"Educational Pluralism" As a Global Phenomenon
Although most of us have long taken it for granted that children's learning should take place solely in schools, we are globally witnessing the emergence of alternative educational forces such as charter schools, Teach for America, shadow education, etc., which marks the phenomenon that can be called "educational pluralism."
Particularly, those alternative forces are the active players for introducing new pedagogical methods, many of which are inspired by technological innovation. Therefore, if you don't pay any attention to them, you will surely miss the trend of education.
And we should not forget that the movement of educational pluralism resonates very well with people's frustration and resentment against the public education.
The Widening Gap between the Scholarly View and the Reality
However, many of the education scholars and journalists still cling to the classic school-centered view, and some of them are busy attacking the alternative agents other than schools and representing the rights and interests of schoolteachers rather than learners.
Especially the "global educators" tend to be trapped by this view for some reason. They are often driven by some biases based on it and not true to objective facts. Thus they travel abroad, look at a few of schools there, and make one-sided reports.
(cf. "The Perils of Edutourism" by Tom Loveless).
However, it is getting more and more difficult to maintain this school-centered view in the digital age, because such one-sided reports can be easily challenged and questioned by those who know the reality.
The gap between the scholarly view and evolving reality in alternative education forces is being widened, and I wonder that it can undermine authority and reliability of education studies as a whole.
Lamentable is that shadow education is so neglected in academia, while the charter school movement and Teach for America are openly discussed in a fashion. Notably the juku, the Japanese version of shadow education, is almost perfectly ignored by education scholars, as I discussed before.
Research Works on Shadow Education in HKU
Under these circumstances, precious efforts are being made by a group of researchers in the Comparative Education Research Centre (CERC), the University of Hong Kong (HKU), who are led by Prof. Mark Bray, a UNESCO Chair Professor.
Prof. Bray joined the compilation of the report of Asian Development Bank and has recently made a keynote speech in the International Council on Education for Teaching (ICET 2015) held in Japan in order to warn researchers and policy-makers to conduct studies on shadow education.
And the other day he informed me of a new research work made by the group thankfully in return for the copy of my book I had sent him before. This work, which covers shadow education not only in Asian countries but also in some European countries, Iran, and Jamaica, is a great effort for shedding light on it.
And here I would like to mention Dr. Julian Dierkes, another researcher who is familiar with jukus in Japan. He is running an Internet site "Jukupedia" to put the juku phenomenon on the discussion table, though he seems rather busy with Mongolian matters at the moment.
The Underlying Problem for the Research on Shadow Education
Shadow education is an interesting research subject, which is almost unexplored, but its research works often bump into difficulties. The underlying problem is the implicit or explicit resistance from country's educational establishments, as below.
Government officials in charge of education are, as a matter of course, reluctant to appreciate the excellence of shadow education, or even to admit its existence, because it compromises the reputation of the school system which is their monopolistic undertaking. And this reluctance (or maybe abhorrence) is obviously shared by other establishments such as teachers' unions, academics, and often media people. When they are politically active, we should count politicians and political parties, too.
Thus shadow education tends to be greeted by silent treatment or, in worse cases, negative campaign, which creates a very ambivalent or perverted perception and behavior among ordinary people, as exemplified by the case of Japan.
In this sense, research materials such as government reports, words of interviewed persons, answered questionnaires, etc. have to be studied and analyzed very carefully, as mentioned also in the work of CERC.
A New Horizon of Education Studies
Despite the problem, however, we can expect that the research on shadow education will be of a great contribution to opening up a new horizon of the education studies, because new ideas, new technologies, and innovative minds are flowing into alternative educational forces rather than schools, while many scholars are stuck with the conventional school-centrism.
I think that the immediate task is to raise the awareness of shadow education and involve more people in the research works on it. The enhanced recognition of the research subject will surely facilitate the research itself.
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