10 Policy Disjunctures Undermining Education’s Potential to Contribute to Peacebuilding in Conflict Affected Contexts

By Mario Novelli, University of Sussex.


Palestinian students looking through holes in their school’s wall at Tunis public school in Beit Lahia, northern Gaza strip.

In 2013, I led a small research team[1] in a DFID-funded rigorous literature review on research related to the political economy of education in conflict-affected contexts. Below are the main findings, presented in the form of 10 policy disjunctures which we believe need to be addressed if we are to enhance the potential of education’s role in contributing to sustainable peacebuilding.

1.      Mismatch between the global security/peacebuilding agenda and education

We found a disjuncture between the global post-conflict peacebuilding agenda, led by the United Nations and key bilateral agencies and framed in terms of the ‘Liberal Peace Thesis’, and the ‘Global Education Agenda’, broadly supported by a wide range of UN agencies, NGOs and bilateral donors active in the education sector in developing-country contexts, which has a set of commitments around the EFA and MDG education objectives and a list of policy preferences (decentralisation, public-private partnerships, child-centred pedagogy etc.). This disjuncture leads to education being marginalised in the first (peacebuilding agenda), whilst in the second (global education agenda), conflict is not theorised and reflected upon in policy development. On the one hand, this impoverishes the real potential that education has to make a strong contribution to sustainable peacebuilding interventions. On the other, this leads to education policy and programming being disembedded from the broader peacebuilding country approach, and education policies not being thought through in terms of their potential effects on conflict and peace.

2.      Competence disjunction: conflict versus education expertise

The above point is strongly linked to a second disjuncture that poses a real problem for better integrating education into peacebuilding strategies. Key staff working in the broad area of peacebuilding and conflict, both as policy-makers and practitioners, rarely have sufficient knowledge of education. Similarly, education advisers and practitioners normally have a strong background in education, but little training and confidence in engaging in debates over conflict and peacebuilding and the role of education therein. This leads both communities to remain in silos, and therefore results in missed opportunities of integrating insights from the two sectors, and failure to deliver mutually beneficial outcomes.

3.      Network disjunction between the humanitarian, security and development sectors

A third related disjuncture is between the humanitarian, development and security sectors, each of which has different logics and agendas that intersect with education in complex ways. While progress has been made in recognising education’s role and potential in the humanitarian phase (during and in the immediate aftermath of conflict), it remains perceived as marginal to the core business of shelter, food and medical attention. This is both an issue of priorities and also timing, with education being seen as a long-term goal, not a short-term imperative. The security sector similarly sees education as a marginal component and something that can wait until later, in the post-conflict development phase. Meanwhile, while the development sector sees education as central to objectives of pro-poor growth, it often remains framed in terms of its economic potential (human capital), while its role in social cohesion is often underplayed. Part of the problem here is that while in the past it was thought that each of these sectors operated in different time frames, increasingly in many conflict-affected contexts, humanitarian, security and development sectors are often operating simultaneously, but as the review finds, not necessarily in a complementary manner. They are also imbued with different power resources, with the security sector being the most powerful, due to its links to both defence and diplomacy departments. In this scenario, collaboration and better co-ordination might lead to domination by one sector over others.

4.      Disjunction between the global education menu and distinctive post-conflict societal needs

A further disjuncture coming from the literature review is that between the ‘global education agenda’ and the distinctive needs of conflict-affected societies emerging out of conflict. Whilst the education agenda is strongly focused on EFA and MDGs and is influenced by concerns related to economic productivity and efficiency, post-conflict societies may require a much greater focus on education’s potential to address inequalities and to prioritise interventions that favour the promotion of social cohesion and reconciliation. This requires new thinking on what a conflict-sensitive peacebuilding education might look like, and necessarily requires a context-sensitive approach that builds on the specific conflict dynamics of each country and how education might support these broader peacebuilding goals.

5.      Disjunction between education’s transformational potential and the narrow framing of education policy and programming

Linked to the above is a disconnection between the potential of education to contribute to broad societal change and narrowly defined education policies and programmes. As a result of this disjunction, education policy and programmes are sometimes framed within narrow, technical parameters that bypass pivotal peace-related issues in post-conflict societies, including the rectification of social and cultural inequalities and recognition of the identities of marginalised groups.

6.      Disjunction between national government departments

Linked to the previous two points is a disconnection between various government departments (e.g. ministries responsible for justice, youth, gender, employment, land rights) and between these and the education department. This disconnection results in an absence of cross-sector collaboration to leverage change that would address cross-cutting issues in which education is a component of a broader peacebuilding agenda.

7.      Disconnection between global policy formulation and local agency

A recurring message within the literature reviewed points to the failure of ‘state-centric’ approaches by international actors to connect to the agency of local actors within civil society and sub-national contexts. This failure limits or undermines the scope for capitalising on the knowledge and peacebuilding practices of local actors, as well as for responding to their educational needs and aspirations. It also creates a disjuncture between a rigid supply of education and flexible/varied community demands for educational provision.

8.      Participation disjunction between global, national and local actors and scales

Emerging from the review is clear evidence of strong imbalances of power between actors operating at different geographical scales. This is reflected in tensions between agenda setting, national policy formulation and implementation phases of the policy cycle, with a strong sense of global agendas trumping national priorities, and local needs becoming marginalised and side-lined. Realities and priorities appear highly divergent and while we can clearly see and trace global policies filtering downward through the policy cycle, evidence of upward feedback loops, reflecting more bottom-up participation and prioritisation, is less prevalent.

9.      Theoretical disjuncture between orthodox and critical political economy analysis

Within the literature reviewed there appear strong tensions between orthodox political economy approaches and more critical political economy approaches, with little ground for communication and synthesis. Orthodox political economy, neoclassical, variants of new institutionalism, modernisation and neoliberalism all view the West as the ‘ideal type’, see problems as endogenous and resistance to orthodoxy as deviance, and where they take culture seriously, see it as an obstacle to progress and something akin to tradition that will eventually wither away. Thus education problems become the fault of ‘poor governance’ and conservative actors in society, and resistance needs to be managed (i.e. teachers unions). This fails to see local, national and global interconnections and does not allow for the possibility of flawed policy or the progressive potential of educational reform. Conversely, the critical literatures suffer from an overemphasis on exogenous factors, often demonise international actors, and have a tendency to reify the local, without making sufficient critical analysis of local political processes which can serve to disempower the possibility of progressive educational reform.

10.  Disjunction between the realities and pragmatic concerns of those in the field and the complexity of the political economy analysis of education

Despite all the evidence above on the crucial importance of political economy analysis in revealing the complexity of the policy process in conflict-affected contexts, there is clearly a disjuncture between the complexity of social reality – captured to a greater or lesser extent by differing forms of political economy analysis – and the utility of this information for those operating in education as policy makers and practitioners in conflict-affected contexts. Whilst the ‘technical’ nature of education policy can, at least to a large degree, be controlled, many of the political economy factors alluded to in our review seem immensely difficult to overcome and address. However, our study suggests that while difficult to address, these factors are likely to undermine any technical solutions, and therefore political economy analyses can at least help policy makers and practitioners to reflect on pragmatic possibilities or areas where they might be able to make a difference.


Mario Novelli is a Professor of the Political Economy of Education at the Centre for International Education, University of Sussex. Email: m.novelli@sussex.ac.uk




[1] Mario Novelli, University of Sussex; Sean Higgins, University of Amsterdam; Oscar Valiente, University of Glasgow and Mehmet Ugur, University of Greenwich.

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Demand and Supply of Skills in Ghana: How Can Training Programs Improve Employment?

By Peter Darvas, World Bank, and Robert Palmer, Independent Education and Skills Consultant.

skills paperGhana’s impressive gains in economic growth and in poverty reduction over the last two decades are built on weak foundations.  Several more decades of sustained growth are required for most of its citizens to sustainably break out of poverty. For this to happen, Ghana needs to: (1) increase productivity in the strategic economic sectors, (2) diversify the economy, and (3) expand employment. Raising the level and range of skills in the country provides a key contribution to these core drivers of sustained growth.

Skills development in Ghana encompasses foundational skills (literacy, numeracy), transferable and soft skills, and technical and vocational skills. These skills are acquired throughout life through formal education, training, and higher education; on the job through work experience and professional training; through family and community; and via the media. A new World Bank report focuses on one segment of Ghana’s skills development system: formal and informal technical and vocational education and training (TVET) at the pre-tertiary level. Although TVET alone does not guarantee productivity gains or job creation, it is generally agreed that a blend of cognitive, non-cognitive, intermediate, and higher technical skills is crucial to enhance the country’s competitiveness and contribute to social inclusion, acceptable employment, and the alleviation of poverty.

Demand for TVET

In Ghana, social demand for TVET is driven by a rapid increase in enrollment at the basic education level; in the last decade, enrollment in lower secondary school (Junior High School – JHS) increased by almost 50%. But post-basic opportunities remain limited; of those that complete the 3 years of JHS, half (over 200,000 students) do not make it to further formal education and training. About eight out of every ten youth 15-17 years of age are not enrolled in senior high schools, and only 5-7% of JHS graduates can except to find a place in either public or private TVET institutes. Despite such social pressures, enrollment in virtually all public TVET institutes has been either static or in decline over the last few years. It appears that social demand for private TVET is also declining. The bulk of all post-basic education and training opportunities, therefore, continue to be provided by academic senior secondary schools and by the private informal apprenticeship system. Social demand for TVET is influenced by a range of factors, chief among them its low prestige value. TVET remains less popular than general education, regarded by many as a better preparation for the available formal employment opportunities.

The economic demand for TVET by the private sector appears to be low. The overwhelming majority of Ghanaian firms covered by the World Bank Enterprise Survey, regardless of their size, do not perceive the skill level of the workforce as a major constraint. This is likely a result of the low-skills equilibrium that the economy and its private sector – from MSEs to larger companies – find itself in. However, it is not clear what types or levels of skills enterprise respondents were referring to when responding to the surveys. Neither is it clear which skills are rewarded by the private sector and which ones are not. For instance, the World Bank Enterprise Survey aimed to assess the workforce’s skill levels, but only asked enterprise managers if their workforce was “inadequately educated.” To complicate matters further, other surveys have produced opposite results.

TVET Supply

The Ghanaian government still acts as a large provider of skills in the country and there are approximately 200 public TVET institutes, with about 40,000 students; the Ministry of Education’s technical training institutes account for over 70% of this enrolment.

Quality deficits in public and private training providers hinder training delivery, and the labor market relevance of TVET is generally poor. Almost all data on formal TVET provision relate to supply-side issues, and there are little or no data on quality, efficiency, financing, outcomes or impact.

In addition to public skills provision, there is a considerable range of private for-profit and nonprofit institution-based pre-employment training. However, the largest provider of skills training remains the private informal apprenticeship system which trains in excess of 440,000 youth at any one time; there are about 4 informal apprentices for every trainee in formal public and private training centers combined. There have been several attempts to support informal apprenticeship training, but no intervention has yet had any systematic and sustainable impact. The latest government attempt is the National Apprenticeship Program (NAP); a state-funded program serving only 1% of the 440,000 youth in informal apprenticeship.

Industry training is offered in Ghana’s small formal sector. Firms of all sizes offer formal training, although medium and especially large firms are more likely to do so than small firms.

TVET Coordination

One of the most serious failures regarding TVET in Ghana has traditionally been that of coordination of providers, qualifications, strategies, polices, legislation, and development partner support. Unsuccessful attempts have been made since the 1970s to rectify this failure. In 2006, a new TVET council was established, the Council for TVET (or COTVET). While COTVET faces several challenges related to financing, capacity and image (being perceived as a Ministry of Education entity), it has made some initial steps towards better coordination of TVET supply side with the set-up of committees related to qualifications and quality assurance, as well as towards coordination of TVET demand, with the set-up of committees concerned with industry and a skills development fund (SDF).

There is still insufficient coordination with government strategies and plans – both between different TVET-delivering MDAs, and wider development strategies. This has led to the development of parallel agendas, plans, programs and committees. Very significant resources are still being spent by the government on TVET activities that are not coordinated with COTVET, and largely operate independently of the main TVET-delivering MDAs. Ghana’s forthcoming national skills strategy should aim to complement, and be complemented by, reforms that are underway in related sectors (for example, private sector development and employment, the informal economy, information and communication technologies, and agriculture).

TVET Financing

At the system level, the identification of diversified sustainable sources of funding for TVET requires urgent attention; over ten years have passed since this was first identified as a pressing issue and no real progress has been made. In 2010, one piece of a future financing framework was set up – a Skills Development Fund (SDF) – with World Bank and Danida support containing four competitive funding windows. The establishment of the SDF represents one of the more innovative elements of the ongoing reform. Channeling the majority of TVET resources through a SDF will make it easier for funds to be allocated in line with general national socioeconomic priorities and specific priorities identified by COTVET.

The public financing approach and general lack of incentives to improve TVET in Ghana help to perpetuate a supply-driven, low-quality skills system that responds very poorly to the needs of the economy, and especially its growth sectors. Public financing incentives are lacking for training providers to deliver better services, for employees to improve their skills and employability, and for employers to train more. Where public funding has been used to support private informal apprenticeships it often does so in a way that risks substituting for private financing, and where it has been used to support short duration skills training, it is often done so in an inefficient way. Much public spending on TVET is not targeted at the poor but is captured by those who are less in need, thus widening inequalities. For example, it is estimated that only 19% of the public spending for MOE vocational education reaches the poor. Another example of inefficient use of public subsidies is inherent in the financing of the National Apprenticeship Program (NAP).

>>>This blog is based on the recent book: Darvas, P. and Palmer, R. (2014) Demand and Supply of Skills in Ghana: How Can Training Programs Improve Employment?. Washington, DC: World Bank


Peter Darvas is a World Bank Senior Education Economist at the Human Development Department of the Africa Region and is based in Washington, DC. Email: pdarvas@worldbank.org

Robert Palmer is an independent education and skills consultant. He also supports the Editor of NORRAG News and runs NORRAG NEWSBite. Email: rpalmer00@gmail.com Tweets @SkillsImpact


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Metrics on Policies and Learning Outcomes for Post-2015: Some Words of Caution

By Alexandra Draxler, Independent Consultant.

TapeThe UN Post-2015 High Level Panel’s call for a “data revolution” and for a new global partnership embracing the private sector is being echoed by most of the classic development institutions. Global measurement of learning and of education systems is on the agendas of Brookings’ Learning Metrics Task Force, the OECD’s PISA for Development, the World Bank’s SABER and the Global Partnership for Education. At a recent NORRAG scoping meeting on Global Governance of Education & Training and the Politics of Data, this author added her voice to those who feel some caution is needed. Here is a brief checklist of points of scrutiny


  1. Recognize that metrics and testing are ideologically charged. We are living in a time dominated by productivist views of society with the assumption that everything can be commodified and that streamlining, harmonization, and lowered transaction costs (including in personal interactions) represent progress, including in education.  This favours the acquisition of measurable skills as the main objective of learning. It is legitimate to look at such assumptions with a healthy dose of scepticism.
  1. Remember Campbell’s law that the more a quantitative social indicator (e.g. a learning achievement test) is used for decision-making the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.
  1. Refuse the tyranny of ranking. Ranking people, or nations, or groups, is a pernicious and counter-productive process that pits them against each other instead of featuring uniqueness and cooperation. Data and statistics have essential functions. None of them should be to produce winners and losers.
  1. Keep the vendors out of the voting booth. Among the primary beneficiaries of large-scale standardized data collection and testing are the institutions (whether not-for-profit such as the World Bank, OECD or Brookings or for-profit such as Pearson, McGraw Hill and ETS) that develop and administer the instruments and collection techniques. They are also the principal advocates and lobbyists for more and bigger data collection and testing programmes. Driving out conflict of interest from international development initiatives has to be among the priorities.
  1. Analyse opportunity costs. Every action has an opportunity cost, and the bigger that action the bigger the opportunity cost. So big actions should be subject to analysis not only on their own merits or lack of them but on what they are costing in terms of lost alternatives. In this case, will the data revolution as it is currently taking shape focus on building local capacity and meeting local needs or will we have to wait for a “trickle down” effect?
  1. Probe the objective of product uniformity. The product here is the learner and her or his outcomes. In the search for efficiency, the productivist model is based on harmonizing outputs to make them reliable and uniform at the lowest possible cost. Since this can only take place through standardization of processes it cannot be what is most desirable for schools or children. Education should celebrate and reward individual differences, creativity, and the discovering of the treasure within each learner.
  1. Insist on democratic legitimacy for policies. New governance mechanisms and partnerships are being put into place that operate at one or several stages removed from democratic safeguards, imperfect as the latter can be. Public-private partnerships, private philanthropists, independent think tanks, or new global partnerships can bring significant creativity and energy to development initiatives. Governments and groups that accept their intervention need to insist on the application of hard-won regulatory and governance mechanisms that can ensure participation and transparency.

Alexandra Draxler is a former UNESCO education specialist, and now an independent consultant and member of NORRAG’s team. Email: a.draxler@gmail.com


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DeMOOCratizing Higher Education? Massive Open Online Courses for Developing Countries

By Clara Franco, Dilnoza Nigmonova, Wipada Panichpathom, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva.

MOOCIn the last few years, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have been enthusiastically applauded as the initiative that will finally bring higher education to everyone, sparking in the media what some journalists and academics called “a MOOC hype”. However, just how “massive” can access to MOOCs actually be? And what kind of truly revolutionary change, if any, can they bring to the landscape of higher education in the world?

An initiative to provide free University-level courses to millions of users via the internet, MOOCs are seen by many as an alternative path for offering access to higher education and learning. However, the perspectives of those from developing countries – the very regions with the most people needing opportunities to access higher education or, in many instances, any education at all – have been lacking. For all the enthusiasm about MOOCs, many questions still remain unanswered; for example, regarding how “massive” can access truly be, or in what ways they differ from traditional instructor-led teaching (if they differ at all), or how can they foster educational access, development and social mobility in the emerging and least developed economies. These are only a few of the many pressing doubts (e.g. see here, here and here) that have resonated amongst the hype. Others are concerned about matters such as, for example, how will the MOOCs business be financially sustainable, or how can the MOOC students throughout the world find benefits that are directly applicable to the labour market.

A recent study (see below for details) found that most respondents from developing countries (including both instructors and students of MOOCs) tend to regard MOOCs positively; mentioning for example that they are an alternative path to truly massive access to education, or that they enhance the possibilities for better job opportunities, or even that MOOCs can help emerging economies’ development. However, some scholars and specialists have voiced concerns. Even though key players in universities see many promising possibilities and opportunities to use MOOCs as a tool to better address the needs of developing countries – for example, by creating partnerships with universities in developed countries, to produce MOOCs that address the specific needs of developing regions (such as public health, urban development, agricultural technology or the more basic levels of education), other motivations are at play as well. Some respondents are of the view that many prestigious universities have also jumped onto the MOOC bandwagon in an attempt to publicize their name and “brand”, to gain potential access to more (formally enrolled) students, and in general for the publicity gains to be had by putting their name “out there”. Or, conversely, to avoid the losses of being “left out of the game”, if in the near future MOOCs do turn out to revolutionize the educational landscape. Concerns have also been voiced about MOOCs’ pedagogical approaches, which may not always turn out to be “revolutionary”, or interactive, or even any different from traditional instructor-led teaching at all.

Interviewed instructors and stakeholders from developing countries, as well as surveyed MOOCs students, do not seem to always have in mind the barriers that still keep MOOCs out of the reach of most people in developing countries: limited personal broadband access; language barriers; and, the significant barrier of previous knowledge that the student must possess in order to grasp the concepts, which are often not easily understandable for someone who did not complete basic levels of education. In a survey of 391 MOOC students from developing countries (mostly Latin America and Southeast Asia); more than half of them held an undergraduate or Bachelor degree (52%). Holders of graduate degrees – Masters, PhDs or postdoctoral degrees – were heavily overrepresented, compared to the average rates of graduate degree holders in those regions. And only less than 1% of students claimed to have had no formal education at all. These results seem to indicate that MOOCs are predominantly reaching the people who already have benefited in some way from access to privileged educational opportunities, which continue to be scarce in their home countries. Interviewees and respondents seem to hold ambivalent ideas about MOOCs: there is a heavily prevalent feeling that MOOCs really do give access to higher education to people who otherwise could not have it; but at the same time recognizing that important barriers are in place. These barriers often mean that MOOCs are largely benefiting the people who have already had either advanced educational opportunities, or at least a privileged environment where learning about, signing up to, and actually completing MOOCs is feasible.


The aforementioned study was designed to collect up-to-date perspectives on MOOCs in the context of developing countries, specifically Latin America and Southeast Asia (with a moderately higher focus placed on Mexico and Thailand). It studied the perspectives of various players:

1) Students, through a survey distributed to 391 MOOC students from developing countries. The sample was largely self-selected among people who have signed up for MOOCs, and includes both students who finished courses and students who didn’t. Instructors of MOOCs from developing countries helped distribute and encourage the answering of this survey;

2) MOOC instructors from developing countries, through personal interviews; and,

3) MOOC providers (people who have developed online platforms for MOOCs, or people from universities who are in close contact with said developers), who were personally interviewed as well.


Dilnoza Nigmonova, Wipada Panichpathom and Clara Franco are currently completing a Master of Arts (MA) in International Affairs at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland. Emails: dilnoza.nigmonova@graduateinstitute.ch ; wipada.panichpathom@graduateinstitute.ch ; clara.franco@graduateinstitute.ch


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What about Good Global Governance and Education?


I’ll have an education and some good governance please, but I don’t know which comes first

What is the link between education and good governance? This was an issue addressed by the recent Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2013/14 (p.170-177), but was also the subject of an interesting session the day before the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) pledging day.

Drawing heavily on the recent Brookings Paper, the discussion at the GPE event was around the issue of whether investment in universal (primary) education can strengthen good governance, or whether good governance leads to universal (primary) education? Rebecca Winthrop of Brookings presented the findings on behalf of the authors, with the bottom line being that they found a stronger relationship from universal education to good governance than from good governance to universal education. The Brookings team note the caveat that ‘not all universal education is created equal’ and thus not all education promotes good governance;

‘education that is inclusive and relevant may have positive effects on governance, while education that alienates or marginalizes individuals and groups or that lacks relevance to the aspirations and possible livelihoods of students may have negative effects on governance’.

However, what the paper doesn’t touch on is the contextual enabling or disabling socio-cultural, historical or economic factors that may have an effect on the link between primary education to good governance (or good governance to primary education). Making claims about what primary education can do in the absence of discussion of this environment is reminiscent of the farmer education fallacy in development planning; the old claims that 4 years of education increases agricultural productivity by x% – this claim was only true of course where there was a supportive enabling context (e.g. machinery, fertilizers, market-oriented production etc).

Moreover, the Brookings session at GPE – and the paper, very much focus on the relationship between universal (primary) education and the national-level good governance of ODA-receiving (mostly low income) countries.

It would be interesting to have a follow on discussion on the links between good global governance of education, good national governance of education and the delivery universal primary or secondary education. Indeed, this global dimension of governance is largely missing from the post-2015 education discussions.  But there are a lot of unanswered questions…..

  • To what extent is the global governance of education good (enough), and will it be fit for purpose when it comes to post-2015 ambitions?
  • What is the role of the GPE, OECD (via tests like PISA), the World Bank, global civil society, multinationals and others in the global governance of education?
  • Why is it that there is so much focus on the ‘what’ of education post-2015 (what goals? what targets?) and not enough focus on the how? – which is not just about input targets like financing, but also surely about wider governance issues and education – at both the national and international levels.


What do you think about all this? Do you think there even such a thing as global governance of education?


NORRAG is examining the global governance of education and training as one of its themes and would welcome your thoughts on this all.

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Expanding PISA: The OECD and Global Governance in Education

By Sam Sellar and Bob Lingard, School of Education, The University of Queensland.

PISA for devThe education work of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has grown and changed significantly since the Organisation was established in 1961. Education has always had an inferred role in the OECD’s economic analyses (Papadopoulos 1994), but it has become more central over the past two decades. This is due to a combination of factors. First, with the end of the Cold War the OECD’s role as a bulwark against communism—an economic NATO—became redundant and a host of new countries gradually became eligible for accession as they developed free market economies, liberal democracies and respect for human rights. In this context the OECD has strengthened its statistical analysis function, becoming a global ‘centre of calculation’ (Latour 1987). During the 1990s, the OECD took an influential position in relation to the knowledge economy and the importance of human capital, as well as introducing its Indicators of National Education Systems (INES) program, published annually in Education at a Glance (e.g. see for 2013), and developing the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which was first conducted in 2000.

The release of results from the first round of PISA created a ‘shock’ in Germany (Ertl 2006), which performed more poorly than expected. This PISA shock demonstrated the impact that the assessment could make on policy and the programme has gone from strength to strength since, becoming the most well-known and influential international large-scale assessment in education. The success of PISA has been a catalyst for the growing influence of education work within the OECD and globally. In 2002 the Directorate for Education was established and for the first time education had an independent organisational location. Education is seen as a model of efficiency and effectiveness, given the high impact of its programmes and its relatively modest and often project-specific funding. Indeed, the release of PISA results every three years has become the Organisation’s largest media event and generates significant coverage and debate around the world. PISA is now providing a prototype for the development of an array of new programmes, including PISA for Development, PISA-based Tests for Schools, the Programme for International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) and the Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes (AHELO).

PISA and related education programmes are now expanding the education work of the OECD along three interrelated fronts: scope (what is being measured), scale (where and when it is being measured) and explanatory power (how these data are used). This expansion involves development of the infrastructure through which the OECD produces, analyses and disseminates education data. For example, PISA and related programs are developing to measure a broader set of skills, including noncognitive skills, as elements of human capital. We are seeing an expansion in the quantification and comparison of more dimensions of learning, personality and social life, which are being drawn into human capital models and opened up to new kinds of policy intervention. The scale of PISA has expanded dramatically to cover 65 participating systems in 2012, compared with the 32 systems that initially participated in 2000. The OECD claims that participation is now representative of 80% of the world economy. The introduction of PISA-based Tests for Schools in 2013, which allows individual schools to compare their performance against schools and systems globally, has also changed the scale at which PISA is implemented. Finally, efforts are being made to increase the explanatory power of PISA by linking different data sets and providing data in formats that are easily accessible and useful for policymakers. For example, next week the results of the 2013 Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) will be released, providing data on teaching conditions in 34 countries (up from 24 in 2008). The OECD is working to link this data with PISA results in order to better understand the relationships between teaching conditions, teaching practices and student learning outcomes.

What does this expansion mean for the OECD’s role in education globally? We would argue that with the rising importance and influence of education within the Organisation, and the success of PISA and related programs in terms of shaping education policy debates globally, we are seeing the OECD become a most influential agency in education policy globally, superseding other organisations such as UNESCO and developing new modes of global governance in education. The OECD largely exerts soft power influence through peer pressure on member nations to confirm to shared values and norms and through the capacity of its analyses to shift perspectives on economic and policy issues. We would argue that this shaping of values and perspectives constitutes a form of epistemological governance. This is coupled with what we have characterized as infrastructural governance. The OECD exerts a form of ‘logistical power’ (Mukerji 2010) by developing global data infrastructure in education, which shapes the environment in which analyses of educational performance and actions to reform education systems take place. Both modes of governance are mutually reinforcing: the development of data infrastructure generates the information that shapes values and knowledge in relation to education, and a belief in the need for this information to produce ‘evidence-based’ policy drives the demand to extend and develop data infrastructure.

With the success of PISA the OECD has been able to pioneer new data-driven modes of influence in education globally. This work is continuing and we are now starting to see others, including edu-businesses such as Pearson, with their new Learning Curve initiative, attempting to emulate this success in order to play a new role in global policy networks.

[Blog Editor’s note: of course there are those who have concerns about the spread of PISA’s influence and suggest that it is damaging education worldwide. What’s you view on this? Please feel free to add your thoughts and comments below].


Sam Sellar is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the School of Education at The University of Queensland. His current research interests include the education work of the OECD, national and international large-scale assessments and new accountabilities in schooling. Sam is an Associate Editor of ‘Critical Studies in Education and Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education’.

Bob Lingard is a Professorial Research Fellow in the School of Education at the University of Queensland. His most recent book (2014) is ‘Politics, Policies and Pedagogies in Education’ (London, Routledge). He is also an Editor of the journal, ‘Discourse Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education’.


>>See other NORRAG Blogs related to PISA

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Teaching and Learning: Achieving Quality for All – What the EFA Global Monitoring Report has to Offer

By Pauline Rose, University of Cambridge; Formerly, Director of 2013/4 EFA Global Monitoring Report.


GMR team preparing the Report

After a year of intense work, it is always with great excitement – and trepidation – that the EFA Global Monitoring Report (GMR) team waits for reactions to the latest edition. It would not be an exaggeration to say that we were overwhelmed with the feedback the report received after its launch in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on 29 January 2014. Achieving 2,000 media articles in around 100 countries immediately after the launch, and making it on to the headline news on the BBC, we could be pleased that the messages were reaching wide audiences.

Writing this piece for NORRAG News gives me the opportunity to reflect on the purposes of the report, and what it can achieve. Written from scratch in a period of less than a year (with other time spent on graphic design, checking proofs, printing and so on), such a Report cannot hope to prepare new research. But it can – and should – present evidence from available, rigorous research in ways that provide a compelling message to policymakers that they urgently need to take action to achieve the education goals they set themselves in 2000.


GMR reaches the hands of the policymakers (Deputy Director General of UNESCO handing the Report to the Deputy Prime Minister of Ethiopia at the global launch on 29 January)

We know that policymakers rarely have time to read research published in academic journals or books (and, let’s be frank, even if they tried, some of this research is rather impenetrable!). So the job of the Report is to make the research accessible to them, in the hope that they will draw on evidence to inform their policymaking. One of the features of the Report is that it should present innovative data analysis to act as a wake-up call and alert policymakers to the need for change – such as that 250 million children are not learning the basics.

As with every edition, this year’s Report on teaching and learning involved extensive reviewing of the literature (far beyond what can be hoped to be referenced even in the 470 pages of the Report), consultations with experts and practitioners – including in this case with teachers and teacher unions. This then gets digested into messages that the Report team hopes policymakers will hear and act upon. Indeed, we have growing experience that policymakers around the world are taking notice of the report’s messages, including in countries with some of the largest numbers of children out of school and which also suffer from poor quality of education, such as Ethiopia, Nigeria and Pakistan.

The 2013/4 Report makes the case that good quality teachers are at the heart at of a good quality education system, but that the most disadvantaged children are most likely to be missing out. To correct this, the Report sets out 10 recommendations – ranging from the need to fill teacher gaps, provide teachers with adequate, relevant training before and throughout their careers, ensure balanced deployment of teachers, adopt competitive career and structures, improve teacher governance, and equip teachers with innovative curricula. These clearly-presented, evidence-based messages should provide those in the education community with ample ammunition on why teachers should be a stronger focus than presented in the High Level Panel’s report on post-2015, for example.

The GMR team is as aware as others of the long history of research on teachers that support these findings, including by contributors to this issue of NORRAG News. How can a Report hope to add to the knowledge of such experienced researchers? One way that this Report has done so is in putting the spotlight on the most disadvantaged learners, which sadly much of the research on teachers fails to do. Another is that there is a tendency of some research, in particular promoted by some of the major development agencies, to blame teachers for the failure in education, for example because they are absent from the classroom. The careful review of available evidence that is presented in the GMR makes clear that it is ultimately the responsibility of policymakers to address the problems in the system, including by setting the right incentives for teachers.

Of course, no report can expect to cover everything – nor should it attempt to do so, as this would merely dilute its messages. The focus of the 2013/4 GMR on the fact that millions of children are not learning the basics, and that these are primarily children from the poorest households, living in rural areas, and likely to include girls and children with disabilities, is a strategic one – these are the children who otherwise would not have a voice. And without the chance to learn the basics, it is extremely unlikely that they are going to benefit from other skills that education systems should offer, such as transferable skills of critical thinking and problem-solving.

Each report is more than its theme alone. At its heart is an assessment of progress towards each of the six Education For All goals. And this year’s report makes sobering reading:  none of the goals are expected to be met by 2015, some by a wide margin. The Report also shows that, if current trends are to continue, the poorest girls in sub-Saharan Africa will all be literate only by 2072.

I hope that collaboration with key partners, including those in the NORRAG network, will lead to a combined strong voice as we promote a global education framework after 2015, drawing on the evidence that each GMR has provided in its monitoring of education progress over the years.

Pauline Rose is a professor of international education at the University of Cambridge and former director of the EFA Global Monitoring Report. Email: pmr43@cam.ac.uk

This blog is based on an article in NORRAG News 50 on ‘The Global Politics of Teaching and Learning: The Real Story of Educational Cultures and Contexts’ – available free at www.norrag.org in June 2014. 

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