Since its founding last year, activities of the Center for International Comparative Education (ICE) have taken members to locales as nearby as Toledo and as far away as Jordan, Bahrain and South Africa.
The center was designed to foster sharing of knowledge between cultures for the purposes of improving education and the social condition at home and abroad. One way of doing that is to infuse higher education and K-12 school curriculum with an international perspective.
That was the overarching goal of a 22-day trip in July to Bahrain and Jordan by faculty from BGSU and the Toledo School for the Arts, whose sponsor BGSU became last year.
The group included Dr. Patricia Kubow, ICE Center director, and Drs. Bruce Collet and Christopher Frey, all leadership and policy studies; Dr. Mohammed Darabie, School of Teaching and Learning, and two teachers from the Toledo School for the Arts, Jamie Naragon, social studies, and Rob Desmond, percussion. They toured schools and universities and met with ministry of education officials in both countries and people involved with developing curriculum and writing textbooks.
“It was a very productive trip,” Kubow said. “We had 35 meetings in three weeks, and gathered resources and made connections in both countries.”
The group drew upon the strengths of its members. Darabie is from Jordan and facilitated many connections there such as focus groups for teachers and community members. In Bahrain, the government is interested in bringing technology skills to the people through schooling. “Curriculum changes are needed to help the population retool,” Kubow said. The group also helped those in education think about what skills and knowledge a citizen will need to participate in a democratic society, again with the goal of revamping curriculum from a specifically “Bahranian” perspective.
Exchange agreements with Al Hussein University in Jordan and Teachers College in Bahrain were further developed, leading to opportunities for continued research and future teacher and student exchanges.
The trip served many purposes, but for the Toledo arts school, the contacts made and the firsthand look at Middle Eastern culture will help faculty build an accurate and insightful program on Arab cultural perspectives.
ICE Center members have recently submitted a proposal for a Fulbright-Hays grant to return to the Middle East.
“It’s an ambitious agenda, but we’re actually doing it,” Kubow said.
Members of the team gained individually from the visits, said Collet, whose research focuses on refugee studies and who works with Iraqi refugees in Detroit. “My experiences there have very much played into my work. Amman, Jordan, is a center for many refugee groups. I visited organizations that work with Iraqi refugees and have continued my conversation with them since I got back. Their input has helped reshape my research questions.”
While here in the States we are used to viewing issues from a secular, Western perspective, Collet said, he is exploring the “intersection of human rights, religion, the state and identity from an Islamic perspective as it informs and drives educational practices. It’s pushed my thinking further. I’m aiming for an impartial analysis. And it’s really sparked my interest in getting back there.”
Because an integral part of the ICE Center’s mission is outreach to area schools and organizations, the group will use video footage taken during the trip for a documentary that can be shared across northwest Ohio.
In addition, Kubow and Collet are working on a new project called Comparative Education Instruction Materials Archive (CEIMA), an online clearinghouse of comparative and international education teaching materials from universities worldwide. The goal is to foster better instructional practices by providing usable resources such as book recommendations, study topics and assignments, and to document the evolution of the field.
Kubow shared news of CEIMA with colleagues at two conferences this summer—the Bulgarian Comparative Education Society in Sofia, Bulgaria, and the Comparative Education Society in Europe, held in Athens, Greece, where she also gave invited presentations on “Comparative Education in the USA.”
First ICE Scholar returns from South Africa
Amy Collins-Warfield, the first ICE Scholar and a student in the master of arts in cross-cultural and international education program, completed research for her thesis on teachers’ psychological sense of community during a cross-cultural internship this summer in Langa, South Africa, one of the first township settlements in the Cape Town area established during apartheid.
Through interviews and observation, she examined what “teacher community” looked like in the primary school she worked in, how the teachers defined their sense of community and how they integrated “ubuntu,” the South African philosophy of mutual support and interconnectedness, into their lives. Most of the teachers at the school were members of the Xhosa tribe, who have an especially strong sense of ubuntu, she explained.
“There’s a crisis in the teaching profession in South Africa now,” Collins-Warfield said. “From 18-20 percent of primary and secondary teachers leave the profession each year.” Studies in other countries have shown that a sense of community contributes to job satisfaction, which could relate to retention, she said.
“It was a very enriching experience for me,” Collins-Warfield said. ”I learned a lot about the culture and about myself, and I’m very grateful for the ICE grant that made it possible for me to go.”
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