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Methodology of comparative studies in


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Abbas Khakpour
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Contemporary Educational
Researches Journal
1 (2012) 20-26

Methodology of comparative studies in education

Abbas Khakpour a *
Assistant Prof. Head of Education Department, Malayer University, Malayer, Iran


Comparative Education as a scientific paradigm is relatively new. Despite numerous theories, models, Pattern and researches
in this field the comparative education is still faces enormous challenges. Since the foundation of modern and efficient
education systems is dependent to new ideas and techniques, then the comparative studies by comparing the content and
processes of successful education systems can be useful in designing and implementing educational changes. This article,
along with the introduction and evolution of research in comparative education, studies the epistemological approaches and
researches methods. Furthermore Methodological issues in comparative research (qualitative and quantitative data
collection methods, validity, reliability and methods of data and information analysis) have been studied and finally the
challenges of educational comparative research have been discussed. Comprehensive understanding of the challenges and
Issues of Comparative studies through inhibition of surface and simplified views facilitate the effective use of research
findings in this area.

Keywords: Approaches, Comparative Research, Methodology ;

Selection and/or peer review under responsibility of Prof. Dr. Gulsun A. Baskan.

©2012 Academic World Education & Research Center. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction

A comparative study can be considered when individuals or teams study particular topic or
phenomenon in the formation of two or more countries. The individuals or teams must take notice to
the set of social, cultural (institutions, customs, traditions, systems assessment, lifestyle, and language
and thought patterns) to complete the secondary analysis of national data on new experimental work
or manage the use of research tools. They may explain the search for similarities or differences, in
whole or in bringing them to achieve greater awareness and deeper understanding about the social
reality in different areas of the nation. Wilson (2003) defines comparative education as “an
intersection of the social sciences, education and cross-national study which attempts to use cross-
national data to test propositions about the relationship between education and society and between
teaching practices and learning outcomes”.

* ADDRESS FOR CORRESPONDENCE: Abbas , Khakpour , Assistant Prof. Head of Education Department, Malayer University,
Malayer, Iran
E-mail address:
Abbas Khakpour. /Contemporary Educational Researches Journal (2012) 000-000

However, since the nineteenth century, philosophers, anthropologists, political scientists and
sociologists have used cross-cultural comparisons to achieve various objectives; the comparative
approach to the study of society has a long tradition dating back to Ancient history. Wilson notes:
“Writers since the beginning of recorded history have described aspects of education in countries
they visited, with the notion that the educational structures and practices they examined might be
useful for adoption and adaptation in their own countries... Such works include the philosophical and
rhetorical treatises on education by Herodotus (484-425 BC), Thucydides (471-399 BC), Xenophon
(430-355 BC), Plato (427-347 BC), Aristotle (384-322 BC), Cicero (106-43 BC), Scipio Africanus (185-129
AD), and Tacitus (70 AD) from ancient Greece and Rome; the descriptive and narrative accounts of
Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela from pre-Inquisition Spain (1165-1173 AD), who voyaged as far as India;
Niccolò and Maffeo Polo (the father and uncle of Marco Polo) writing about China (1254-1324 AD);
and Abd al-Rahman Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406 AD) of Tunisia.(p19).

2. Comparative research approaches:

There are a number of approaches in comparative education studies. We can summarize these
approaches in the six categories. They are historical, social, methodological, philosophical and
scientific approaches. Detailed description of these approaches isn’t our goal in this article. These
approaches are shown in table (1). Overview of approaches in the study of comparative we notice
strengths and weaknesses of these approaches. In the historical approach researchers seek the
previous causes of educational theory. Their strong opinions on the effectiveness of this approach in
comparative education have tended to emphasize adults and other factors were ignored. In this
approach the model origin and development through the experience. As evidenced, this approach is
retrospective. The scientific approach to the study of comparative education is based on the
comparison. The contrast between the scientific analyses is an essential aspect of educational issues.
Through comparative analysis we are able to reasonable questions.

Table1) Different approaches of research in comparative education

approach The main Strengths Weaknesses Data


The historical History and Identify and evaluate in order to The test subjects cannot Qualitative
approach Culture understand the true meaning of a easily be imagined.
given date. Comparative growth This is a retrospective
and development of each approach.
community depending on the
date of recognition
Social Analysis Emphasize the educational values The Impossibility of the Qualitative
approach that are comparable to higher generalization of result.
education at all levels, all The Complexity of
education systems can be research
identified through research can
focus simultaneously on several
cases to identify similarities and

Abbas Khakpour. /Contemporary Educational Researches Journal (2012) 000-000

Methodological Induction Providing solutions for a The time consuming and quantitative
approach and generalized empirical research, complexity
deduction the cases studied, only a few
conditions have to agree with
everything there is to this
Philosophical The human Understanding how to control The Focus on childhood, Qualitative
approach evolution and improve the world, education and attitude to the life as
and means to deal with social life. a mortal phenomenon
Scientific Comparison A reasonable analysis, allowing The Most of the early quantitative
approach comparisons with other adult research projects are
(Classic) education issues, providing a non-empirical.
scientific classification of a
research project.
Scientific Collecting data and information The Difficult of combining Quantitative
approach society more accurate and more qualitative and +
(New) comprehensive. quantitative results.
contexts Qualitative
More validity of research results. The weighting of
quantitative and
qualitative methods

Research in the social approach is an analytical method to identify similarities and differences on
several different focuses. In this approach we can study all the issues by identifying educational
systems, such as economic, political, social and cultural. Sadler stressed that education systems are
intricately connected with the societies that support them. Friedrich Schneider and Franz Hilker in
Germany, Isaac Kandel and Robert Ulich in the USA, Nicholas Hans and Joseph Lauwerys in the UK, and
Pedro Rosselló in Switzerland, all paid much attention to the social causes behind educational
phenomena. As the name implies the philosophical approach to philosophical problems, especially the
epistemological aspect is education. This approach attaches great importance to childhood. I believe
that this period in human development is essential for full human and animals on the additional
support needs of adults (Bray etal, 2006).

3. Epistemology and comparative education:

Unlike many votes in the ontology and aesthetic, Philosophical views on epistemology have two
directions. They are positivistic and interpretivist. The positivist position is grounded in the theoretical
belief that there is an objective reality that can be known to the researcher, if he or she uses the
correct methods and applies those methods in a correct manner. The positivist paradigm of exploring
social reality is based on the philosophical ideas of the French philosopher August Comte, who
emphasized observation and reason as means of understanding human behavior. According to him,
true knowledge is based on experience of senses and can be obtained by observation and experiment.
Positivistic thinkers adopt his scientific method as a means of knowledge generation. Hence, it has to
be understood within the framework of the principles and assumptions of science. These assumptions,
as Conen et al noted, are determinism, empiricism, parsimony, and generality (Dash, 2005).
Interpretivist views have different origins in different disciplines. Schultz, Cicourel and
Garfinkel (phenomenology/sociology), the "Chicago School of Sociology" (sociology), and Boas and
Malinowski (anthropology) are often connected with the origin the interpretive paradigm. The
interpretive paradigm developed as a critique of positivism in the social sciences. In general,
interpretivists share the following beliefs about the nature of knowing and reality (Cohen & Crabtree,

Abbas Khakpour. /Contemporary Educational Researches Journal (2012) 000-000

2006). Interpretive approaches rely heavily on naturalistic methods (interviewing and observation and
analysis of existing texts). These methods ensure an adequate dialog between the researchers and
those with whom they interact in order to collaboratively construct a meaningful reality, Generally,
meanings are emergent from the research process and typically, qualitative methods are
There is a certain pressure within the field for the use of quantitative methods. This goes along with
a shift over time within the field of comparative education from historical, explanatory studies
towards studies employing statistical information and quantitative data analysis procedures. Some
researchers are drawn to the quest for generalizable explanations and universal principles applicable
to educational phenomena across societies and cultures. Concomitantly, there is an attraction for
some scholars and policy makers to the transfer of educational theories, practices, and policies across
international borders, and a desire to seek global solutions to global problems. Large-scale databases
from international studies of educational achievement, and education statistics gathered by
international agencies, can be tempting to experience and novice researchers alike because of their
availability and influence. Finally, research commissioned by governments or international
organizations may carry a preference for particular method and theories. From other quarters there is
comparable pressure for qualitative studies, sometimes in reaction to the perceived shortcomings of
quantitative methods. Qualitative researchers in comparative education share a strong belief in the
importance of cultural, political and social contexts, and the position that education cannot be
decontextualized from its local culture (Bray et al, 2006).
Elley (1999) mentioned several of the advantages and disadvantages of large-scale, international
quantitative studies l for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement. First, he pointed out, these
studies provide a systematic body of evidence of kinds and levels of literacy achievement among
national samples of students. At the same time he acknowledged several weaknesses of these studies,
including potential translation problems and the difficulty of ensuring comparable samples.
Hamilton and Barton (2000) maintained that the standardized tests used in cross-national
quantitative researches ignore culture and are weak, limited and simplistic proxy measures of literacy.
They added that such measures are not valid because test items have no relation to respondents’
actual everyday literacy practices or to the role of literacy in different societies and contexts.

Table2) Different methods of research in comparative education

Research Research Research methods Example Research Researcher

paradigms approach
A Longitudinal Comparative Study of Student Mortagy &
Longitudinal Perceptions in Online Education Boghikian-Whitby
A longitudinal study of the self-esteem of students Battle & Blowers
in regular and special education classes. (1982)
Effectiveness of basic clinical skills training REMMEN et al
programs: a cross-sectional comparison of four (2001)
medical schools.
A comparative study of creative thinking of Saeki etal (2001)
American and Japanese college students. The
correlational Journal of Creative Behavior
Positivism Quantitative Freedom and happiness: A comparative study in Veenhoven (2000)
forty-four nations in the early 1990s.
experimental and quasi- Teaching Foreign Language Grammar to Adults: A Von Elek and
experimental comparative study. Oskarsson. 1973.
Surveys Third International Mathematics and Science Study 1996 and 1999
Program for International Student Assessment OECD

Abbas Khakpour. /Contemporary Educational Researches Journal (2012) 000-000

(PISA) (2000,2003,2006)

Secondary analysis Comparing Civic Competence among European Hoskins et al (2011)

Youth: Composite and Domain-Specific Indicators
Using IEA Civic Education Study Data

Literacies, Languages and Developments in Peruvian Aikman (2001)

Ethnographical Amazonia
Assessing the Impact of Women’s Literacies in Maddox (2005)
Bangladesh: An Ethnographic Inquiry ‘
Understanding Student Learning Entwistle &
Ramsden (1983)
Cultures Consequences: Comparing Values, Hofstede (2001)
Interpretivism Qualitative Behaviors, Institutions, and Organizations across
Biographical and The Primary Curriculum: Learning from International Moyles &
Perspectives Hargreaves (1998)
auto- Biographical
From Lady Teacher to Professional Study Watts (1998)
Re territorializing Educational Import: Explorations Steiner-Khamsi
into the Politics of Educational Borrowing, (2002)
case study
Culture, Context and the Quality of Education: Ness (2004)
Evidence from a Small-Scale Extended Case Study in
England and Denmark
Qualitative Triangulation Design Culture and Pedagogy: International Comparisons in Alexander (2000)
Primary Education
New Approach + Explanatory Design
Challenges of Adopting the Use of Technology in Jayson W.
Quantitative Embedded Design Less Developed Countries: The Case of Cambodia Richardson(2010)
Exploratory Design

4. Methodological challenges of comparative research:

Guba and Yvonna (1994) define the concept of reliability as a criterion by which to judge qualitative
research as belonging to the positivist or post positivist paradigm. They mention that those working
from a constructivist paradigm would prefer the concept "dependability." Bechger et al (1999) define
comparative validity as “appropriateness, meaningfulness and usefulness of comparative inference
made from test” (p19). Dogan (2004, pp324-340) discuss the limits of quantitative (statistical)
methods include: 1) Cross-national comparisons use national averages. Most countries are
characterized by important internal diversity, either regional or vertical in terms of social strata.2)
limits of survey research in comparative studies such as errors generated by sampling procedures,
weighing of data, unclear questions, insufficient training of interviewers, and so on.3) invalidity of
worldwide statistical comparisons because of discrepancy between the quality of statistical data for
the advanced countries and for the developing ones. That is we are dealing with material of unequal
accuracy. The lower the level of development is associated with the lower the validity of quantitative
data. 4) Invalidity of gross national product (GNP) as an indicator in comparative studies 5) scoring and
scaling which is used as a substitute for formal statistic is visionary and subjective.6) Single isolated
indicators are often misleading and are likely to be ineffective measures. 7) The neglect of the
temporal dimension limits the explanation of variance.8) neglect from the shadow economy and as a
result tee use of inaccurate statistics. Other researchers in the comparative education have been
mentioned the limits of quantitative methods. “Shalev’s (2007) critique of the use of multiple
regression in comparative research brings together and synthesizes a variety of previous critiques,
ranging from those focusing on foundational issues (e.g., the persistent problem of limited diversity),
to estimation issues (e.g., the unrealistic assumption of correct model specification), to narrow
technical issues (e.g., the difficulty of deriving valid standard errors for regression coefficients in
pooled cross-sectional time-series models).

Abbas Khakpour. /Contemporary Educational Researches Journal (2012) 000-000

Altbach and Kelly identified four main challenges that had emerged since previous ‘state of the art’
reviews of the field were published in 1977. These were seen as (I) challenges to the nation-state as
the exclusive research framework; (ii) challenges to input–output models and reliance upon
quantification; (iii) challenges to structural functionalism, and (iv) the emergence of new substantive
concerns, most notably gender research, institutional studies and critiques, the content and processes
of education and the legitimization of educational knowledge (Crossley and Watson, 2003.p117).
Hantrais cites problems in cross-national comparative research, included: Managing and funding
cross-national projects, Accessing comparable data, Concepts and research parameters (Hantrais,
1995). The advent of web pages at international organizations and national statistical services has
revolutionized how basic research is undertaken in our field. The development of Internet search
engines a decade ago and meta-search engines has also transformed our research capabilities. The
internet does, however, bring its own baggage, including an emphasis on English that contributes to
the dominance of that language (Mouhoubi 2005, p. 62).

5. Discussion

Comparative study of different systems of education in general, has many achievements and can
lead to improve the functions and processes. There are different approaches in the comparative
researches and studies. Each of these approaches has advantages and limitations that are mentioned
some of them. The quantitative, qualitative and mixed researches and studies can be used in various
comparative education projects. Trough applicant of mixed designs the validity and reliability of the
studies can be enhanced. With different purposes, the comparisons can be occurred within a system
of education or in the wider educational system. These objectives may be discovery of facts and issues
through analysis and understanding of educational systems in other states, establish and develop
cultural relations between different countries , the Promote and dissemination of the Peace and
friendship between people and collect the latest information about education and compare them in
order to find pervasive problems and solve them. Two important points should be considered in any
comparative study: First, in comparative education, the territory of the other sciences such as
economics, sociology and anthropology are engaged. Beliefs, customs, traditions and ethnic
characteristics of the moral and social, economic and political issues affect educational processes and
outcomes. Therefore, Comparative Study must be done with a holistic approach. Second, Different
methods should be used according to the position and purpose of study.


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