The Role of Context in Understanding Education

by Ibrahim Alhouti
Ph.D. Researcher
UCL Institute of Education

Since I have completed my MA degree in Comparative Education at UCL Institute of Education and started my Ph.D. study, I have recognized clearly that education practices do not stand alone. It can only be understood in a real context, as any education practices interact historically, economically, and politically in a specific context. And only by understanding all these variations we can understand any education system very well. As I am interested in comparative studies, FreshEd has been the weekly podcast that provides me with updated educational practices worldwide. Its host, Dr. Will Brehm, interviews outstanding scholars to discuss their recent works, inspiring me to understand how education practices look in different contexts. In this piece, I am recommending three episodes that I liked the most.

My first recommendation is Competency-Based Education, where Will has a great discussion with Kathryn Anderson-Levitt and Meg Gardinier about their recent special issue of Comparative Education entitled “Contextualising Global Flows of Competency-based Education.” What was interesting in their discussion is that although there is not yet a clear definition of the so-called competency-based education, international organizations such as the OECD are pushing the global agenda to specific competencies without considering the variation between the states concerning their educational goals and practices. This episode illustrates that context matters, and there is no way to have one universal practice in education.

In connection to the abovementioned points about OECD, the discussion with Jason Hickel was fascinating. It introduced me to a new interpretation of the relationship between education and the economy. As educators and researchers, we all observe the narrative driven by the OECD, the World Bank, the IMF, and other international organizations regarding the role of education in economic growth. Nowadays, education is assessed by economic growth, and the only way to achieve economic growth is through reforming the education system and linking its outcomes to the labor market needs. In this episode, Jason Hickel spoke about his recent book entitled Less is More: How Degrowth Will Save the World. He argued that instead of economic growth, we need to degrowth to save our world and ecosystem. So, if that is what we need to protect our planet, why must education systems provide more and more economic growth and be assessed accordingly?

Finally, the episode created by Yardain Amron for Flux was fantastic. The way Yardain presents complex educational theories in action was unique. Yardain discussed how students’ voices matter in education and how students need to stand against the privatization of education. This episode makes it crystal clear how education is “deeply politicized ” and how education interacts with politics, history, and the economy.

November 1, 2021