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Uncertainty Brings Clarity to Education Reform

Iveta Silova

The world is flat, and individual differences are being pushed aside as we converge toward one global culture. At least, that’s the prevailing view.

But Iveta Silova sees things differently. Silova, associate professor and director of the Comparative and International Education program in the College of Education, studies globalization, democratization and educational policy borrowing in education. Her work focuses on political, economic and social transformations in post-socialist countries in Eastern and Central Europe and Central Asia.

A lot of existing research discusses geopolitical transformations in the post-socialist bloc as a linear transition from authoritarianism to democracy and a market economy.

Silova was born and raised in Soviet Latvia and she has also lived in post-Soviet Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Belarus. She found from her time living in these areas that the theories posited in this existing research don’t match the reality.

“Not only have countries there not followed a linear transition, but they have also taken very different trajectories,” she says. “The whole region has been sailing under the flag of democracy, but the reality is quite different.”

Some countries are moving toward Western norms, but others are becoming more authoritarian than ever. And yet others are following entirely new paths. 

“There are major conceptual disputes and continuing power struggles among different groups nationally and internationally, seeking to redefine the new geopolitical educational space that the countries of Central/Southeastern Europe and the former Soviet Union have been aspiring to inhabit since the collapse of socialism. Outcomes are very mixed,” says Silova.

“We can’t impose our familiar conceptual categories on these post-socialist transformations. They are constructing new education policies and practices, and we need to adjust our conceptual tools to allow for seeing something more complex.”

Silova’s current research aims to theorize the post-socialist transformations in the context of globalization. In two edited volumes, Post-Socialism is not Dead (2010) and Globalization on the Margins (2011), she has brought a variety of scholars together to write essays that examine these issues.

This is a fascinating field of study, she says, because of its inherent contradictions and complexities. It allows scholars to question the idea of global convergence and to examine uncertainty as a conceptual category.

This uncertainty enables scholars to move beyond Western conceptualizations of what education is and should be. Every country has its own history, culture and educational needs.

“Are we really converging toward the same future? There are a lot of alternatives,” Silova explains.

“The post-socialist condition itself in the definition of openness—things are still in flux. It’s a place where we can still see different ideas of what education can be. How are nations and identities being redefined, blending Western ideas and local ways? What are the global impacts of these transformations?”

Silova’s research shows that the path of education reform after the fall of the Iron Curtain is a not a straight line toward democracy. Instead, it is varied, open-ended and unpredictable.

Story by Emily Groff

Posted on Monday, November 07, 2011

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