This paper reviews key documents that have influenced understandings of educational quality in low income countries amongst international agencies concerned and researchers based in Anglophone countries. There is a particular focus on quality as defined with reference to formal primary education. The paper identifies five dimensions of quality that are recurring themes of debate on quality.
The paper starts by differentiating education from schools and argues that any framework to conceptualize educational quality is necessarily value-based. Two broad approaches to understanding quality are then outlined in Part 2 and a selection of key texts reviewed that falls into each approach. The humanist/progressive approach is characterised by a broad concern for the development of the whole child and human development or social change. The second broad approach, the economist approach is largely concerned with efficiency and effectiveness, the achievement of learning outcomes at reasonable cost. Learning outcomes tend to be narrowly defined in terms of cognitive achievement. This approach is identified with the World Bank and two key Bank publications are reviewed.
Part 3 summarises the conceptualisation of quality implied in three Education for All documents: the World Declaration on Education for All, the Dakar Framework for Action and the Global Monitoring Report 2005: the Quality Imperative. These are found to take a broad approach to understanding quality that emphasises learning for social development, through the promotion of Life Skills. However, despite setting goals of quality education in terms that embrace a broad range of personal and social learning outcomes, assessment of progress in achieving quality is mainly respected to those cognitive learning outcomes that are easy to measure using pen and paper tests. Part 4 complicates the dichotomous schema used to categorise understandings of educational quality by drawing on Chitty's three concepts of schooling. These are schooling for human fulfilment, schooling as preparation for the world of work and schooling for social progress or change. In part 5, the authors present five key dimensions to education quality that have emerged from their reading of the literature. The conclusion poses questions raised by these five dimensions for the development of the EdQual programme of research.