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Culturalist Approaches to the Relational Study of Children's Education in China and Australia


This paper is the methodology chapter for our research project "wishing for dragon children", which examines the differences and similarities in the ways China and Australia educate their children.

This paper explicates a methodology for examining the differences and similarities in the ways China and Australia educate their children. There are two main reasons for studying these differences and similarities. The first is to identify important cultural influences in these countries' educational systems. This study does not just describe children's education in each country, but more importantly investigates the meanings behind the practices and their integral relationships with history, the economy, social and political systems, values and beliefs. As Broadfoot (1999, p. 29) suggests, a relational perspective is necessary for developing a comprehensive conceptualisation of this process, one provides an account of the influence of different cultural contexts.

A second reason for researching these differences and similarities is that they provide insights into a number of problems confronting primary education in these two countries. In China, educational reformers are seeking to counter parent's "wishes for dragon children". This refers to the phenomenon of parents pressuring their children into ever higher standards of educational achievement through coaching and intensive learning. The effect has been to increase student workloads and to narrow education down to passing tests. Educational reformers, in contrast, are attempting to "lighten the burden" by moving towards "Quality Education". Thus far, government and schools have had little success in discouraging parents' desires for "dragon children".

In Australia, although there is no comparable shake-up of primary education as in China, hundreds of thousands of new Chinese migrants are challenging the Australian education system, particularly primary school education. They complain that teaching time is too short and the standard of learning is too low. As noted in chapters one and two, they send their children to coaching schools to win scholarships to private schools and pass university entrance requirements. Not only do such achievements satisfy the Chinese-Australian parents' desire for "dragon children", they are also attracting many Anglo-Australian parents. In the process, they are transforming Australian education in a small but nonetheless significant way. How substantial are the problems with Australian education, or are the problems more to do with Chinese migrants' expectations of their children or some combinations of both?

One of the important aims for this Chapter is to explain and justify the research methodology required for generating evidence needed to judge the extent which these cultures "match", so as to better understand the limitations and strengths of one's own educational practice by using the lens provided by the perspectives offered through another culture (Reynolds 1999, p.146). By analysing the educational challenges facing both countries, we might go some way towards offering an empirical grounding in primary education in both countries that could usefully inform policies for effecting educational reforms.

No single approach can provide the most appropriate methodology to researching these issues. Multiple approaches, including case studies, historical analyses, ethnographices of interventions, demographic, sociological and economic studies, as well as the analysis of the articulation and complementarity of social, economic and education policies needed to generate an evidence-rich basis for informing strategic actions at interrelated levels of education systems. In other words a diverse array of evidence needs to be collected about the socio-cultural and economic influences on primary education in the two countries to inform comparative judgements. For this study it has not been possible to create such an archive, but it does draw evidence from a range of sites where children are educated which is then analysed, interpreted and compared.

In broad outline, this Chapter justifies the methodological orientation adopted for this research project; explains the research design strategy developed for exploring the key research question, and provides an account of the specific instruments and steps employed for generating the evidence. Finally, the ethical issues related to this research project are discussed. While these are based on standard university requirements in this regard, they are informed by a more expansive discussion of ethical principles for conducting research with human participants (Robson 1993, pp. 470 - 475).

Methodological Orientation

This project sets out to investigate the differences and similarities between China and Australia in their approaches to educating children. To address the key research question the overall methodological approach that was chosen was selected for several interrelated reasons. This section explains and justifies important aspects of the approach employed for this project. It defines the characteristics of this relational case study, explaining its advantages and limitations, and identifying common problems and the solutions associated with this approach.

Case Study

Crossley and Burns (1983) argue that there are four important dimensions to research in comparative and international education. These levels are the development and transmission of ideas (e.g. Confucianism, Deweyian liberal progressivism) about education (the 'meta' level); the socio-cultural and economic context in which education takes place (the 'macro' level); the system (e.g. of Ministries, Departments or Commissions) for organising and disseminating educational practices (the 'meso' level), and the individual institutions (e.g. schools and classrooms) where education takes place (the 'micro' level). While the research reported here draws on secondary sources dealing with these different but interdependent levels, it focuses on generating primary evidence from the micro-level to create a relational case study. It draws for its secondary sources in government reports, statistics and in-depth studies of what actually goes on in education. Such secondary data provides insights into how each country's culture, economic, and socio-political systems, values and beliefs are mediated and mitigated in classroom practices. This data is used with the primary evidence, generated through interviews, observations and documents, to compare educational differences and similarities between these two countries, and inform suggestions for improvements to their educational practices.

Fieldwork in individual schools was essential for investigating possible answers to the key research question and to balance primary and secondary sources of data used in this study. Four primary schools (two from Australia and two from China) were selected as case sites to study teaching and learning. In each school processes of participant - as - observer, interviews and document analysis were used. One Chinese coaching school in Melbourne, the New Migrant Coaching School, was also selected as a case study site.

In this context it was important to be mindful of the strengths and weaknesses of relational case study as a research strategy. For instance, as noted in Chapter One, Thomas (1998, p. 82) argues that one of the limitations of this strategy is that it is difficult for generalisations or principles drawn from one case to be applied to other cases. As such, a major concern for this study is how a case from a selected school might help in understanding similar people, schools or events. China is a large country with 1.3 billion people. Given its immense size relative to Australia, there are significant differences in the acts of teaching and learning among schools from different cities. The differences in cities range from the highly developed economic centres, such as Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen; to middle developed cities, such as Wuhan, Guangzhou and Chongqing, general cities, such as Chengdu, Xi'an and Zhengzhou, and under-developed (or poor) cities in remote areas such as Lasa, Xilin and Urumqi. Differences can also be seen between schools in rural and urban areas. Among country schools, there are differences in the acts of teaching and learning based on the economic differences in each region.

In Australia, although the population is much, much smaller relative to that of China, schools have different styles of teaching and learning. These differences relate to the teaching methods used; the allocation of time for particular key learning areas; the materials and methods of assessment; along with decisions about staffing, equipment and other resources. Within the limitations imposed by constraints in government funding these are determined by the individual school in the light of that particular school community's needs, priorities and resources (Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority of Australia 2002).

Nevertheless, there are still many similarities between primary schools within China and Australia. As a centralised "communist" country, Chinese authorities have tightly controlled education since the Communist Party established state power in 1949. Almost everything in school education is controlled by government authorities, including the pedagogy, the ideas about education, school administration, the appointment of principals, curriculum standards and design. For many years it has been official policy that only one compulsory textbook for each subject at each year level is appointed for use in all schools throughout the country.

Since most parents in China have a strong wish for their children to be able to go to university, "Teaching to the Test" has dominated education. However, each year there is only one set examination paper for university entrance throughout the country. The examination paper, which is called National United Examination for University Entrance, is designed by the Ministry of Education under the central government's direction. The examination has almost become a baton to direct discipline and control all levels of education. For most primary schools in China, no matter in which area of the country, their teaching is under the control of the central government's curriculum policies and the National United Examination for University Entrance.

In Australia, although each school has much more freedom to design its own pedagogy, the government has designed the National Goals for Schooling with certain political interests (Ball 1998, pp. 119 - 130). State governments set the standards for assessing student performance, which therefore ensure schools are achieving its expectations. In general, the expectations from the school community regarding education are similar.

No matter how different the schools within a country are in teaching and learning, they still share much common ground. In particular the differences among schools do not transcend the dominating socio-political structures and prevailing cultural expectations in that country. Hence this study of schooling in China and Australia can help to provide useful insights into the dilemmas of educational reform.

In order to avoid skewing the results of this investigation, two primary schools from a general city, Chengdu and a small town, Deyang near Chengdu, were selected. This was in preference to selecting schools from either highly developed cities whose standards would most likely surpass that of these Australian counterparts or undeveloped cities in remote areas which would necessarily be far behind in such comparisons. In Australia, the biggest classification among primary schools is between private and public. Thus one school selected was from the public sector and one from the private sector. It was important to select two schools from each country as case sites in order to study more than a single case of school education.

Since this study focused on the changing expectations of the Chinese diaspora with respect to education (Chow 1993; Cohen 1997), it was necessary to study a Chinese coaching school in Australia. While there are many Chinese coaching schools in Australia, their ways of teaching or coaching are similar. Selecting one of the biggest Chinese coaching schools (in terms of student numbers) like the New Migrants Coaching School was necessary and sufficient for accessing appropriate evidence.

Historical Context

Jayaweera (1982) argues that relational case studies can serve interpretative and evaluative functions. However, the analysis and synthesis of comparative data is dependent on an understanding of the historical and societal context which influences the activities and processes of education. For the purposes of this project reference to the historical dimension involved examining secondary sources to identity the main factors which have been active in creating contested educational traditions in each country. China, for instance, is a country with five thousand years of history. Ancient educational philosophies and practices continue to have an enormous influence on schooling and parenting in modern China. In some respects these traditions, particularly the tradition of "wishing for dragon children", seriously block the way of educational reform; no doubt there are some traditions that could usefully be reworked in the process of educational reform. In order to account for the causes behind the tradition of "wishing for dragon children" and its associated educational practices, it has been important to trace these back to the ancient China of some two thousands years ago. This meant investigating secondary accounts of ancient Chinese educational philosophies and how they were practised historically.

Ethnographic Techniques

The purpose of this research project was to explore issues influencing schooling in these two countries. By the "other" appropriating the analytical lenses of the European cultural anthropologist, ethnographic techniques can be a useful investigative tool. Wolcott (1988, p. 188) argues, "ethnography means, literally, a picture of the 'way of life' of some identifiable group of people"; establishing just who constitutes an "identifiable group of people" is no less a problem for China as it is for Australia.

Historically, a key feature of ethnography is that a European "outsider" goes to live for a period of time among a group of "exotic others" who as expert informants, are asked to provide insiders' explanations. However, this study was conducted by a Chinese-Australian "outsider" who sought to produce a relatively informed description rather than "thick description", which Tobin (1999, pp. 123 - 124) argues is not an important feature of educational ethnographic techniques in this post-colonialist era. Given that the goal of this particular research project was to make the "strange familiar and the familiar strange", it meant asking the "insiders" to explain their "exotic" practices of teaching and learning so as to help the "outsider" understand the reasoning behind what they do. This did not necessarily mean that the "outsider" unquestionably agrees without question with their reasoning. Based on Tobin's (1999) criticisms of ethnography, the technique of "participant as observer" was employed in this project to establish the meanings behind educational practices of each country and to "make the strange familiar".

In educational research, the sites on which ethnographic techniques are used vary widely. Sites may include classrooms, schools, communities, ethnic groups, neighbourhoods, departments in a university, a team or a club, through a teachers' union, a school board, an administrators' organisation or a ministry of education (Thomas 1998). For this purpose of micro-level relational case study, the most appropriate observation sites were classrooms in primary schools. As such, in this project, the researcher stayed in each selected school for two days as an "outsider" and asked "expert informants" to "provide insiders' explanations" (Tobin 1999, pp. 123 - 124).

LeCompte and Preissle (1993) argue that ethnographic data-gathering techniques provide diverse perspectives on education that contribute to the portrayal of a complex, multi-faceted human milieu. To obtain diverse perspectives in the schools observed, focus interviews were conducted with teachers. In Deyang, for example, the investigator explained the features of primary schools and the way children are educated in Australia. The Chinese primary school teachers were encouraged to comment on differences and similarities with primary education in China. The investigator used the same approach in Australian schools, describing Chinese schools and teaching practices in China to Australian teachers and asking them to comment on similarities and differences. In this way, the study is not just about children's education in two cultures, but also about children's education from two different but interrelated cultural perspectivies; informed by evidence from educators in China and Australia.

Research Design

Problem-solving was employed as an important approach to help decide on a research design to inform data gathering, analysis and interpretation strategies. Since the initial motivation for doing this research was a series of problems raised about primary education in two countries, the problems themselves were employed to suggest what information was relevant and the relative importance of each of these (Holmes 1981). These problems also encompassed techniques of data classification and interpretation. For instance, the investigator explored problems raised by interviewing as much as the information provided by the interviewees. The answers from interviewees provided data which was classified in categories and used in the process of interpretation.

Figure 1 illustrates key features of the research design used for this study. The major methods for generating evidence for this research project include observations, interviews, questionnaires and document collection. Within this research design these data collection techniques inform each other. In each selected school, the investigator visited and observed classrooms for two days. The school observations were punctuated by interviews with parents, teachers and education officials. This enabled the investigator to explore what they saw as the key issues in their respective education systems: the extent, form and impact of the "wishing for dragon children" tradition; the balance of power between government, regional or local administration, and the school; and the power differentials within the school between its head and its teachers. During interviews the investigator also discussed different educational phenomena discovered during the school observations, allowing the informants to speak for themselves, rather than leaving the power to decide what things mean solely in the hands of the investigator.

While the observations and interviews were being conducted, two other methods of data collection were also used, namely document collection and questionnaire. The questionnaire was distributed to parents and teachers in both China and Australia. Only fifty percent of those distributed were subsequently returned for analysis. Once the information had been collected, the investigator organised and summarised the results in terms of the patterns formed by the data which were then prepared as a research report to inform participants about what the results might mean, what had been learnt from the research and what had been found out to help inform solutions to problems about educational reforms.

Sampling Strategies for Site and Participant Selection

The prime observing areas were schools, and a few families permitted the investigator to observe their children's activities in the home. The strategy used for selecting schools was discussed above. Figure 2 illustrates the sampling decisions for school observations. Miles and Huberman (1994, p. 29) argue that sampling strategies must be driven by a conceptual question, not by a concern for "representativeness". In order to research the cultural influences in each country's education system, the investigator not only focused on the different ways of teaching - the "representativeness" in school observations - but also on issues reflecting different educational phenomena and outcomes due to different cultural settings, values and concerns. These included "pupils' behaviour and attitudes toward visitors"; "pupils' way of speaking to class"; "pupils' way of sitting and moving in classroom"; "discipline"; "reactions to teacher's instructions", and "pupils' activities during the break time". Also as noted above, focus interviews with teachers were also conducted during fieldwork in the schools.

Figure 1 also illustrates the sampling procedure for selecting the interviewees. Most of these were parents, teachers, academics and education officials. Miles and Huberman (1994, p. 34) advise that three kinds of techniques have great payoffs for sampling. The first is selecting the apparently "typical" or "representative" instance. The second is selecting the "negative" or "disconfirming" instance, while the third involves selecting the "exceptional" or "discrepant" instance. In the course of this research the investigator applied the techniques recommended above to interview "typical", "negative" and "exceptional" interviewees. After interviewing the subjects, the investigator analysed the interview data into three different groups based on "typical", "negative" and "exceptional". The first group included those people who support the tradition of "wishing for dragon children", the "typical". The second group were, those people who oppose the tradition, the "negative". And the third group included those people who have exceptional opinions toward the tradition, the "exceptional".

Each group interview included parents, pupils, teachers or principals and academics or government officials. Among these, parents were key agents responsible for reproducing the phenomenon of "wishing for dragon children". They used their own experiences in educating their children to support their ideas about what should constitute education. These people's opinions of teachers, academics and officials were important to understanding the phenomenon at hand, especially by de-centering parents' desire of "wishing for dragon children."

Data Collection and Generation Techniques

The techniques used for generating a relevant evidentiary archive included five key methods: direct observation, respondent interviews, questionnaire, focus group interviews and document collection.

Direct Observation

There are a number of observational methods, such as Participant Observation and the Participant as Observer (Robson 1993, pp. 194 - 197). For this research project, the investigator chose to use the Participant as Observer method because the school principals did not permit any interruption in teaching. Direct observations were conducted in each of the four primary schools in China and Australia, and the coaching school in Australia. Observations were made both inside and outside the classroom to collect information on the whole situation of schooling. The playgrounds were found to be an important space reflecting the disciplinary and emancipatory features of schools.

Respondent Interviews

Because the investigator intended to make the study not just of children's education in two cultures, but also of children's education from two cultural perspectives, respondent interviews were utilised. Robson (1993, p. 240) makes a distinction between respondent interviews and informant interviews. In respondent interviews, the interviewer remains in control throughout the whole process. In informant interviews, the prime concern is to bring to the fore the interviewee's perceptions within a particular situation or context. Respondent interviews were conducted in relation to a range of topics with individual principals, teachers, parents and students from primary schools in both China and Australia, and the coaching school in Australia.


A self-completed questionnaire providing background information and comparative data was distributed to principals, teachers, parents and students from primary schools in both China and Australia, and the coaching school in Australia. For the results to have any hope of meaningfulness, the questionnaire had to be painstakingly constructed, with clear and unambiguous instructions, and careful wording of questions. The questionnaire was designed to be easy for both participant completion as well as subsequent analysis and interpretation. Only fifty per cent of the distributed questionnaires were returned. As Robson (1993, p. 243) observes, self-completed questionnaires are very efficient in terms of researcher time and effort, but the data are often superficial.

Focus Group Interviews

These were conducted with groups of parents and teachers, dealing with the specific topics under investigation. It was possible to conduct these group interviews with help from principals of the schools that elected to participate in this research project. In both China and Australia the investigator was able to conduct focus group interviews with teachers in the process of conducting observations in the schools. In both China and Australia many Chinese parents sent their children to evening schools for coaching. While the children were in the coaching classes, the parents were waiting in a room until the coaching finished. This offered a good opportunity for the investigator to conduct focus group interviews with parents.

Document Collection

Document collection is a relatively 'unobtrusive' measure; the researcher can collect documents without interfering in the day to day work of the school (Robson 1993, p. 280). A range of documents such as official policies, books, newspapers and magazines were collected from schools, local communities and relevant education authorities that were of relevance to this research project.

Data Analysis

The investigator carefully collected and classified the data, and reflected critically on the data gathered and its means of collection. To aid interpretation the data was situated in relation to the contemporary research literature and current theoretical conceptualisations of education and its reform. The purpose was not to rate or otherwise rank the primary schools in China and Australia but to find out what they were doing, the circumstances they saw themselves as responding to, and the ways the cultures in which they are embedded influenced their work. The major thrust of the analytic techniques used for this project was data reduction. This meant making meaning of the "data-mountain" manageable through categorisation and coding. The techniques used for analysing the evidence included the key methods as described below.

The observational data were analysed for commonalities and differences in terms of actual classroom practices. The focus group interviews were transcribed and analysed for points of agreements and disagreements within and across the target groups. An issues analysis was applied where the observations were used as a means of organising and selecting material from the field notes and group interviews. A matrix was established to facilitate substantial data reduction (Robson 1993, pp. 378 - 392).

The focus interviews were transcribed and then analysed to identify the relational complexities in interviewee' explanations of their teaching practices, and the reasons they saw for differences and similarities in both countries. Again, an issues analysis was applied to divide the interviewees into three groups based on their different opinions on "wishing for dragon children" (Robson 1993, p. 378).

Data from the self-completed questionnaire was categorised by country and respondent backgrounds, and then compared for similarities and differences. These data were organised in a matrix for making interpretive statements (Robson 1993, pp. 401 - 402). Juxtaposition was used to establish similarities and differences in the data, thus leading to the formulation of relational interpretations. This comparison took the propositions formulated as a result of the process of juxtaposition to develop a credible consistent conclusion (Jones 1971, pp. 90 - 91). The range of documents collected for this project were analysed to provide relevant contextual information that helps inform consideration of the issues being addressed (Robson 1993, pp. 272 - 274). In general, the analytic progression for this project, as Miles and Huberman (1994, p.91) recommend, began with tapes and documents, transcribing these into written texts, trying out the coding and categorisation of the data, then moving to identify themes and trends, through then to testing hunches and findings, aiming first to delineate the "deep structure" and then to integrating the data into an explanatory framework.

Data Interpretation

One important purpose for the data analysis was to understand the problems of educational reform in China and Australia. Thus the data interpretation has tried to bring the reader vicariously into the social world of education, to give a feeling for the critical nature of the situation, and to arouse enthusiasm for thinking about possibilities for addressing the problems of education reform. Marshall (1990, pp. 22 - 26) argues that Foucault offers a powerful conceptual framework for making such an interpretation, using the grid of power-knowledge. Power and its concomitant relationship with knowledge provide a conceptual framework for interpreting education reform. The concept of "power-knowledge" provides a key idea for examining processes of power exercised in and through schools. Thus Foucauldian concepts of disciplinary practices, examination, 'regimes of (political) truth' and technologies power/knowledge have provided catalysing agents for a critical interpretation of the data in this study (Foucault 1979, 1980). These conceptual tools have been used to interpret the punishment practices in schooling, official policies, different cultural contexts, the power of examinations to dominate the education system, and how 'regime of truth' and power/knowledge strategies affect the operation of modern schools.

Marshall (1990, p. 23) argues that Foucault questions how punishment has been exercised in modern and ancient times. On many occasions the school surfaces as a disciplinary site. Hoskin (1990, p. 31) argues that it is the little practices of discipline that are exercised upon the person, to produce 'docile bodies'. These 'micro-technologies' bring together the exercise of power and the constitution of knowledge. Through a school's organisation of space and time, it orders power and knowledge, facilitating constant forms of surveillance and the operation of evaluation and judgment.

In this thesis, children's performances, both inside classrooms and outside the classroom, such as their behaviours toward visitors and movement in classrooms, are discussed. This focus is on how disciplinary practices are exercised in schools. This study indicates how discipline developed through "micro-technologies", bringing together the exercise of power and the constitution of knowledge so that the standards of evaluation and judgment are formed and 'docile bodies' are produced.

Hoskin (1990, pp. 31 - 32) also argues that "examination" is a key concept in understanding the nexus of power-knowledge relations in the education system. Examinations not only "combine the deployment of force and the establishment of truth", but are "of all technologies, the most obviously educational, more so even than discipline, which tends over-easily to be misread as a technique solely of power and control" (Foucault 1977, cited in Hoskin 1990, p. 31). In this research project "examinations" emerged as an important issue for analysis and interpretation. Thus this project investigated how the act, or process, of examining embodies relations of power and knowledge. This technological form of power/knowledge has been thoroughly embedded in the education system of China for over two thousand years. The evidence from this project shows that it still blocks the reform of education in modern China and that good examination results, through the learning of the 'regime of truth', leads the students to be normalised and to turn themselves into subjects.

Research Ethics

The approach to research ethics used in this project was in accordance with university requirements for conducting research with human participants, while ethics approval was obtained from the project's sponsoring institution, the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) (see appendix A). Approval to conduct the research study in Victorian government schools was obtained from Department of Education, Employment and Training of Victoria (see appendix B).

The Interview Questionnaire schedule, the informed Consent Form (Appendix C) and Plain Language Statement (Appendix D) were also approved by the RMIT Ethics Committee. For the students being observed in schools, parents were provided with a copy of a written document requesting their permission for this undertaking. The Plain Language Statement provided a description of this project for the information of each participant. The Plain Language Statement and the Consent Form were presented to participants prior to conducting observations and interviews. The investigator always explained to the participants the purpose of the research, the procedures adopted to ensure confidentiality of data and related ethical issues.

More than half of the participants in this study were of Chinese background with much of the research being conducted in China. As the investigator is a Chinese-Australian himself, he has some knowledge of the likely consequences of engaging in this research for the participants from Chinese backgrounds. As such, he realised that "wishing for dragon children" creates a powerful bond between parents and children in Chinese culture and that it is a point of honour with Chinese parents not to let other people know anything negative about their children. The researcher was therefore sensitive to the importance attached to education in Chinese culture and took precautions with his choice of words and care in interpreting local cultural meanings. This meant that it was possible to avoid offending local mores.

Sometimes the interview situations were as Robson (1993, p. 32) described, whereby the researcher and participants take on employer and employee roles respectively, despite the fact that no money or other incentives were involved. The employer has to guard against the notion that payment justifies placing the participant at risk. On the employees' side there is the likely tendency to "give them whatever he thinks that he is being paid for". Some parents, taking on the scripts of "employee", seemed to want to show off how wonderful their children were. The researcher, taking on as the script of "employer", had to justify what claims come within the regime of truth and what might be exaggerations. This meant using questioning techniques to avoid hurting the parents' face.

Some Chinese parents were too shy to be observed. This was so even though the researcher explained that the observation would be confidential and that only his supervisor and he would access it for purposes relating to the completion of this research project and finalisation of this thesis. Although the requirements for research ethics in China are not as rigorous as those Australia, the investigator complied with the Australian requirements for ethical research while undertaking fieldwork in China.

Robson (1993, p. 30) argues that in "real-world" research we may not be able to, or wish to, control the situation, that there is almost always the intention or possibility of change associated with any research study. This forces the researcher, wittingly or not, into value judgements and moral dilemmas. Having lived in China for twenty-seven years, the investigator experienced a number of major historical events in modern China, such as the Mao's Cultural Revolution during 1960s - 1970s; Deng's open-door policy and economic reforms in the 1980s and the June 4 Tiananmen Event of 1989. On the one hand such experiences helped him to understand many of the issues faced by parents and teachers in China. On the other hand, these experiences meant that the investigator brought strong personal opinions in judging the value of each social issue in China. In other words, this research, like research generally, is not totally 'value-free'. In order to avoid any personal biases during the data collection, analysis and interpretation in China, the investigator followed suggestions made by Robson (1993, pp. 30 - 34). First, the investigator asked himself: 'if I was in the same position or situation of the interviewees or participants being observed, what would I say or do?' Second, the investigator allowed those described to challenge their accounts on the grounds of fairness, relevance and accuracy.

For instance, once the investigator interviewed a Chinese education official. The official kept talking about the wonderful achievements of the communist authorities, and what they had done to improve educational quality and spread cultural and scientific knowledge among the people throughout the whole of China since coming to power in 1949. The researcher strongly (but silently) disagreed with what the official said because he believed that he himself was a product, if not a victim, of the Chinese Communist education system. His primary schooling occurred during the Cultural Revolution when all levels of academic education, including basic literacy and numeracy education, were forbidden. Moreover he was deprived of the right to go to university because he rejected a job offered by local authorities. However, the investigator listened patiently to the official's talk. After the interview, the researcher asked of himself, 'If I was a Chinese government official, would I make similar complimentary points?' The answer must be that if anyone wants to keep his or her official career safe or expect a higher position, then this type of response must be expected. The investigator did not totally reject all the eulogised achievements from the official although he personally felt disgusted. Instead, he accepted one of the achievements as the official eulogised: namely it is not easy to run education in a developing country with 1.3 billion people. It is in the context that it is possible to argue that contemporary Chinese authorities have done a reasonable, if not good, job.


A relational view of education raises questions relating to the philosophy of life which might be exhibited in politics, history, economics and geography. Inevitably many questions arise in attempts to explain why particular education reforms come to pass or not as the case may be. No education system can be appreciated outside its cultural frame of reference. The methodology developed for this research project was an attempt to go someway to meet this challenging requirement. There were five features to the methodology of this project. These multiple approaches were employed to data collection, analysis and interpretation in order to address each country's cultural frame of references. The aim was both to respect the 'living spirit' of each system and to distinguish what is of comparable application and what is 'peculiar to local circumstances', by examining diversity rather than attempting to prove consensus. The selected case study sites help to understand people similarly engaged in teaching and learning. The ethnographic techniques used rely not on thick descriptions but on "making the strange familiar". The informants in this study provided accounts not just of children's education in two cultures, but also of children's education from two cultural perspectivies. Finally, the process of comparative interpretation involved studying educational processes in different cultural settings in order to make a modest contribution to the policy debates surrounding education reform.
Figure 1. Research Design

Figure 2. Sampling Options in School Observation

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