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Investigating International Education


The struggles of teachers for professional recognition and for the associated working conditions and rewards, that might bring it about have a long and changeable history. More pay, higher status, greater autonomy, increased self-regulation, improved standards of training – these factors became crucial for many teachers when they moved to other countries to continue their work. One of the most popular countries where teachers move to improve their life situation is Israel. Research study specialists identified the ever-growing character of the process of teachers’ immigration into Israel, and decided to observe the way the concept of place affects teachers’ work. In the following paper, this issue will be researched from two different angles – (1) from the angle of the structural functionalism method, and (2) from the angle of the critical research method. The main objective of the paper is to see the way these methods differ from each other in the following areas: the different kinds of questions that are raised, the kinds of data that they choose, the peculiarities of data interpretation, the difference of weight attached to the micro and macro, the attitudes to objectivity, the attitudes to relativism, and the attitudes to western educational traditions. Generally, the results of the comparison of the two research methods under consideration suggest a conclusion that structural functionalism makes an emphasis on the global developments in the phenomenon of teachers’ immigration, whereas the critical research method offers more details regarding individual situations in which teachers appear.

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Immigrant Teachers in Israel

Across many parts of the world, teachers decide to improve their social and economic status by means of moving to other lands. It is no wonder because so many governments have seen the importance of excellent education for the future of their countries, and have made a decision to improve working and training conditions for teachers. The Israeli government is known for its politics of supporting teachers for a few decades. Such attractive measures cause the active immigration of teachers from other lands to the country. However, teaching in a different state is connected to many additional difficulties. Thus, it is important to understand how the concept of ‘place’ affects the effectiveness of teachers’ work. In her article, Freema Elbaz-Luwisch summarizes her investigations regarding this matter. The following comment helps see the scope of her findings:

Teachers who have made a transition from one cultural setting to another are likely to have developed an awareness of teaching and schooling in the new culture that other teachers may not have. Their stories reveal what it means in the chosen culture to tell one’s story and give an account of one’s career and work as a teacher. The stories of immigrant teachers highlight losses and gains in the journey toward a new teaching self, and reveal something of what the process of finding or making a place for oneself—both in the new culture and as a teacher—is like. It is through their storying of their experiences of work, relationships, history and power that the immigrant teachers manage to create meaningful accounts of themselves as teachers in their new settings. Their stories are meaningful because they are stories of making a difference. For these teachers, making a difference is important: they care about helping individual pupils to make something of their lives, and to this end they invest their energies in initiating projects (Elbaz-Luwisch 2004, p. 387).

This implies that teacher professionalism appears to be advancing depending on the concept of ‘place’ in case this ‘place’ offers better working conditions including better payment, greater autonomy, increased self-regulation, improved standards of training, social allowances, and a more privileged social status.

The Research Methods Chosen for the Case Study

To see the way different research methods shed light on the subject of the studies (which is the main objective of this paper), the two research methods will be utilized – structural functionalism, and critical research method. Below, some of the major facts regarding the peculiarities of these methods will be addressed.

Structural Functionalism

Structural functionalism is one of the popular non-scientific research methods applied by postmodernist scientists in their research studies of natural and socially oriented sciences (Welch 2007). The functionalists avoid restrictive theoretical paradigms as they eagerly pursue societal problems, sampling widely from whatever concepts and tools seem most useful for the problem at hand. Their main perspective is a philosophical metatheory (Sever 2012). In structural functionalism, the strategies of inquiry and explanation of every approach are grounded on deeply rooted, but often tacit assumptions about the laws of nature. Structural functionalism is inclined to focus on interactions of individuals with their environment, and, thus, discounts between internal and external events in connection with an individual. Structural functionalism is the rejection of the proposition that mental structures are the target phenomena of psychology. To put it succinctly, functionalists view the mind as a mechanism understood in terms of the relations between the organism and the environment, rather than in terms of unconscious processes that are supposedly going on inside the individual’s brain, that is, the mind is to be understood in terms of its function rather than in terms of its mental structure. Functionalist approaches to educational matters have been described by applying the famous analogy between the human body and society, an analogy supposing that society like a human body has particular organs with specific functions. In the body, the lungs take oxygen, the heart pumps blood, veins carry blood, and each of these important processes takes place interdependently. Any kind of malfunction in one of these will affect the whole system’s harmony. Similarly, education as a social institution and a part of social organism, for example, is connected in various ways to the economy, the family, and the political and religious systems. It has its own functions to perform within an organized whole. In other words, working in a harmony and for specific functions to perform in “perfect whole” are central to this approach. All in all, structural functionalism sees objects through their connections with the events that take place in a global world.

Critical Research Method

The critical research method is a traditional research method in education that has been in wide usage for decades (Odom, Brantlinger, Gersten, Horner, Thompson & Harris 2005). The critical research method makes an emphasis on the group of individuals and their behavioral peculiarities, but not on the way society shapes an individual and his or her behavior. Critical theorists have three major concerns: mapping injustices in education, tracing those injustices to their source, and seeking and proposing remedies to those injustices. They began to work by defining inequalities in education in the first part of the XX century (Tikly 2004). Critical theorists claim that the relationship among social structures, power, and schooling practices should be central for the work of sociology of education (Odom et al. 2005). Critical research theorists are concerned about the quality of scientific research in the field of education. For this reason, they express their disagreement with scientific method theorists, stating that the type of scientific information that is acceptable as evidence can not always be qualified as such. Overall, critical research methodology aims to address the situation in which every participant of the educational process is found, and makes its conclusions regarding every particular individual.

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The Different Kinds of Questions that are Raised by the Research Methods under Consideration

Addressing the differences between the questions that are raised by the two different methods under consideration, it should be stated that they are quite significant. Regarding the research question of the paper, that is ‘how the concept of ‘place’ affects the effectiveness of teachers’ work’, functionalists are interested in such questions as (1) if being in ‘place’ is important for having better results in teachers’ professional work; (2) what negative or positive outcomes may be connected to being out of ‘place’; (3) how can an individual be sure in one’s being in ‘place’; and (4) how the environment affects teachers’ feeling of being in ‘place’. In addition, the findings made by Ghosn in her article regarding the research studies of the Lebanese system of education, suggest that the other possible questions asked by functionalist theorists may be the following: how successful might the skills received by teachers’ in their own cultures be in the new [Israeli] culture; will immigrant teachers’ skills withstand cross-cultural use as diverse as Israeli one; and can the educational models, developed in a certain culture, be implemented by immigrant teachers in the other [Israeli] culture (Ghosn 2004). Regarding the critical method theorists, their potential questions might be (1) how overcoming social injustices by immigrant teachers in the new conditions of the Israeli educational system may contribute to their professionalism; and (2) how can the positive experience acquired by the Israeli government be implemented to avoid social injustices that teachers face in the other countries.

The Kinds of Data the Research Methods under Consideration Choose. The Peculiarities of Data Interpretation

Whereas social functionalism theorists mainly resort to the use of interviews and social surveys, critical research theorists have a broader scope of their research data as they also use the data offered in the literature including historical context and modern occurrences, and in media. Regarding the peculiarities of data interpretation by the theorists belonging to the two methodologies, it should be stated that they are more or less the same, with some slight differences, as all of them apply calculations, show their results in figures and tables, and comment on them in the textual form. The examples of data interpretations by the two methods can be seen in Kanbur’s and Milligan’s articles. Kanbur’s article is a case study where synthetic methods are applied, and one of them is a critical research method which we can see because he is exploring gender inequalities. In this article, the author makes use of statistic counting to show how women are affected by gender discrimination and bias in international education (Kanbur 2002). In the article by Milligan, we see a variety of research methods of postmodernism including functionalism. In this article, the author makes an analysis of statistic data received from publication studies, and interprets them from the point of view of Islamic societies, and the religiously diverse societies of the west (Milligan 2003). Thus, the evaluation of the facts shows that although the two different methods under consideration have a similar approach to collecting the research data, they interpret them in slightly different ways.

The Difference of Weight Attached to the Micro and Macro between the Two Research Methods under Consideration

The difference of weight attached to the micro and macro is by far the most significant difference between the two approaches because structural functionalism has a tendency to make an emphasis on macro phenomena of the global education, and the critical research method focuses on the micro developments within individual cultures (Welch 2007).

The Attitudes to Objectivity by the Two Research Methods under Consideration

With regards to the attitudes to objectivity by the two research methods, it appears that the critical research method is more objective than structural functionalism. As a matter of the fact, the lack of objectivity in the research strategies by functionalist theorists is seen as the most complicated problem by the critics (Welch 2007). Reflecting on the issues connected to the lack of objectivity in functionalism, numerous critics of postmodernism rejects it as irrelevant. Thus, I would also limit the use of functionalism as a research method in my future case studies, and make an emphasis on their other research methods.

The Attitudes to Relativism by the Two Research Methods under Consideration

Functionalism traditionally has a tendency to address the objects of its research form the point of view of relativism, and tends to avoid making concrete conclusions in particular cases whereas the critical research method, on the contrary, has its foundations in the specific scientific data that makes the results of investigations precise and explicit (Odom et al. 2005).

The Attitudes to Western Educational Traditions by the Two Research Methods under Consideration

Western educational traditions tend to find their manifestations in functionalist approaches rather than critical research methods. This is explained by the fact that the issues important for critical theorists are of less importance for the theorists of western traditions in international education (Sever 2012).


On the whole, addressing any particular theme within the frames of a case study from the points of view of different research methods shows how different can be the course of analysis in the context of any particular research technique. In this paper, the concept of ‘place’ and its importance for teachers’ professionalism has been addressed on the basis of the example of immigrant teachers in Israel from the point of view of functionalists and critical theorists. Overall, the main peculiarities of functionalists’ analysis are in addressing the matter under consideration by reference to its connections with global occurrences in international education. In contrast, critical theorists pay more attention to individual matters during their analysis, and their focus is on the injustices, existing in the international system of education, and the way the removal of this injustice (including offering teachers better payment, higher social status, greater autonomy, increased self-regulation, improved standards of training) may contribute to teachers’ professionalism in the conditions of any particular country.

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Elbaz‐Luwisch, F 2004, ‘Immigrant teachers: stories of self and place’, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, vol. 17 no. 3, pp. 387-414.

Ghosn, I 2004, ‘Partnership in education: Lebanese evolution of a Finnish educational model, Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, vol. 48 no. 1, pp. 35-51.

Kanbur, R 2002, ‘Education, Empowerment and Gender Inequalities’, Cornell University, 1-27.

Milligan, J 2003, ‘Teaching between the Cross and the Crescent Moon: Islamic

Identity, Postcoloniality, and Public Education in the Southern Philippines’, Comparative Education Review, vol. 47 no. 4, pp. 468-492.

Odom, S, Brantlinger, E, Gersten, R, Horner, R, Thompson, B, & Harris, K 2005, ‘Research in the International Education: Critical Methods and Evidence-Based Practices’, Public Education, vol. 71 no. 2, pp. 137-148.

Sever, M 2012, ‘A critical look at the theories of sociology of education’, International Journal Of Human Sciences, vol. 9 no. 1, pp. 650-671.

Tikly, L 2004, ‘Education and the New Imperialism’, Comparative Education, vol. 40 no. 2, pp. 173-198.

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Welch, A 2007, ‘Comparative Education in an Era of Postmodernity And Globalization’, Technocracy, Uncertainty, and Ethics, pp. 24-44.

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