Education, development, and the problem with consensus

7th April 2014

At the turn of the millennium an estimated 115 million children of school age were not in school; the 2011 estimate is 57 million. What dispute can there be over the value of the consensus among donors and national governments that has brought this about?

In the past two decades, the Education for All agenda and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have focused minds, aligned bilateral and multilateral agencies, and driven national policies in a unified direction: the provision of basic schooling of acceptable quality for all learners.

While the MDGs will not be achieved by 2015, massive strides have been made towards those original MDG targets. Primary school enrolment has risen across the world, and the rise in girls' participation in schooling has been particularly dramatic.

Given what we know about the potential returns from investment in education for prosperity, health, and emancipation, why would this not be grounds for cheer?

...as a consensus-building and investment-informing mantra, 'quality basic education for development' has four problems embedded in it: quality, basic, education, and development.

I would argue that, as a consensus-building and investment-informing mantra, 'quality basic education for development' has (at least) four problems embedded in it. They are: quality, basic, education, and development.

First, a reminder of a couple of uncomfortable facts – the flip-side of the enrolment good-news story.

The new Education for All Global Monitoring Report (GMR 2013/2014)  and others describe a 'learning crisis'. About 250 million children do not have basic literacy and numeracy skills. In other words, a lot of them are in school but they are not learning anything.

And, given that there is only so much investment to go around, basic education has displaced secondary and higher education in the queue for resources. Yet new cohorts of primary school graduates are simultaneously creating greater demand for higher levels of education

So, to those four problems.

With the issue of quality, it's difficult to know where to start. The learning crisis, combined with a wide body of research, shows that although enrolment has increased, quality has not. In some cases, the massive influx of children into schools that are under-resourced in every possible way has worsened quality. Classes of as many as 100 children are common in the poorest contexts. It hasn't been possible to increase and upgrade the teaching force to cope successfully with these challenges.

Consensus goals and the pressures and monitoring processes that go with them have also been part of this problem. Quality is a variable that is complex, dependent on many factors, and difficult to measure; enrolment ratios are far more manageable. Consensus goals help to fuel a fetish for measurability and a neglect of anything too complicated.

Even the recent GMR, teasingly entitled Teaching and Learning, does not venture very far into the messy territory of what constitutes quality teaching. Meanwhile, underqualified, under-motivated and under-resourced teachers face competing imperatives: some agencies push for learner-centred teaching styles, while others focus on reductionist indicators of literacy and formulaic, front-led approaches to teaching.

What of the remaining three words of the mantra – basic, education, and development? Recent DLP-funded research in Ghana, by a team from CfBT Education Trust and the Ghana Center for Democratic Development, helps illuminate the difficulties they present.

While the current consensus is the primacy of basic education, these findings show that experiences of quality secondary and tertiary education were especially important to the personal and professional development of the successful developmental leaders interviewed.

They also demonstrate that quality education is much more than the school curriculum and simple measurable cognitive outcomes.

... this form of development, on which all the others depend, is facilitated by ... quality education at the higher levels of the system.

The very definition of education needs to embrace the development of ethical principles and citizenship skills, the building of networks and a capacity for critical thinking. Opportunities for discussion and debate, admired role models, extracurricular activities, and a strong school ethos are all key factors.

Finally, the findings remind us that the human capital and individual health returns which so often underpin arguments for investment in education for development only take a country so far. Political development is vital to the sustainable health of any nation. This research shows how this form of development, on which all the others depend, is facilitated by individuals and their networks who have experienced quality education (in its broadest sense) at the higher levels of the system.

The discussion about what happens after the MDG deadline of 2015 is an opportunity for the international community to think critically about what is really at the heart of education and development.

Thankfully, there are indications in the ongoing debate that secondary and higher education are back on the table, along with (at least in some quarters) broader understandings of learning outcomes. Further case studies on how these have contributed to development in different contexts will be important contributions to the evidence that informs future directions, whether or not these constitute a new consensus.

Starting this year, DLP will build on its research in Ghana with a series of case studies investigating whether and how quality secondary and tertiary education can facilitate political development in a range of contexts. Potential country cases include the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, and Sri Lanka.

Image: middle - a student writing (Curt Carnemark / World Bank)

0 Comments

Leave a comment

The views expressed in Opinions posts are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of DLP, the Australian Government or DLP's partner organisations.

Author

Michele Schweisfurth

Michele Schweisfurth

Michele Schweisfurth is Professor of Comparative and International Education at the University of Glasgow, where she is also co-Director of the Robert Owen Centre for Educational Change. Her research interests include pedagogy in low-income countries, the relationship between education and democracy, and student mobility in higher education.

Read more

Related items

How quality secondary and higher education can improve national leadership: lessons from Ghana

New DLP research poses the question of whether the focus of the international development community on primary education is too narrow.

Opinion by Amir Jones25th March 2014

When the stars align to tackle inequality

Reflections on the 2015 DLP annual conference.

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal18th February 2015

Education against the odds: the work of a women's coalition in Papua New Guinea

PNG's BPW Port Moresby, a case study for a DLP research project, is an impressive example of local women networking without donor assistance to advance gender equity.

Opinion by Ceridwen Spark14th January 2016

Research methods and marshalling messy data: Dear Diary

The useful role a research diary can play in the assimilation and ordering of qualitative data. 

Opinion by Suda Perera2nd September 2015

Education, development, and the problem with consensus

Why rethink the international consensus on 'quality basic education for development'?

Opinion by Michele Schweisfurth7th April 2014

The challenge of realising Pacific democracies' development potential

Bringing to the fore some of the unique problems faced by the Pacific region.

Opinion by Julien Barbara8th July 2016

Using aid to strengthen Parliaments: fix the car, or worry about the driver?

Parliaments have always been treated as the poor cousins of democracy assistance efforts. (Guest post for From Poverty to Power)

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal24th November 2014

Two remarkable transitions: lessons from Oman and Somaliland

What we can learn from areas of stability and calm in regions where near neighbours seem to be struggling to resolve strife.

Opinion by Sarah Phillips20th July 2015

Bringing Political Economy Analysis in from the cold

Once seen as a 'transformative' tool to change donor thinking, does much PEA now do little to help staff think and work politically?

Opinion by Jonathan Fisher6th May 2014

Authoritarianism, democracy and development

What does the evidence say about whether giving aid to a high-achieving authoritarian regime makes good developmental sense? 

Opinion by Tim Kelsall27th November 2014

What is transformative leadership?

Structural obstacles to progressive change can only be challenged by sustained pressure from coalitions and social movements. (Guest post in University World News)

Opinion by Chris Roche15th April 2016

Masculinity and sexual violence in India

The brutal rape and murder in December 2012 of a 23-year-old student in a Delhi bus has been the catalyst for rapidly evolving activism against sexual violence in India.

Opinion by Martin Rew16th September 2015

Corruption: is the right message getting through?

Anti-corruption messages aim to recruit citizens to the fight - but what do they actually hear?

Opinion by Caryn Peiffer12th August 2015

Higher education in the post-2015 agenda: proof that it matters

Taking stock of recent research evidence that shows how higher education can feed into political stability and civil engagement.

Opinion by Susy Ndaruhutse11th September 2014

Medellin - more than a miracle

Bad news sells. And for news editors looking for horror stories to recycle, Colombia's second largest city used to be a reliable source.

Opinion by Cheryl Stonehouse4th March 2014

Corruption: unpacking the black box of political will

New thinking on the reasons why individuals engage in corruption - including the pragmatic calculation that, right or wrong, corruption may be the only solution to pressing difficulties. 

Opinion by Heather Marquette12th January 2015

Security and justice – the mismatch between policy and practice

What hinders more politically nuanced security and justice programming?

Opinion by Shivit Bakrania21st July 2014

From objects of care to controllers of lives: governance, development and disability inclusion

The next step on from a rights-based approach to disability inclusion is to hand over control to those who know best - people with disabilities.

Opinion by Luke Arnold25th May 2016

The International Budget Partnership: Reflecting on two decades of campaigning for fiscal governance reform

Focusing on budget accountability ‘ecosystems’ and their influence on budget decision-making and implementation.

Opinion by Brendan Halloran20th December 2016

Is education a magic bullet for addressing corruption? Insights from Papua New Guinea

This post for Devpolicy unpacks the findings of a new Development Policy Centre/DLP paper.

Opinion by Grant Walton17th June 2015

Do anticorruption messages work? Findings so far and what they could mean for Papua New Guinea

How do anticorruption messages influence people’s views about corruption and about anticorruption efforts?

Opinion by Caryn Peiffer23rd March 2017

The importance of higher education for developmental leadership

Investigating the causal relationship between the national development of higher education and good governance.

Opinion by Michele Schweisfurth28th July 2015

What's in a name? Leadership as more than the 'big men' and 'big women' of history

A more nuanced understanding of good developmental leadership demands a shift away from the conventional focus on 'big' individuals.

Opinion by Heather Lyne de Ver11th February 2014

Our money, our projects: Demand-driven community development

Emerging lessons from the Central Land Council’s community development program to strengthen Aboriginal people’s participation in mainstream Australia.

Opinion by David Ross15th April 2016

Politics - the problem and solution to poor services?

One of the most influential and enduring World Development Reports ever produced – Making Services Work for Poor People – is a decade old this year.

Opinion by Claire Mcloughlin13th March 2014

Oil reform in Nigeria: The ups and downs of channel-hopping programme delivery

How much do we really know about what 'thinking and working politically' can achieve – and where it might present dangers – in challenging political and sectoral contexts?

Opinion by Joanna Buckley27th July 2017

Being 'there': Reflections on fieldwork in the DRC

Fieldwork in fragile places - Part 1: The security dilemma. Staying safe while collecting the data that matters. 

Opinion by Suda Perera5th November 2014

Where do inclusive institutions come from? Lessons from Asia

Societies with more inclusive institutions are more peaceful and more resilient, and tend to be better governed - but how do they get there?

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal27th February 2017

DLP political settlements workshop: reflections

A practitioner considers how the intangible nature of power can be discussed and included in a policy framework. 

Opinion by Astrid Jamar22nd July 2015

Somaliland's route to peace

Have donors overlooked the role played in development by secondary education? Reflections on new research on peacebuilding in Somaliland. 

Opinion by Sarah Phillips12th December 2013

Creative expression and women's empowerment in the Pacific

Through photography, theatre, dance and song, young Fijian women are finding new avenues for public expression and activism.

Opinion by Tait Brimacombe19th March 2015

Pacific power: new femininities and women's leadership in the Pacific

The educated, internationally connected women who are changing the way 'development' is done

Opinion by Ceridwen Spark24th June 2014

What are governance advisers missing with 'Political Economy Analysis'?

DLP's contribution to a new-style field guide for development practitioners. Guest post in FP2P

Opinion by David Hudson8th October 2015

Parliamentary strengthening: the IDC report

Parliaments - and the political parties that populate them - are the institutions people trust least. Guest post for ODI's Shaping Policy for Development blog.

Opinion by Tam O'Neil9th February 2015

Is developmental patrimonialism a dead end?

The key role of leadership succession rules and effective institutions in sustaining the success of high-growth autocracies.

Opinion by Tim Kelsall27th September 2016

Being 'there': Bermuda Triangulation

Fieldwork in fragile places - Part 2: Data difficulties. Adapting methodology to 'messy' contexts.

Opinion by Suda Perera6th November 2014

The seeds and roots of change

Leadership that drives genuine, lasting reform is rarely - if ever - about one individual. (Guest post in Governance for Development)

 

Opinion by Heather Lyne de Ver1st December 2014

DRCongo: where a decade of failed democracy has exposed the electoral fallacy

It takes more than a fairly-won election to guarantee that the elected will put their citizens first, rather than themselves. (Guest post for Africa at LSE)

Opinion by Suda Perera19th December 2016

Inclusive political settlements: who and what gets included?

DLP hosted a day-long high level introductory workshop on political settlements in June. This post introduces a series that showcases the contributions of researchers, policymakers and practitioners.

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal13th July 2015

Don't give up on government

Can the World Bank's flagship World Development Report inspire a good governance revolution that delivers development gains?

Opinion by Dan Hymowitz3rd February 2017

Elections: transformational, or blunt tools of representation?

How do we explain the profound dissatisfaction with the quality of representation now manifest in democracies everywhere?

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal8th September 2016

Corruption research: Hunting for glimmers of light in the gloom

Why it can be hard to start a conversation with the people who might know what really works in the fight against corruption.

Opinion by Caryn Peiffer25th July 2017

What do we do on Monday? Political settlements in theory and practice

Can donors, researchers, policymakers and practitioners all agree on what we mean when we talk about 'political settlements'?

Opinion by Edward Laws15th July 2015

Welcome to DLP's blog

Welcome to DLP's new blog on politics, power, policy and developmental leadership

Opinion by Heather Marquette10th December 2013

The road to transparency in resource-rich Myanmar

Myanmar's resource management transparency process has joined government, business and civil society actors in collective action for the first time.  

Opinion by Taylor Brown1st April 2016

Service delivery and state legitimacy: For better or for worse?

DLP research fellow Claire Mcloughlin challenges the widely held assumption that there is a self-reinforcing 'virtuous circle' between service delivery and state legitimacy. 

Opinion by Claire Mcloughlin24th November 2015

The inclusiveness test: making change work

Institutions that are inclusive of the broader population - and not just of elites - are an integral part of peaceful, prosperous and resilient states. Guest post for openDemocracy.

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal4th November 2015

Developmental leadership: putting inclusiveness first

Only through putting inclusiveness first can fragile states begin to break the dysfunctional societal and institutional patterns that hold back change.

Opinion by Seth D. Kaplan24th September 2015

Beyond perceptions of corruption?

Corruption is hard to define without straying into the subjective. It's also difficult to build robust methodologies to investigate it.

Opinion by Caryn Peiffer5th February 2015

Indonesia and the political settlements trap

When aspirations triggered by development and prosperity outstrip a political settlement's ability to deliver on those expectations, how easy is it to 're-settle' the settlement? 

Opinion by Graham Teskey17th July 2015

International donors - aiding or abetting?

The importance of acknowledging the dilemmas donors may face when giving aid to developmental states.

Opinion by Niheer Dasandi10th September 2015

From functional governance to sustainable peace: Making the space to reflect, learn and adapt

Learning how to balance the technically possible and politically feasible in volatile, conflict-affected contexts.

Opinion by Aditi Haté 22nd February 2017

How does politically informed programming shape development outcomes?

A new 'thinking and working politically' community of practice aims to develop practical guidance for development practitioners based on evidence of what works in politically smart programming.

Opinion by Mark Robinson29th January 2016

It's all about inclusion, but how?

Shifting the focus of development intervention from form to the actual practice and distribution of power. (Guest post for the World Bank Governance for Development blog)

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal6th April 2016

Neither 'good guys' nor 'bad guys': Positive engagement with armed groups

The final post in our short series on 'Power, Politics and Positive Deviance', the theme of our 2016 Annual Conference at La Trobe University, Melbourne, on Monday (8 February).

Opinion by Suda Perera5th February 2016