This RISE Working Paper addresses 2 issues that are critical to achieving systemic change in the education sector of countries where access to education has increased dramatically, but without an improvement in learning:
- Firstly, the need for clear cultural understandings of the meaning of education
- Secondly, the need for policy makers and the implementers of reform to take into account certain aspects of the political economy to ensure there is a pivot in focus from access to learning
Using Malawi as the main case-point, a country where almost all children now attend school for at least a few years, but, of every 1,000 who start, half drop out by the end of primary school, and only 40 finish secondary school. Like many other countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Malawi also has a strong collective understanding of education, in which schooling is seen as a moral, rather than academic, endeavour. This poses challenges to achieving systemic change, particularly the current lack of motivation for a change from focusing on credentials (certificates, diplomas, exam results) to education quality.
The authors recommend that donors should respect the collective meanings of education and should accommodate the existing political economy. They argue that rigorously evaluated research should be the guide for widespread reform, and that one simple measure to improve research evaluation, as well as the process of implementing reform, is the strategic use of field visits. They also note the value of using incentives to encourage change, and of talking closely with teachers.
This paper was funded under the Research on Improving Systems of Education (RISE) Programme.
Watkins, S.; Kaler, A. (2016). RISE Working Paper 16/006 - Pivoting to Learning: A Puzzle with Many Pieces. Research on Improving Systems of Education (RISE).