Comparativist Posts

There’s been a lot of talk recently about the failures of microfinance, particularly in India. After digging a little deeper I noted that most of what was being labeled “microfinance”…

Development Economics

I’ve started a career out of comparing and contrasting all the educational similarities and differences I’ve seen as an American transplanted to Asia. One of my favorite similarities was how Chinese teachers I worked with projected corrections for all the perceived failings of their schools on to American education and vice versa. American teachers, for the most part, imagined Chinese students as highly attentive, studious, disciplined, respectful students – packed 100 to a class but still dutifully listening to Teacher, completing all their homework, and studying for all their exams. My Chinese coworkers imagined American high school classrooms as approximating The Dead Poet’s Society for every class, every day of the week.

One of my favorite contrasts is higher education enrollment. Let me start with what I dislike most about the Asian higher education system I’ve encountered: I taught at a Chinese “polytechnic” and worked with some brilliant students there. The students took a single test, the gaokao, which determined their entire educational future in one go. Couldn’t sleep well the night before? Welcome to ______ Polytechnic. Or nowhere. Once graduated from the polytechnic, there was (functionally) almost no chance of getting into a four-year university. On the university side of thing, (functionally) no one fails. Once you’re in, you’re in. The dies were set and cast the moment the gaokao tests were scored.


The South China Morning Post reported today that plans for a “national education” have been shelved for a few more years,  until 2015. Without too much exaggeration, the purpose of the…

Culture Education

I admit to not being the strongest advocate of linguistic rights in education. In Hong Kong, for instance, I’m a strong advocate of removing Cantonese as the medium of instruction in schools…



I watched a Satish Kumar lecture yesterday and walked away distinctly unimpressed. I’ll start with where we agree, move on to where I was repulsed, and then conclude with some lighter territory of where I just disagree.

The Convention on Modern Liberty: Satish Kumar
Satish Kumar

Where we would agree – and by we, I mean most education researchers and educationists – is that “education” is a bigger concept than just teaching, though it is often stripped to that essential characteristic. He discusses how the latin root of education is educare, which means to bring out. He then takes an (unacknowledged) page from Freire and slams the “banking” view of learning. OK, fair points so far.

People and institutions often lose sight of the bigger picture, sometimes even teaching gets reduced to schooling and focuses on all the institutional roles schools and universities play.  I was in a Philip Altbach seminar a few weeks ago and a faculty member noted that his entire analysis of the role of world-class “center” universities focused on their role as research producers – where did he think the role of teaching and learning fit in? Altbach replied that teaching was difficult to measure but that they were trying new metrics but was interrupted, with a bout of collective laughter, when the questioner repeated “teaching and learning.”

Education philosophy