Ethnocentrism in education: to be or not to be?


(photo by the author)

“Hey there. No sleep? Guess what I’m doing?” – It was my friend texting me from the US at late night. “No idea,” – I mumbled to myself and immediately received another message. “No classes today for me, since I am celebrating Shavuot!” Needless to imagine my face when I was reading this message: a Kazakh guy celebrating Jewish Holiday? Though, he quickly retorted: “Take it easy! Now I celebrate holidays of different religions as long as my professors give me a day-off!”

It turned out that my friend had such wonderful professors, who really respected the cultures of their students and even gave them day-off’s according to their national or cultural holidays and every time in order to get more sleep he pretended to be Jewish/Hindu/Christian/Buddhist/Muslim. As for me, I was like both totally thrilled from such a respectful attitude from the professors and angry at my friend (so reckless!). Later on, it made me think that unfortunately, such a piety to cultural beliefs is not a common thing to see in other universities around the world. Some universities don’t consider your culture or your national holidays and, moreover, think that it is their business to impose their own cultural traditions and standards. Thus, today we’re going to discuss this delicate, yet, important issue as ethnocentrism in comparative education and the possible ways of elucidating this problem.

Since we are living in the time of globalization, it is assumed that all the people should strive to the one heterogeneous and diverse society, free from the stereotypes and segregation. As Rotuno-Johnson (2010) points out, a democratic society’s cornerstone feature is pluralism, or, the difference, which we have to embrace in order to evolve as a better society. However, this idea stumbles upon such bane as “ethnocentrism”, making some social groups look down at other ones somewhat different from them, which serves as an epitome of XXI century world’s greatest fallacies.

The term “ethnocentrism” was defined by a sociologist William Sumner (1906) as following: “Ethnocentrism is the technical name for this view of things in which one’s own group is the center of everything, and all others are scaled and rated with reference to it” (p. 13). In a nutshell, ethnocentrism is characterized by the inclination of one social group to see their culture superior to another, thereby imposing their own standards upon other indigenous societies.

Ebullient ethnocentrism nowadays is on no account only our hurdle. For good or ill, most people are prone to be ethnocentric, and usually it ends up blaming everything abroad and approving everything “home-made”, or vice versa. And the field of education is no exception, since developing countries are still looking up to get the diploma from a developed country, regardless of the quality of the university. The only fact that they have “American”, “British” or “French” diploma makes them feel  superior to their peers from their home countries, though it is not always reasonable. Since if all countries adopt one particular education system without taking into consideration their own culture beliefs and traditions, what will be left? It is like taking out all the species from the meal – bland and boring; so we should strive to maintain the balance between keeping our own ethnic beliefs in education and adopting modern methods from other progressive countries.

So, are there any ways to conquer ethnocentrism and personal bias? As Bereday (1961) put it, it is merely impossible, though we can minimize it. Fortunately, there is yet no common cultural denominator according to which the educational aspirations of different cultures could be accurately judged. Each country still has its own bond of particular criteria according to which they are capable to gauge foreign experiences and decide whether it is applicable for them or not.

To crown it all, although ethnocentrism is a rudiment in the modern world, one must remember, that discrimination should always take place within the globalized world of mixed cultures, though it should exist in a way better meaning. As Rüsen (2014) proposes, one should check every culture and tradition in order to make sure it contributes to the welfare of their own indigenous culture, and whether both cultures may profit from such a intertwining. All in all, we have to embrace cultural pluralism in order to become more broad-minded for the sake of the development of education.


Bereday, G. Z. (1961). Comparative education and ethnocentrism. International Review of Education7(1), 24-34.

Rotuno-Johnson, R. (2010). Democracy and Special Education Inclusion.

Rüsen, J. (2004). How to Overcome Ethnocentrism: Approaches to a Culture of Recognition by History in the Twenty‐First Century1. History and Theory43(4), 118-129.

Sumner, W. G. (1906). Folkways: A study of the sociological importance of usages, manners, customs, mores, and morals. Ginn.