Informed Policy-Making: The Contribution of Comparative Research in Education
AbstractThe report, Mind the gap: Educational inequalities across EU regions (2012), notes that there is considerable variation in the nature, scale and effects of educational inequalities across EU regions (p.11.). The implication of this disparity is that balanced regional development and economic growth is hindered (p.14.), inequality between regions is compounded (p.149.), and the disparity causes a brain drain towards more advantaged regions (p.11.). Prior to this module I would have considered this statement as a factual statement of a trend in education. I would not have considered the considerable complexity in comparing education inter-regionally and internationally. This module has made me aware of strengths and weaknesses of comparative research in education resulting in comparative educational data. In general, the strengths of comparisons include that they can flout hierarchies and question knowledge (Radhakrishnan, 2009, passim) and that they can make research more universal (Zima, 2011, p.16). These strengths are, however, prone to turn into weaknesses: Comparative research in education can suggest policies and practice that can address the imbalances and inequalities in education. However, comparative research in education has weaknesses. These include the “… uncritical transfer of policy and practice” (Crossley, 1999, p.251.), insensitivity to social situatedness (Bruner 1996), increasing emphasis on evidence based research (Goodson 1997 in Crossley, 1999, p.254.), politically inspired narrow interpretation of international league tables, undue reliance on “.. applied policy orientated studies” (Crossley 1998), and the dominance of un-contextualised action orientated perspectives dictated by outcome orientated government policy (Higgens and Rwanyange, 2005, p.8.). Crossley (1999) notes that “highly charged” debates among governmental agencies, policy-makers, funders, practioners, academics and other stakeholders call for educational research “… to be more cumulative and authoritative” (p.249.). This essay will discuss comparative research in education with particular reference to adult learning in a European context. Drawing on module readings and wider literature the essay will suggest the importance of robust comparative research in education to ensure that the European ideal to “… make war unthinkable and reinforce democracy”3 is supported through adult learning. In a time of growing Euro-scepticism, the rise of the far right, austerity following financial collapse, the dogged nature of disadvantage that retains a high proportion of the European population in poverty and unemployment, and the relative economic and social positioning of new EU member states, the lessons arising from comparative research in education are increasingly relevant. Besatie and Broc (1990) quoted in Crossley (1999, p.254.) note that “… the health of policy making in an interdependent world must depend in part on the health of comparative education research in the broadest sense”. This essay, with a critique of the post-modern perspective on tools of international assessment, will discuss the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) and the rationale for REGIONAL, a two year 7 partner Grundtvig Lifelong Learning Project. The REGIONAL project focuses on developing key toolkit for policy makers in adult learning, because, as Watson notes there is a growing criticism that “… too much educational research is of little value for policy makers” (2001 p.25.). This essay will discuss a theoretical context that will underpin the 22 month European Commission funded project that seeks to compare how adult learning policy is prepared in six European countries in response to the identified disparity in adult learning provision.
Kenny, Michael (2014) Informed Policy-Making: The Contribution of Comparative Research in Education. Quaderni di economia del lavoro, 102. ISSN 0390-105X