Presentation Details

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The Eleventh International Literacy and Education Research Network Conference on Learning

The Power of Context: Exploring the Dynamics of Change in a Chinese Educational Reform Project

Jane Perry.

Globalisation and the need to compete in world markets are creating urgent demands in developing countries for reform of training institutions and programs and rapid skill development among teaching staff. Reflecting predominant perspectives in much of the literature on change, educational reform projects tend to emphasise strategic planning processes in attempting to bring about planned change. In this view, success in implementing change is seen as dependent largely on strong leaders who have the capacity to create a shared vision and commitment amongst their staff. This somewhat linear, top down approach has an inevitable appeal for educational planners, particularly those striving to create change on a large scale.

The work of Malcolm Gladwell, most notably his book The Tipping Point, presents an alternative view by focussing on some recent examples of widespread social change, arguing that the process is less orderly and more organic. He proposes that social change shares three traits of epidemics: it is contagious, that small actions can lead to large and unforeseen outcomes and that once the change takes hold it occurs suddenly. Gladwell argues for an alternative view of change, describing what he sees as its cornerstones: the Law of the Few, the Stickiness Factor, and the Power of Context. Central to this view of change are three kinds of influential players: “the connector”, “the maven” and “the salesperson” who spread the epidemic of change.

The author of this paper has been involved in vocational education and training reform projects in India, South Africa and China. Gladwell’s model of change is drawn primarily from social trends in the United States. However, it relies heavily on connections between stakeholders and seems to offer a model which could have particular relevance to communal cultures. It can be used to map change processes in a rapidly changing society such as China where both top down planning and bottom up initiatives need to occur if widespread and sustainable educational reform is to become a reality.

This paper will
∑ discuss the theory of the Tipping Point in relation to educational change
∑ present an analysis of how Gladwell’s ideas might apply in the context of a specific project aiming to bring about reform in Chinese vocational education.


Jane Perry  (Australia)
Lecturer and Projects Coordinator
Post Compulsory Education and Training Research Centre
RMIT University

Ms Jane Perry is a teacher trainer at RMIT University and teacher development specialist involved in international development projects. Her work focusses primarily on the training and development of adult educators and vocational education practitioners. Her experience in working in the multicultural environment of Australia and in developing countries, has given rise to professional interests in issues surrounding capacity building and educational reform in diverse cultural and organisational contexts. She has conducted over one hundred training and professional development programs both in Australia and overseas for diverse learner groups in a range of sectors and teaching and learning contexts

  • Educational reform
  • Developing countries
  • Vocational education and training
  • Change processes

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)