Below is the abstract for my Keynote Speech, “International Comparisons in the Improvement of Education,” which will be presented by invitation at the Sixth International Scientific Conference: Theory for Practice in the Education of Contemporary Society, Riga Teacher Training and Education Management Academy [Riga, Latvia] (March 29-31, 2012) [http://www.rpiva.lv/index.php?mh=teorija_praksei].
Imperfections – such as inequality and inefficiency of learning – are perennial problems for education despite a diversity of foundations on which national systems are established, which range from the idealistic vision of fostering a utopian society to the utilitarian objective of producing skilled workers capable of engendering economic growth. Despite sharing many common conditions and fundamental values, educators rarely learn valuable lessons from the successes and failures of highly relevant initiatives in distant nations. This problem may be attributed to several factors, not the least of which includes the entrenchment of local traditions and ethnocentric assumptions, but surely the quality and relevance of international-comparative research – and the way its results are disseminated – are issues that must also be taken into careful consideration. What are the unique lessons to be learned from international comparisons, and what are the prospective risks for how such comparisons may be misinterpreted and misused in educational settings? How can international comparative research be made more relevant, with tangible applications that may be recognized and effectively used by school teachers? How can international comparative education meaningfully examine subjects beyond the reach of standardized testing, in such domains as the fostering of creativity, talent, and ethical sensibilities, for example? These themes will be presented through discussion of both research findings and anecdotes from the personal experience of working for universities on four continents. Specific topics will include the challenges of accounting for conceptual equivalency and representing cultural differences, sampling and generalizability, reconciling the diverging aims of economic, anthropological, sociological, and psychological research, as well as grappling with the ambivalent discourse of globalization, multiculturalism, post-colonialism, and other social movements.
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