Connecting educators around the globe
By Anna Gaynor
Noah Sobe, PhD, was teaching English to middle-schoolers in Poland when he first became interested in comparative education as a field of study. Now roughly 20 years later, he’s just marked a decade of teaching at Loyola, where he is an associate professor and director of the Center for Comparative Education.
Sobe was recently elected to the executive board of the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES), which is dedicated to studying and contrasting education systems and practices from across the globe. After spending this year as vice president, Sobe will serve the next as president-elect and the year after that as president of the CIES board.
Here, Sobe talks about his research, what he’ll be doing in his new position, and why “knowledge mobilization” is such an important concept in academic research.
How did you get involved with CIES?
CIES is the leading academic professional society in this field, and I first started attending as a graduate student. I gave papers and participated in things like a dissertation mentoring program. Then over the last decade I’ve remained very engaged and have had the chance to assume a series of leadership positions, most recently this election as the 2017–18 CIES president.
What will you be doing in this new role?
One of my tasks when I am president-elect the year before I become president is to serve as the chief academic chair of the annual conference, which is something I am very excited about. In setting the theme and in inviting keynote speakers and designing various events I have a once-in-a-career opportunity to help shape the agenda and direction of the field. It is humbling to be doing this relatively early in my career, and I see this as an extraordinary opportunity to help the field move forward.
Can you talk a bit about your current research on education policy?
I have gotten really interested in the various ways that different school systems understand, measure, and seek to produce educational “merit.” This varies greatly around the globe, and I recently received a grant from the Spencer Foundation to work with three other colleagues on an initial comparative study that looks at China, Italy, Russia, and the US and tries to understand the ways that merit and meritocracy has played out historically in each of these settings.
And why is this an issue that needs to be studied?
I think it's a really important topic to research because nowadays we place such confidence and emphasis on education—especially at colleges and universities—to create opportunity and solve a range of social problems. Yet we know that the actual implementation of this has been somewhat imperfect, and it seems to me that in our current era of globalization the tensions between economic utilitarianism and human flourishing have intensified. I'd like to understand better how different school systems around the globe are responding to these challenges and what ideas we can come up with regarding the future of meritocracies.
What are you most excited about regarding your new position?
I am really excited at the chance to meet and work with researchers and policymakers in the field. I think there are some cases where educational comparisons can be so shallow as to actually be dangerous. And I see this leadership position in CIES as a chance to emphasize the importance of research rigor, but also try to see that considerations of justice are at the forefront of comparative education work.
What do you hope to accomplish moving forward on the executive board as well as with your own research?
Many people in academic institutions nowadays talk about “knowledge mobilization,” or how you connect research and practice. One of the most valuable things about CIES as a professional group is that it brings together researchers with practitioners and policymakers from places like the World Bank, UNESCO, and any number of civil society NGOs. During my term as CIES president I want to make sure that we foster and strengthen these connections. I also hope to be able to advance my research on the different ways that children and youth are measured and assessed when lives and futures rest on those school interactions and opportunities and/or lack thereof.