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Political economy of education systems

Two reviews on political economy were commissioned by the UK DFID to provide a stocktake of the quantity and quality of existing evidence in research on the political economy of education systems in developing countries, to enable advisers and ministers to formulate policies based on causal linkages supported by strong evidence.

The conclusions of the first review [1] were:

  • Some stakeholder groups (e.g. teachers compared to parents) have greater political power due to their ability to influence electoral outcomes and organise an effective collective voice to put forward their demands. 
  • Rent-seeking and patronage politics are found to be rife in educational setups in developing countries. The literature finds elite capture common in several educational decisions. 
  • At the macro level, international agencies are shown to be playing an increasingly important role in educational decision-making and the inter-country differences in outcomes have been attributed to institutional factors rather than differences in resources.
  • Implementation of educational policies have been shown by the evidence to be  hindered by a low state capacity, poor administration, poor delivery system, poor community information, and corruption/ leakages. However, underlying these is likely to be some political economy constraints, some lack of political will or some vested interests. The literature identifies several drivers of change including political will, regime type and openness to democracy.
  • The evidence is limited but, the review provides some positive examples of effective practice where reforms have been successfully implemented

The second review focused on conflict-affected countries [2]:

  • The global security and peacebuilding agenda marginalises the potential of education to contribute to sustainable peacebuilding. There is a disconnect between peacebuilding and conflict practitioners and education specialists; both groups lack knowledge of each other’s fields, leading to silo approaches and missed opportunities. There is also a disconnect between actors in the humanitarian, development and security sectors, all of which have different approaches to the role of education.
  • There is a disjunction between a global educational agenda influenced by access, quality and efficiency and the peacebuilding needs of conflict-affected societies, e.g. addressing inequity, social cohesion and economic and political exclusion.
  • Educational interventions need to encompass cultural, political, religious and social contexts. Cross-sector collaboration between education departments and other agencies is necessary for change on key cross-cutting issues linked to peacebuilding.
  • Inattention to agency and voices of national/local actors undermines the possibility of sustainable outcomes and of addressing conflict-related social justice issues. There are also imbalances of power between global, national and local actors, which undermine the potential for local ownership of interventions and therefore opportunities for sustainable peacebuilding. A disjuncture between different types of political economy analysis results in different evaluations of the significance of global and local actors, and local political and cultural contexts.
  • The complexity of factors influencing the success of educational interventions revealed by political economy analysis makes them difficult for practitioners to address and to use to inform policies and programming. However, failure to do so is likely to undermine technical solutions.

1. A rigorous review of the political economy of education systems in developing countries (2014)

2. The political economy of education systems in conflict-affected contexts: a rigorous literature review (2014)

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