of the English method of elementary teaching as being positive signs (Fraser, 1964, p. 36). Furthermore, Jullien thought that general educational principles could be deduced and applied to improve education in most contexts (Fraser, 1964, p. 37). He saw the ‘regeneration and perfection of public education’ as a ‘universal tendency towards a similar goal’ (Fraser, 1964, p. 36). He believed that once a universal ideal of education was established from a series of ‘comparative tables’, it was possible to use this model to ‘judge with ease’ the educational deficiencies of each country, and then to deduce the improvements that could be transferred from other countries to ‘solve’ these deviations from the ideal model (Fraser, 1964, p. 37). Finally, as has been mentioned, Jullien wished to create a science of (comparative) education. The new science would have a practical aim: ‘to procure prompt and sure means for regenerating and improving private and public education, in all conditions of society’ (Fraser, 1964, p. 37). The science of education needed to be based on facts and observations that would permit the deduction of ‘certain principles, determined rules, so that education might become almost nearly a positive science’ (Fraser, 1964, p. 40). Thus, Jullien envisaged comparative education as a practical, positive science. Jullien operated within the logic of the Enlightenment – in the sense of a ‘unitary idea of history and of the subject’ (Lyotard, 1984, p. 72), and so did Victor Cousin some years later. However, rather than trying to establish a set of general educational principles that could be applied in most contexts to improve education – as in Jullien’s work – Cousin was concerned with using foreign examples for the development and ‘improvement’ of the system of education in France. In this, Cousin represented the spirit of his times more than Jullien (whose search for general educational principles would only be resumed with the creation of international agencies). The aim of improving national educational systems dominated comparative studies and educational transfer during the nineteenth century, as exemplified by the works of administrators such as Horace Mann, John Griscom and William T. Harris from the USA, Matthew Arnold and J.P. Kay-Shuttleworth from England, and Leo N. Tolstoy from Russia, amongst many others (Noah & Eckstein, 1969). These men (sic) were in most cases appointed by their governments to develop their own systems of education (Holmes, 1981). Following linear notions of progress, these travellers and reformers believed in the evolution of educational systems. Thus, they believed that by borrowing from abroad they could avoid some of the ‘mistakes’ made by other countries in their linear progress towards an ideal educational system. For example, after his tour through some selected European countries, Horace Mann, in his Report to the Board of Education of the State of Massachusetts, noted: if we are wise enough to learn from the experience of others, rather than await the infliction consequent upon our own errors, we may yet escape ... those calamities under which some other communities are now suffering. On the other hand, ... there are many things abroad which we, at home, should do well to imitate; things, some of which are here, as yet, mere matters of speculation and theory, but which, there have long been in operation, and are now producing a harvest of rich and abundant blessings. (Cited in Noah & Eckstein, 1969, pp. 17-18) The belief in the linear progress of educational systems was also clear in the work of French statistician P.E. Levasseur. One of his contributions to comparative education in the 1880s consisted of a series of comparative statistical tables which allowed him to rank countries according to certain educational criteria (Noah & Eckstein, 1969). His conclusion was that although individual countries had made ‘considerable advances’, the positions in the ranking had remained almost unchanged during two decades: ‘it is certain that the Scandinavian states are at the head, that Germany and Switzerland follow closely; and that the Low Countries, France and Belgium come in third place’ (Levasseur, cited in Noah & Eckstein, 1969, p. 44). A similar analysis was offered by Kay-Shuttleworth who, after taking charge of elementary education in England, travelled widely throughout Europe and argued that, with the exception of England, Protestant countries were more advanced in their provision of education than Catholic countries (Spolton, 1968). Much of the work of these men was used in their own countries for educational reform. Cousin’s Report on the State of Public Instruction in Prussia, for example, ended with a plea for educational transfer to take place: ‘Such are the most general causes of the prosperity of primary 3 Jason Beech instruction in Prussia … May causes so simple and so prolific be speedily naturalized in our beloved country, and bring forth the same fruits!’ (Cousin, 1836, p. 327). Consequently, the Guizot Law of 1833 that established the French system of primary education was based on Cousin’s work (Noah & Eckstein, 1969). This report was also translated into English and became quite popular in the USA and England (although its influence on actual developments in these places is not so clear) (Noah & Eckstein, 1969; Holmes, 1981). Similarly, Mann’s Report cited above was very influential in Massachusetts (Holmes, 1981). However, nineteenth-century comparativists were not always in favour of educational borrowing. Some negative aspects of foreign educational systems were also noted. For example, Russian writer and educator Leo N. Tolstoy travelled to western Europe to study educational institutions and their applicability in Russia. On his return to Russia in 1862 he asserted: what historical right have we Russians to say that our schools for the people should be like European schools, when we have none? Having studied the European history of education we are convinced that we Russians cannot build up teachers’ seminars on a German model, or transfer here German methods, the English Infant School, the French lycée ... and in this way overtake Europe. (Tolstoy, cited in Hans, 1963, p. 92) Nevertheless, a linear notion of progress is still present in Tolstoy’s conclusion: ‘In consequence any imitation of European legislation on compulsory school attendance would be a step backwards and not forwards’ (Tolstoy, cited in Hans, 1963, p. 93). Similarly, Francis Wayland, President of Brown University in the USA who visited England at in the mid-nineteenth century, disapproved of the imitation of the Oxford-Cambridge model by pointing out ‘how utterly unsuited to our condition must be [these] institutions founded for the education of the medieval clergy’ (Noah & Eckstein, 1969, p. 20). Thus, the general idea of the feasibility of transfer was not denied. Rather, certain institutions or practices were not considered to be worthy of transfer. Mann, for example, noted that in his visit to Europe the learning had been twofold, ‘that of warning as well as that of example. Europe exhibits beacons to terrify, as well as lights to guide’ (Mann, 1968, p. 168). He was very critical of education in many countries of Europe (except Prussia), and took England as an example that should not be imitated in the USA (Mann, 1968). Furthermore, it was believed amongst nineteenth-century comparativists that the process of selection also included the need to adapt what was being transferred to the new context. As noted by A.D. Bache, who reported to the Trustees of Girard College for Orphans in 1839 after his visit to Europe: Differences in political and social organization, in habits and manners, require corresponding changes to adapt a system of education to the nation; and, without such modifications, success in the institutions of one country is no guarantee for the same result in those of another. (Bache, 1968, p. 124) Likewise, Mann noted that ‘if Prussia can pervert the benign influences of education to the support of arbitrary power, we surely can employ them for the support and perpetuation of republican institutions’ (Noah & Eckstein, 1969, p. 23). Cousin followed a similar position towards the need for adaptation: The true greatness of a people does not consist in borrowing nothing from others, but in borrowing everywhere what is good, and in perfecting whatever it appropriates. I am as great enemy as anyone of artificial imitations; but ... With the promptitude and justness of the French understanding, and the indestructible unity of our national character, we may assimilate all that is good in other countries without fear of ceasing to be ourselves. (Cousin, 1836, p. 293) In this way, institutions and pedagogic practices were seen as potentially neutral technologies that could be used in different contexts with very different objectives and philosophies (Noah & Eckstein, 1969). This view on the feasibility of transfer and on the practical aims of comparative education has been followed by some authors since Jullien up to the present day, as represented by books such as Trace’s What Ivan Knows that Johnny Doesn’t (1961), Rickover’s Swiss Schools and Ours: why theirs are 4 Educational Transfer in Comparative Education better (1962), the United States Department of Education’s report on Japanese Education Today (1987), and Stevenson and Stigler’s The Learning Gap: why our schools are failing and what we can learn from Japanese and Chinese education (1993). One of the most paradigmatic cases of the continuation of the kind of work carried out by Cousin, Mann and others in the contemporary period was Chubb & Moe’s A Lesson in School Reform from Great Britain (1992). Very much in the spirit of its predecessors, Chubb & Moe went to England in an ‘effort to see what the British experience has to teach’ (Chubb & Moe, 1992, p. v). After stating that the problems, the reforms and the conflicts of British and US education are ‘roughly the same’, the authors conclude with a statement that shows their implicit belief in the linear progress of educational systems: The only real difference is that Britain, owing to its parliamentary form of government, has been able to move farther and faster towards a radical overhaul of its educational system – and is far more likely to succeed. We can only hope it does, and that America can some day follow in Britain’s footsteps. (Chubb & Moe, 1992, p. 50) However, a different view to Julien’s appeared by the mid-nineteenth century with the work of Russian scholar, K.D. Ushinsky. Like Cousin, Mann and others, Ushinsky studied the systems of education of a number of European countries (which he also visited) and of the ‘North American States’ (Piskunov & Dneprov, 1975, pp. 11-13). In 1857 he published an essay ‘On National Character of Public Education’ (Ushinsky, 1975) in which he described in detail the different ‘national characters’ of education in Germany, England, France and the USA. One of the propositions that he ‘set out to prove’ with his article was that: ‘Every nation has its own particular national system of education; therefore, the borrowing by one nation of educational systems from another is impossible’ (Ushinsky, 1975, p. 205). Ushinsky also addressed explicitly the question of whether a universal model of education was feasible: But perhaps it is possible to put together a universal and perfect system by taking from each national system of education whatever is worthy of imitation? Perhaps it is possible to borrow from the Germans the richness of their scientific and philosophical development, from the English the ability to forge the power of intellect and character, from the French their ability to transmit technological knowledge ... and out of all the different facets of the same concept to create a system of education which, achieving all these aims, would in its functioning attain the highest ideal of human perfection? (Ushinsky, 1975, p. 186) His answer was negative: ‘It is impossible to so isolate education that the life surrounding it on all sides would have no influence upon it’ (Ushinsky, 1975, p. 187). A similar position emerged in English-language comparative education with the work of Michael Sadler, specifically, with Sadler’s famous lecture at the Guildford Educational Conference in 1900 (Sadler, 1979a). In this conference Sadler explicitly addressed the issue of educational transfer. The title of his lecture was: ‘How Far Can We Learn Anything of Practical Value Form the Study of Foreign Systems of Education?’ And his answer was opposite to the answer that Jullien had offered one century before. Sadler’s view of the importance of context in the shaping of educational institutions and practices was expressed in his definition of an educational system. He noted that educational systems should not be seen as ‘nothing more or less than a system of schools’ (1979a, p. 49). When studying foreign systems of education ‘we must not keep our eyes on the brick and mortar institutions, nor on the teachers and pupils only’ (1979a, p. 49). On the contrary, the fundamental task in studying foreign education was to understand what is the ‘intangible, impalpable, spiritual force’ which upholds the school system (1979a, p. 49). For example, Sadler argued that Germany’s great school system was upheld by the ‘national interest in education’ (1979a, p. 49), and that the strong public interest in organised education in the USA resulted from the belief that by means of ‘schools alone’ all those ‘alien elements’ could be brought together (1979a, p. 49). He stated that if socio-historical context was more important than actual educational institutions and practices, particular parts of an educational system could not be successfully transferred to a different context: 5 Jason Beech In studying foreign systems of Education we should not forget that the things outside the schools matter even more than the things inside the schools, and govern and interpret the things inside. We cannot wander at pleasure among the educational systems of the world, like a child strolling through a garden, and pick off a flower from one bush and some leaves from another, and then expect that if we stick what we have gathered into the soil at home, we shall have a living plant. A national system of Education is a living thing, the outcome of forgotten struggles and difficulties, and of ‘battles long ago’. (1979a, p. 49) Thus, from Sadler’s point of view, successful educational transfer (in those terms) was not possible. As he said when referring to the positive aspects that he saw in US education: ‘Imitate it in any mechanical or literal way we cannot: profit by it we can’ (Sadler, 1979b, p. 53). For example, Sadler referred in a positive tone to the foreign influences that English ‘thought and institutions’ had received from Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and, especially, from France (Sadler, 1979c). Along these lines he affirmed that ‘there are some points in foreign systems of education ... which, even if they cannot be actually reproduced here, will at any rate suggest improvements in our own practice’ (Sadler, 1979a, p. 50). However, for Sadler the most important benefit that could be obtained from studying foreign systems of education was a better understanding of one’s own educational system. He placed the possible suggestions that could result from studying foreign systems of education on a lower plane of importance (Sadler, 1979a). For Sadler, comparative education should not stress practical aims, rather, he suggested, comparative education should seek to learn by understanding foreign systems of education. For example, he proposed to send personnel of the English School Boards, principals and teachers on study trips to Switzerland in order to stimulate the ‘public interest in the welfare of our own schools’ (Sadler, 1979a, p. 50). Similarly, he suggested that more E ...
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The Theme of Educational Transfer
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The Theme of Educational Transfer
There has always been a challenge determining how knowledge or information is
transferred from one generation to the next. Comparative education is heavily influenced by
foreign influence as a method of educational transfer (BEECH, 2019). The region determines the
movement of educational ideas across generations, the process of transfer and t...

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