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International Education

International Education: More but Different, Quality of International Education Information

In the late 1970s a course on international education at the University of Chicago included a series of readings that seemed to fall into the following types of materials. First, there were references to some of the nineteenth-century travelers–Horace Mann, Mathew Arnold, Joseph Kay–who brought back impressions of education in foreign lands for domestic consideration. Second, there were references to some who tried to systematize the results of these kinds of impressions–Michael Sadler, Isaac Kandel, George Bereday. Third, there were references to great minds drawn from philosophy or from the social sciences generally that were of interest to comparative education as well as to many other lines of inquiry–Plato, Leo Tolstoy, Max Weber, Émile Durkheim, Clifford Geertz, Edward Shils, Stuart Eisenstadt, and David Apter. Either they had thought about education, or they were contributors to compelling theories in which education played a role–in modernization, tradition, center and periphery, economic development, civic culture, and stratification. Fourth, there were references to those who had begun to measure and estimate what it was about education that seemed to make a difference in society–Philip Foster, Torsten Husén, Alex Inkeles, Yuri Bronfenbrenner, Edward Denison, and John McClelland. The purpose of these figures was to study education as though it were like any other social function–religion, law, or medicine, for instance. They were curious about whether education's role and function were similar around the world and why. And last, there were individuals who helped "plan" education's effects–Fredrick Harbison and Charles Myers, Neville Postlethwaite, Benjamin Bloom, Charles Havighurst, James Coleman, C. Arnold Anderson, and Mary Jean Bowman.

Readings by and about these figures constituted "the literature" in the late 1970s. The field, however, was greater. Attending meetings of the Comparative and International Education Society were representatives of various foundations and public agencies who took a keen interest in the field and the society itself. The conferences included scholars from anthropology, political science, public administration, comparative literature, sociology, and regional area studies–Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East–linked by a common interest in education.

By the early twenty-first century, the major interdisciplinary programs at Stanford University and at the University of Chicago had closed, and the level of international development assistance to education in developing countries continued to decline. Was there less interest in the field than twenty-five years previous? Is international education at risk in the early twenty-first century? Where is international education headed?

International Education: More but Different

There is more written in the early twenty-first century concerning international education than was written in the 1970s. One reference system of public policy issues shows 34 entries on international education in the 1970s and 155 ten years later, a nearly fivefold increase. Another reference system, which includes formal articles and publicly presented papers, shows a substantial level of production of 478 entries in the 1970s, compared to 2,125 ten years later.

Both systems exclude the many and varied internal reports from public agencies, such as the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and the United Nations Children's Fund. There were, for example, 33 World Bank education sector reports produced annually during the 1970s and almost four times that level (123) ten years later, going from 1 in 1972 and 1975, to 10 in 1977, to 12 in 1978, to 17 in 1981 and 1985, to a high of 24 in 1992. The current average is about 20 per year.

The U.S. federal government changed too. Out of more than 3,000 research projects sponsored by the federal government on adolescence and youth in 1974, only one had anything to do with international education. Moreover, the agency sponsoring this particular study (the National Institute of Education) made some effort to underplay its existence for fear of being scrutinized by a congressional committee as being frivolous.

For education, the rise in oil prices in 1974 became a "second Sputnik." Rightly or wrongly it was widely believed that the United States was "behind" in some fundamental way, motivating local demands for more information. These came, for instance, from the offices of state governors in Tennessee, South Carolina, Kentucky, and Washington. Questions about international information began coming from the National School Boards Association, the National Governors Association, the National Educational Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and the National Association of Manufacturers. This demand for answers to "what's wrong?" led to the 1983 publication of A Nation at Risk, a report by the National Commission on Excellence in Education that led to a significant increase in the demand for more international information on education and more reliable information.

The year after the publication of A Nation at Risk, there was an acrimonious meeting of the board of directors of the Center for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI). The U.S. delegate pushed for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to be engaged in a project collecting and analyzing statistical education "inputs" and "outcomes"–quantifiable information on curricular standards, costs and sources of finance, learning achievements on common subject matter, employment trends, and the like. The reaction among the staff of CERI was one of shock and suspicion. Many thought that generalizations about education were confined to individual cultures, and hence that it was unprofessional to try and quantify education processes or results. They believed that the process of quantification would oversimplify and misrepresent a nation's educational system. Perhaps more importantly, some suspected that the demand for such information would shift as soon as the political party of the U.S. president changed.

A common European mistake has been to rely primarily on traditional central ministries of education for information. Europeans traveled to the United States to do primary source research on education only sparingly, and they often assumed that the structure and policies were settled in a manner closely resembling their own experience.

The point is that this common European mistake has become less common. Since the 1970s there has been a growth in demand and in sophistication concerning international educational information on both sides of the Atlantic. From the European side, they have learned that the demand for better and more reliable data was not coming exclusively from a single president or a single political party. It was coming, in fact, from educational consumers and grassroots interests, from parts of the society and the educational system over which Washington had no control, and to which political leaders in any democracy had no choice except to respond.

By the early twenty-first century, the OECD's publication on education indicators was being published in French and English and constituted the most widely circulated publication in OECD history. New projects have been launched on academic achievement, adult literacy, and the use of technology in education. Supported by the World Bank and UNESCO, the World Education Indicators project has expanded to include seventeen non-OECD countries, including China, Brazil, and India, allowing the OECD indicators to claim that they are now representative of the majority of the world's education systems.

There have been four Nobel prizes dealing with human capital issues (awarded to Edward Dennison, Jan Tinbergen, T. W. Schultz, and Gary Becker). There has been a flurry of reports on the status of education issued by international agencies in the early 1980s onward. There have been two meetings of heads of state on international educational issues: the Education for All meeting held in Jomtien, Thailand, in March 1990; and the World Summit for Children, which took place in New York City in September 1990. There are three new educational boards of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and major new research initiatives from the General Accounting Office, the Office of Technology Assessment, various congressional committees, and the Carnegie, Spencer, Ball, and Soros Foundations. There is an ongoing cooperative effort among the donors to assist African education. This is, of course, in addition to the many new efforts in Europe and Asia. The Japanese initiated an important fund to assist human resources in developing countries. The ministers of education from fourteen nations in Asia and North America have decided to pool resources on projects having to do with curriculum requirements and teacher certification. These resources are not classified as foreign aid; instead, they come out of ministry of education budgets. This is also characteristic of the Dutch CROSS (Coordination Dutch-Russian Cooperation in Education) Program, which is designed to assist Russian education. It is justified on grounds that Dutch educational officials have something significant and unique to offer the Russians in the fields of educational management, educational publishing, and assessments of learning achievement and educational examinations and standardized testing, and that the Dutch can themselves learn equally from the cooperative effort. The British Council is also assisting Russian educators with studies and analytic resources. The British Know How Fund is assisting eastern Europeans with studies of the "textbook sector"; the Swedish and the American academies of sciences are assisting higher education and research capacity in the former Soviet Union, as is the European Union. Perhaps unique, though, is an effort led by the chancellor of the State University of New York to provide high-quality advice in comparative education to the minister of higher education in Russia.

These efforts, and the many publications rapidly emerging from them, are not isolated. From a low point of the National Institute of Education's fear that their one comparative education project would be seen as a waste of resources in 1974 has emerged a new industry of international education initiatives and projects.

Quality of International Education Information

The international education questions coming from public authorities reveal new sophistication. No longer is thinking confined to "Why Johnny cannot read as well as Ivan." No longer are the interests of public officials confined to that of an Olympic finish. This increasing sophistication is not uniform, but the kinds of questions being asked in the early twenty-first century cover a much wider spectrum of comparative educational endeavors. The staff of congressional committees ask increasingly about teaching and organizational techniques, types of salary incentives, and the methods of teaching children racial and ethnic tolerance. Questions concern the arts, the system of finance and management, morals, culture, language, and ethnicity. It is now (almost) normal for U.S. political figures to appreciate that political leaders and educators from other countries are not necessarily interested in the exact same questions and problems that interest Americans. Only infrequently does one find the "marble syndrome" of educational politics (if they are not interested in my game and my rules, I go home); rather, there is an appreciation that educational research and the gathering of educational statistics is a natural and normal part of diplomacy. For example, the United States remained in an (expensive, publicly financed) international study of computer literacy even though it was felt there was not very much to learn from other countries. The reason it remained was because it was felt that other countries wanted to learn from the United States. Similarly, the United States lowered its expectations of international research on educational standards with the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference in lieu of the Asian nations' need to learn about moral education and the teaching of national consensus building. It has become understood that the Japanese may wish to learn about diversified curriculum from the United States, that Russians wish to learn about the teaching of democracy with a heterogeneous school population, and that all societies want to know more about techniques of local management and local finance–all of which are areas in which the United States is not "behind."

Is it possible that Americans are showing signs of international tolerance and understanding in the field of education? Is it possible that Americans are coming out of their long-held tradition of localism and educational isolationism? It may be too early to make firm conclusions. But the diversity and sophistication in the kinds of questions being asked by public authorities has increased so dramatically that at times one has the sense that nearly every social science issue on the comparative education reading list the early 1970s seems to be coming of age and into maturity–civic culture and governance, the complexity of human capital theory, stratification and cultural integration, the need for tradition as well as economic development. In every sense, the new century may be a "golden age" for international education.

Why Interest in International Education Is Growing

Some changes come about suddenly and have an immediate worldwide impact. In 1999 Thomas L. Friedman suggested that this is the case with respect to the Internet. Other changes are glacial in the speed by which they are recognized, yet in terms of impact are no less profound. Such is the case with respect to education issues and their shift from local to international relevance.

Significant shifts have affected the governance of education and, hence, the character of international education. These include: the globalization of social and economic forces; the shift to mass education, including mass higher education; the spread of democracy to new areas of the world; the mismatch between education objectives and fiscal capability; the demands placed on the systems to attract high-level talent in terms of international students and faculty; the urgent demands of technology; the new efforts to systematically provide sources of cross-national statistical information; the pressures to create a level playing field in terms of international trade in education services; and the new demands for education to influence social cohesion.

In the 1970s and 1980s governments often determined economic investments, and foreign aid frequently was the dominant source of development capital for middle and low-income countries. By the early twenty-first century, transfers of private capital far outstripped public investments. A future computer manufacturing plant might be located in Nashville, Tennessee, Northern Ireland, or southern Italy; a textile plant in Bangalore, India, or Sonora, Mexico; a farm for winter fruit in Florida or Chile. What determines the choice of where to invest? Investment capital flows to one or another location on the basis of many factors–taxation policy, freedom to repatriate profit, labor productivity, labor cost, and social stability. The latter three are heavily influenced by education and by the success of local education systems. Hence, the demands for economic growth and prosperity help determine that pressures on education systems to perform are similar.

In the 1960s the central education representatives were often the sole representatives. Education in the early twenty-first century is frequently a decentralized activity with many new decision makers. Local authorities increasingly drive budgets and policy priorities. This is particularly evident in Brazil, Mexico, India, Russia, Nigeria, and other federal systems; but it is also evident in France, Indonesia, and Malaysia, which had been traditionally centralized. Local states and communities increasingly evaluate their own program innovations, initiate their own research projects, and review their own policies. Local or administrative initiative is often a leading force in centralized education systems as well. Local business and community groups, industries, and nongovernmental organizations increasingly influence policymakers as well as educational authorities. In higher education and private education, where policy decisions are increasingly the responsibility of individual institutions, these institutions are involved in international relations on their own. Educational software companies, publishers, and corporate training firms are ever more active and are demanding new and current information on the size of the educational markets in many countries. Taken together these new categories of participants have deeply affected the vision and the expressed interests of the traditional education authorities.

The Influence of Democracy on Educational Governance

Under autocratic governments, there was little need to explain education policy to the public. Educational policy consisted of edicts of intent and orders for administrative action that may or may not have been carried out effectively. Mechanisms for public debate did not exist. The performance of educational institutions was not open to public scrutiny. Data and other information on program effectiveness were not required. The curriculum was imposed; the goals of civics and history were decided unilaterally. If problems occurred, public officials were not held accountable.

New democracies have emerged in South Africa, Europe and Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and East Asia. With democracy, the requirements of educational management shift. The effectiveness of educational institutions is open to public scrutiny for the first time, and education policy is the subject of heated public debate. To be effective, policy requires public awareness and consensus prior to any announcements. Institutions have come to be in the position of competing for new resources, new faculty, and new curricula to keep abreast of quickly changing public demands.

Educational systems in the new democracies are faced with problems even more serious than that of efficient management. In many countries, curricular authority has been localized to the region or the local school. In some instances, such as in Bosnia, this has led to serious disagreements over the role of the school itself. Such disagreements have included the content of history and civics, the use of pedagogy counterproductive to interethnic harmony, and the existence of barriers to the equality of educational opportunity for particular ethnic and social groups. In many instances, schools and school systems have been engaged in performing functions exactly the opposite of their traditional intent. Instead of resolving differences across social groups, schools have been used to exacerbate those differences.

The Influence of Financial Austerity on Educational Governance

School systems differ from one country to another, but all share certain characteristics. All school systems share the universal struggle to balance the rapidly changing demands for improvement with the equally problematic realities of fiscal constraints, a permanent and unsolvable dilemma. The demand for mass access, higher levels of equity (for the socially excluded), and higher quality (for everyone) inevitably exceeds financial capacity. These universal demands make all schools and all school systems conscious consumers of educational policy innovations. The key difference in the early twenty-first century, compared to two decades previous, is the growing recognition that relevant innovations may emerge from anywhere; they are not necessarily local or even domestic. This new era in international education is led by the burgeoning realization from active consumers–teachers, school and university managers, and system administrators–that their success may well depend on having the most compelling


innovations, and that they are quite capable of making their decisions on whether geographical origin is a critical factor or not.

As a result, new policies have become common in widely disparate localities–including such policies as focusing on the quality and relevance of teaching materials that are procured from an open and competitive market; developing a professional force in which more effective teachers receive higher compensations; conducting research that allows for transparent comparisons that are available to the public; and securing financing from multiple sources to maximize local investment without abrogating equity. Educational managers around the world have become focused on common problems such as school-based management, teacher incentives, multicultural education, civic responsibilities, tracking, curriculum depth, individualized instruction, fair testing and assessment, special learning problems, and communications with the public.

Higher education has become mass education–it is no longer only for the elite. In the 1960s, in no country in western Europe was more than 9 percent of the age cohort enrolled in higher education; by the early twenty-first century, however, no country in the region enrolled fewer than about 35 percent of the age cohort. This shift has been associated with common, if not identical, fiscal and administrative pressures. These in turn have generated demand for creative policy reforms. Demand exists for innovations in institutional efficiency in terms of student—faculty ratios, judicious use of new technologies, efficiency in generating contractual outsourcing of traditional functions, department-based budgeting, marketing of university copyrights, and attention to the problems of international trade in education commerce.

In terms of size, the U.S. education system accounts for less than 5 percent of world enrollment. Together, industrialized countries account for about 17 percent. The remaining 83 percent of the world's enrollments are located in the middle-income and developing countries, with 57 percent enrolled in East and South Asia. Each of these "nonindustrialized"


countries is changing rapidly. As economies grow, more is spent on students. Unit expenditures across the world doubled between 1980 and 1994, but different regions showed different rates of growth. Expenditures doubled in the United States, but they increased by 135 percent in Europe and 200 percent in East Asia. In terms of challenges and dilemmas, the world's education systems share more than ever before.

These common challenges imply several things. First, the demand for innovative policies in education is growing rapidly, and their source is no longer confined to one country's experience. This is particularly important for the United States, which has a high demand for policy innovation, yet a small portion of the world's education experience from which to draw lessons. To attain excellence today the education profession must keep abreast of relevant innovations and educational experience from wherever they derive.

But these trends imply something else as well. With the common decentralization of decision-making, the client for educational research and policy innovation is not limited to central or public authorities. There are many different demands for good ideas and information, and therefore many different clients to decide what is relevant. Local school officials in Minnesota, for example, have opted to join international studies of academic achievement so they might compare their educational performance with Sweden and Singapore. The American Federation of Teachers has studied the degree to which American high-stakes tests compare with those in Europe and Asia. These examples illustrate that traditional notions of what is relevant to local school systems are constantly being retested with new information but are also in the hands of an increasingly diverse set of local educational clients and decision makers.

The Influence of International Students on Education Policy

In 1960 there were only 50,000 international students in the United States. The number of international students in the United States rose steadily thereafter, reaching a record high of 549,000 in 2001 (see Figure 1). Final year expenditures on tuition and fees by international students in the United States reached $11 billion in 2001. Of those expenditures, approximately 66 percent were derived from personal and family sources. At the undergraduate level (i.e., for 254,000 students), family support accounted for 81 percent (see Table 1). While American higher education may be expensive by world standards, a large number of families outside the United States can afford it. Because of its potential, international education is now classified as a traded service by the U.S. Department of Commerce and has become the nation's fifth-largest service export.

More than one-half of the foreign students in the United States come from Asia, with students from China and India together accounting for more than 25 percent alone (see Table 2). Most are in the United States to study for utilitarian purposes. The proportion of international students studying humanities is only 2.9 percent; fine arts, 6.2 percent; and social sciences, 7.7 percent. Almost one-half of the foreign students are "crowded" into three fields:


19.4 percent are in business and management, 15.2 percent in engineering, and 12.4 percent in mathematics and computer sciences. Human resources are becoming more popular, with health at 4.1 percent and education at 2.6 percent of the total (see Table3). Just as demand is growing for students to study in the United States, demand by American students to study abroad, even temporarily, is growing. From 1985 to 1999, the number of American students studying abroad increased from 45,000 to 140,000 (see Figure 2). These figures reflect high demand. But is the demand for higher education institutions in the United States as high as it is for higher education institutions outside the United States? In other words, in terms of attracting international students, does U.S. higher education continue to be competitive with higher education elsewhere?

In fact the trade in higher education outside the United States is growing faster. Since 1990 the share of international students studying within the United States dropped from 40 percent to less than 30 percent. And as a proportion of the overall student population, in 2001 the international student population in the United States (3.9%) was not that much greater than it was in 1954 (1.4%). As a percentage of the overall student population, in fact, the United States ranked twelfth among OECD countries in 1998. The international student proportion in Switzerland that year was 16 percent; in Australia, more than 12 percent; in Britain, about 11 percent; in Germany, about 8 percent; and in France, about 7 percent (see Figure 3).

These figures suggest that international education has become openly competitive and that the United States does not have as large an advantage as it once did. The figures would also suggest that given their proportion of the overall student population, the "impact" of international students in the United States is modest by comparison to the situation that some of its trading partners face.

Cross-National Sources of Statistical Information

In spite of the inevitable political emphasis on the Olympic nature of cross-national studies, countries are beginning to participate because the lessons derived have proven to be insightful and to stimulate new questions and ideas for improvement. Many have learned that the lessons in one country are not identical to the lessons elsewhere. For example, with respect to the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), Americans drew conclusions about the curriculum being "a mile wide and an inch deep" (Schmidt, p. 3), but Colombians drew conclusions about the range of age within each grade level; Latvians drew conclusions about differences between Latvian and minority students. All countries seemed to draw conclusions about the manner in which subject matter is sequenced. Moreover, it is common to sponsor reanalyses of the datasets, which often result in new insights. For instance, Americans must now ponder why their disadvantaged perform worse than the disadvantaged in other participating countries and why school resources are more inequitably distributed than in other countries.

International standards have been greatly enhanced by the procedures and the results of cross-national studies. Achievement studies around the world have learned from the three different elements used in TIMSS: what one expects to be learned, what has been taught, and what has been learned. The new studies have tried to include case examples and videotape episodes, as well as both cross-sectional and time-series surveys. This experience has helped mitigate the long-standing unproductive battles between quantitative and qualitative evidence; all evidence


has its strengths and weaknesses, and the principles governing the use of data have become largely understood to be universal. International standards of data collection, reporting, quality control, sampling, the impartiality of questionnaire design, first proposed by the authorities within the United States, have been established and widely accepted, and this has led to questioning and then strengthening of the international institutions that support education data collection and dissemination.

Future Issues

The institutional structure underpinning international education data collection remains fragile. There is no consensus about how financial support for international data collection should be obtained in a fashion that is fair to all countries. Now considered a trade good, education is the source of debate surrounding the World Trade Organization. Are there indeed barriers to the trade in education, or is education a "cultural good" falling within the purview of each nation independently? It is clear that as a separate field of study, international education has shifted. No longer is it viable as an esoteric field of study. Instead, international experience is becoming a normal part of all fields of study–curriculum, administration, human development, and pedagogy. But graduate schools of education, particularly in the United States, are not well-equipped to respond to this new set of demands and will have to undergo a significant, and perhaps painful, adjustment to catch up with the field itself.


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