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Can education convergence theory explain post-conflict educational reforms?

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Abstract:

Education reforms around the world have been characterized as isomorphic. The process of reform convergence is explained by the theory of global education convergence that stresses the role of the international donor and professional communities for their support of particular models (Meyer & Ramirez, 2000). Among the nations of the world, nowhere is the influence of external forces regarding educational reforms more evident than in post-conflict nations that are under close international supervision. As such, they can provide unique insights into the extent of worldwide reform isomorphism. This study investigates the extent to which the education convergence theory can explain the phenomenon of educational governance reforms in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), a post-conflict nation. The study findings are based on document analysis, as well as information from BiH school principals gained through a 2011 survey and numerous interviews.

The policy discourse analysis of documents published by international organizations and the BiH authority shows that the national alignment of educational reforms to global (or regional) standards indeed occurs, appearing to support neoinstitutionalists’ claim of global education isomorphism. This finding is not very surprising given the extensive involvement of European regional agencies in the BiH policy-making process. Whether international donors are seen as exploitative or simply influential, their presence cannot be ignored in the analysis of education policy and governance in post-conflict contexts.

On the other hand, the study found that the alignment of “policy talk” and “policy action” to global norms did not necessarily translate into the alignment of practices. While “European standards” were reflected in the policy documents and even in national legislation, the BiH policy elites and school-level managers often faltered at their realization of these standards. The behaviors of ethno-nationalistic leaders illustrate this point. Their insistence on ethnically separate education administration and segregated schooling seems to contradict the secular values that “European standards” espouse. It is not surprising then that the reforms to create a state-level coordinating body to harmonize education and to strengthen school autonomy have not been very successful in BiH. School managers, for their part, appeared less than fully committed to the realization of participatory school governance since it may be seen as incompatible with the professional values they may have acquired through their pre-war training.

This study also suggests the need for further discussion of the “global models” of education governance. The models that external agencies have proposed are not necessarily consistent. For example, BiH policy-makers were presented with two opposite reform models, centralization and decentralization, by these various European agencies. Such a case accentuates the need to define more precisely what global education governance models are, if such models indeed exist.

Ultimately, the policy/practice gaps and the ambiguity of global models may be expected since they leave room for strategic interactions between national and international actors, based on the pragmatic considerations of both parties to achieve their own mandates and purposes. As an illustration, European agencies seem to be adopting a strategy that supports BiH to become an EU member in gradual phases. One step toward this goal was its acceptance into the Council of Europe as soon as the BiH state-level Framework Law on Primary and Secondary Education was adopted. BiH national leaders, though, made a compromise to accept the Law, but they have made very few steps toward implementing it. This raises suspicion that they accepted the Law mainly for the purpose of enhancing the public image of their leadership, thereby increasing their political legitimacy (Komatsu, 2013), rather than promoting educational development. International experts, on their part, may cite European values and norms to recommend a variety of educational reforms for the purpose of depoliticizing education and enhancing social cohesion. In this case, the seeming inconsistency between these reforms may not matter, as long as they pursue the same goals.

These observations indicate that policy transfer is indeed a complex phenomenon involving strategies and negotiation between both exporters and importers of the policies. This may particularly be the case in the volatile and often politicized post-conflict context. This study, by examining the extent of education convergence in post-conflict BiH, invites a fresh look at the dynamics of global education transfer.


Meyers, J., & Ramirez, F. (2000). The world institutionalization of education - origins and implications. In J. Schriewer (Ed.), Discourse formation in comparative education (pp. 111-132). New York, NY: Peter Lang.

Komatsu, T. (2013). Why do policy leaders adopt global education reforms? A political analysis of SBM reform adoption in post-conflict Bosnia and Herzegovina. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 21, 62.
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MLA Citation:

Komatsu, Taro. "Can education convergence theory explain post-conflict educational reforms?" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Comparative and International Education Society Annual Conference, Sheraton Centre Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Mar 10, 2014 <Not Available>. 2014-12-10 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p709477_index.html>

APA Citation:

Komatsu, T. , 2014-03-10 "Can education convergence theory explain post-conflict educational reforms?" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Comparative and International Education Society Annual Conference, Sheraton Centre Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada <Not Available>. 2014-12-10 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p709477_index.html

Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript
Review Method: Peer Reviewed
Abstract: Education reforms around the world have been characterized as isomorphic. The process of reform convergence is explained by the theory of global education convergence that stresses the role of the international donor and professional communities for their support of particular models (Meyer & Ramirez, 2000). Among the nations of the world, nowhere is the influence of external forces regarding educational reforms more evident than in post-conflict nations that are under close international supervision. As such, they can provide unique insights into the extent of worldwide reform isomorphism. This study investigates the extent to which the education convergence theory can explain the phenomenon of educational governance reforms in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), a post-conflict nation. The study findings are based on document analysis, as well as information from BiH school principals gained through a 2011 survey and numerous interviews.

The policy discourse analysis of documents published by international organizations and the BiH authority shows that the national alignment of educational reforms to global (or regional) standards indeed occurs, appearing to support neoinstitutionalists’ claim of global education isomorphism. This finding is not very surprising given the extensive involvement of European regional agencies in the BiH policy-making process. Whether international donors are seen as exploitative or simply influential, their presence cannot be ignored in the analysis of education policy and governance in post-conflict contexts.

On the other hand, the study found that the alignment of “policy talk” and “policy action” to global norms did not necessarily translate into the alignment of practices. While “European standards” were reflected in the policy documents and even in national legislation, the BiH policy elites and school-level managers often faltered at their realization of these standards. The behaviors of ethno-nationalistic leaders illustrate this point. Their insistence on ethnically separate education administration and segregated schooling seems to contradict the secular values that “European standards” espouse. It is not surprising then that the reforms to create a state-level coordinating body to harmonize education and to strengthen school autonomy have not been very successful in BiH. School managers, for their part, appeared less than fully committed to the realization of participatory school governance since it may be seen as incompatible with the professional values they may have acquired through their pre-war training.

This study also suggests the need for further discussion of the “global models” of education governance. The models that external agencies have proposed are not necessarily consistent. For example, BiH policy-makers were presented with two opposite reform models, centralization and decentralization, by these various European agencies. Such a case accentuates the need to define more precisely what global education governance models are, if such models indeed exist.

Ultimately, the policy/practice gaps and the ambiguity of global models may be expected since they leave room for strategic interactions between national and international actors, based on the pragmatic considerations of both parties to achieve their own mandates and purposes. As an illustration, European agencies seem to be adopting a strategy that supports BiH to become an EU member in gradual phases. One step toward this goal was its acceptance into the Council of Europe as soon as the BiH state-level Framework Law on Primary and Secondary Education was adopted. BiH national leaders, though, made a compromise to accept the Law, but they have made very few steps toward implementing it. This raises suspicion that they accepted the Law mainly for the purpose of enhancing the public image of their leadership, thereby increasing their political legitimacy (Komatsu, 2013), rather than promoting educational development. International experts, on their part, may cite European values and norms to recommend a variety of educational reforms for the purpose of depoliticizing education and enhancing social cohesion. In this case, the seeming inconsistency between these reforms may not matter, as long as they pursue the same goals.

These observations indicate that policy transfer is indeed a complex phenomenon involving strategies and negotiation between both exporters and importers of the policies. This may particularly be the case in the volatile and often politicized post-conflict context. This study, by examining the extent of education convergence in post-conflict BiH, invites a fresh look at the dynamics of global education transfer.


Meyers, J., & Ramirez, F. (2000). The world institutionalization of education - origins and implications. In J. Schriewer (Ed.), Discourse formation in comparative education (pp. 111-132). New York, NY: Peter Lang.

Komatsu, T. (2013). Why do policy leaders adopt global education reforms? A political analysis of SBM reform adoption in post-conflict Bosnia and Herzegovina. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 21, 62.


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