Post-Structural and Post-Colonial Developments in Education


At the outset of the XXI century, which has been called a century of globalization, there is much evidence of a revitalization of the field of comparative and international education. Post-modern tendencies in the development of educational thought led to the development of comparative education theories (Rust 1991). Structural functionalism became the foundation of social science during the twentieth century as well as the foundation of studies in the applied social sciences. It has therefore had a significant effect on education-related researches, which has grown stronger over the years. In the following paper, functionalism as one model of an international research methodology that has broken with the scientific tradition will be addressed in terms of its key features such as the scope of research, kinds of data utilized in it, and its applications in education. Overall, different from the traditional scientific models, functionalism as a model of an international research methodology focuses less on the manner in which individual educational programs are organized but concentrates on the global developments in the educational process.

Comparative Education

To make an analysis of functionalism as one of the models of an international research methodology, it is important to understand what the term ‘comparative education means. This is explained by the fact that functionalism is utilized in comparative education.

A comparative education can be understood as an educational system that has its foundations in comparing educational systems from different countries and finding their weak and strong points. As a result of a compare and contrast analysis, the ideologists of comparative education create the united system that they implement globally with a purpose of offering students from different lands equal opportunities in professional growth and development (Welch n. d.).

Education and Culture

Further, to have a better understanding of functionalism as the main trajectory for developing the concepts of comparative education, the connection between education and culture should be addressed.

The connection of education and culture is evident through the necessity to apply a cultural approach to the studies of education in order to achieve a better progress in this important field (Masemann 2003). A cultural approach in the study of education is essential to counter the ever-increasing trends in education. According to Kopp (2010, p. 9), “culture refers to all aspects of life, including the mental, social, linguistic, and physical forms of culture. It refers to the ideas people have, the relationships they have with others in their families and with larger social institutions”. Culture has had a significant impact on the systems of education. For example, evolutionism and colonialism have had profound effects on education.

Many specialists claim that the studies of culture existing in different lands may greatly contribute to the improvement of methodology in comparative education. According to Masemann, “anthropological studies of education in every country and setting can help bear witness to the rich diversity of models of cultural transmission and the great variety of experiences that can be called educational” (2003, p. 129). Similar position is stated by Paulston and Leibman, who believe that “both the structures and relations of multiple education and knowledge systems can be recreated in one or more cultural maps, in a cultural cartography where the space of the cultural map reflects the effects of cultural changes” (1996, p.24).

Functionalism as One Model of an International Research Methodology that Broke with the Scientific Tradition

One of the commonly known models of an international research methodology that has broken with the scientific tradition is functionalism also known as structural functionalism. It stemmed from the works of Emile Durkheim and Auguste Comte in the twentieth and nineteenth centuries respectively.

Structural functionalists argued that society must be closely modeled on natural sciences. It has been argued that structural functionalism was influenced by a variety of movements among the natural sciences. For instance, the evolution theory of the nineteenth century led to the incorporation of the argument that social change, similar to biological change, should be accretive and slow instead of swift. It has been argued that social change in structural functionalism is not revolutionary but evolutionary.

Another feature of functionalism is that it has asserted a social science, which is value-free in which researchers seek and make presentations on facts, ethical, and moral questions on their developed knowledge. This means that the researcher’s values do not have to interfere with the search for social rules that govern behaviors within the systems. However, values of economy and efficiency are dominant within social sciences. Here, structural functionalism reveals its heritage from the experimental sciences of the seventeenth century.

Key Features of Functionalism

Scope or focus of research

The scope of structural functionalism research is quite wide, and it includes the entire social ‘objectively real’ world around us (Parkes, Griffiths, & Australian Teacher Education Association 2009, p. 34). The focus of research in a functionalist’s perspective is based on the view that societal needs must be met for the survival of every member of the society. In addition to this, social institutions have the role of satisfying the needs for the societal survival.

Kinds of data

The kinds of data applied in structural functionalism mostly include interviews and social serveys. The following comment by Hayman suggests more details regarding this matter:

Comparative studies in education generally have not studied those factors in educational processes which can be directly observed, but have settled for the measurement of indicators for supposed social realities through the study of official statistical data, questionnaire responses, recruitment patterns, interest groups and so on (1979, p. 242).

Functionalism applications

Functionalism applications are in the adaptation of scientific techniques on the social world and an analogical use between the society and an individual in it.

Education and functionalism

Education has a noteworthy significance in structural functionalism theories and is given two major roles. First, it is a central site for inculcation of stabilizing and integrative values. Systems of education are viewed as significant not only in the modern societies, but also in the modernizing and in developing societies. The second function, that gives functionalism a noteworthy implication on education, is the availability of skilled personnel for the wide-ranging branches. These functions ensured the continued stability of the entire society.

Functionalism acquires its central role in the development of educational theories in the second half of the XX century. According to Welch (n. d., p. 27),

In comparative education, the functionalist tradition was arguably most clearly expressed in the substantial literature of the 1950s and 1960s that was devoted to the theme of modernization, particularly the elaboration of the role that education played in changing traditional societies. As well, a reified notion of social needs, evolutionary progress, and social integration rather than social change and a reliance on supposed laws of society was evident.

Structural Functionalism and the Scientific Tradition

Structural functionalism is different from the traditional scientific models. For instance, functionalists pay more attention to a particular individual aiming at illuminating how the forces within the society mold the individual’s behavior. Moreover, functionalists view individuals as decision-makers. This is not however the case in the scientific models. All in all, in contrast to the traditional scientific models, functionalism focuses less on the manner in which individuals shape their own fate, but it concentrates on the limits to which individual’s behaviors become scientifically predictable as a result of the society.


In conclusion, it is pertinent in the modern-day era of globalization to emphasize renewed worldwide preoccupation with the need to improve cross-cultural dialogue in comparative education. One of the possible ways of doing is in the application of fundamentalism. However, fundamentalism is not celebrated by many specialists of the scientific tradition. Structural functionalist theories, like most other theories, have faced a variety of criticism. One of the most common criticisms is that these theories are teleological. This means that they reverse the normal cause effect order and explain things and events by what happens afterwards instead of what took place before. A further criticism against functionalism is its assumption that everything in the society has a function. However, critics have felt that some things that exist in the society are actually not functional. Moreover, some things such as divorce have a negative function in the society.


Hayman, R 1979, ‘Comparative Education from an Ethnomethodological Perspective’, Comparative Education, vol. 15 no. 3, pp. 241-249.

Kopp, B 2010, ‘DO WE NEED COMPARATIVE EDUCATION IN A GLOBALISED WORLD?’, Orbis Scholae, vol. 4 no. 2, pp. 7-20.

Masemann, V 2003, ‘Culture and Education’, in Arnove, R &Torres, C (Eds.), Comparative Education: The Dialectic of the Global and the Local, Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., pp. 115-132.

Paulston, R & Leibman, M 1996, ‘Social Cartography. A new metaphor/tool for comparative studies.’, in Paulston, R, Social cartography: mapping ways of seeing social and educational change, New York : Garland Pub., pp. 7-29.

Parkes, R, Griffiths, T, & Australian Teacher Education Association 2009, ‘Comparative Education, Border Pedagogy, and Teacher Education in an Age of Internationalisation’, Australian Teacher Education Association, pp. 34-48.

Rust, V 1991, ‘Postmodernism and Its Comparative Education Implications’, Comparative Education Review, vol. 35 no. 4, pp. 610-626.

Welch, A n. d., ‘Comparative Education in an Era of Postmodernity and Globalization’, Technocracy, Uncertainty, and Ethics, pp. 24-44.

White, L & Brinkerhoff, D 2007. Essentials of Sociology. Cengage Learning, Mexico.

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