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Quality and qualities in development education: Don Adams’ life-long contribution to theory and practice

Tue, April 16, 5:00 to 6:30pm, Hyatt Regency, Floor: Atrium (Level 2), Waterfront D

Group Submission Type: Formal Panel Session


For literally decades Don Adams observed first-hand the failures of externally influenced educational planning in developing countries and the remarkable tenacity with which international aid agencies enlisted planning models in the face of overwhelming evidence of their inadequacy. His academic and professional reflections on this seemingly persistent anomaly led to theoretical speculations and the suggestion that there was room for extending the boundaries of the education planning debate within Comparative and International Education and beyond among the donor agencies (CER 1987, 32:400-445). He rejected the definition widely found in the documents and publications of international aid agencies that planning included only "the examination of feasible alternatives and making a choice among them according to an objective." His scholarship was consistently based on his experiences as a consultant for international development agencies, reflecting a continual effort to link planning and policy formulation with research and theory. Early in his career, Adams published a series of textbooks covering topics in education and national development, aimed primarily at advanced students in comparative and international education as well as international aid agencies. Next followed three books analyzing the role of education in modernization and national development. This phase of his work drew on his personal involvement in education planning in several national systems, notably South Korea, Latin America and Africa. In particular, Adams was involved in Korean education research planning and policy for 50 years, from his work for the United Nations Korean Reconstruction Agency in the aftermath of the Korean War down to 2010, when he published a large edited book with scholars from the Korean Educational Development Institute (KEDI), many of whom had studied under him at the University of Pittsburgh. In 2004 he helped launch the KEDI Journal of Educational Policy (KJEP), and he was on its board until he passed away in 2017. This panel will trace the work of a generation of education leaders who studied and worked with him, acquiring the knowledge and skills needed to occupy leading positions in their home countries, where they could demand greater investment in education to sustain economic and social development. This policy of investing in development education persists today even in countries undergoing political and social crisis.

This panel will debate the continuing relevance of Adams’ relentless questioning of the processes of advising nations about developing their systems of education. When is the gross over-simplification of a complex and poorly understood process such as educational planning a necessary requirement for stimulating action and change, and when does it become professionally irresponsible to impose such simplifications? Might it not be more productive in assisting educational change to entertain the idea that characteristics of the planning process, the relation between means and ends, and the possibilities of quantification of objectives or outcomes might vary from one planning problem and context to another? Adams suggested that instead of forcing the messy real world into a “sanitary” conceptualization of planning, a diversity of knowledge claims, assumptions, and cognitive styles of planning actors should be used, and competition between different planning models should be encouraged, potentially resulting in new levels of planning efficiency. How relevant is Adams’ conclusion that there may be no single best approach to analysis of, and subsequent planning response to, the wide range of potential educational problems, to what we research and discuss at CIES today?

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