From Government to Governance: Reflections on Global Education Governance and the Global South

By Barbara Trudell, SIL Africa.

globeGovernment is a funny thing. Sometimes it stands as the defender and protector of the vulnerable, and sometimes it is the perpetrator of all manner of injustices. We expect marvels from the state, and at the same time we find all kinds of ways to belittle it.

Where education is concerned, it’s no different. Poor exam results? Blame the government. Under-resourced and under-motivated teachers? it’s the government’s fault. I‘m told that in the UK, one can even blame the government for the weather!

Having said that, it has always seemed to me that the provision of education really is the state’s role. Curriculum content is supposed to reflect and reproduce national identity and values; the formal education experience is supposed to build well informed and productive national citizens. That is not how it always turns out, of course, and in fact the language development organization I work for spends a great deal of effort on advocacy with education authorities on behalf of those whom the state seems to be ignoring.

But something odd is happening in education.  Rather than supporting and strengthening the state’s ability to provide quality education for its citizens, we now see significant international power brokers supporting the notion that education provision can and should be open to “the market”. Private education provision is a major income source in the African country I live in, even as the public education system struggles with issues of quality inputs and quality outcomes. But moving responsibility for shaping the nation’s future citizens from the state to private, for-profit institutions is disquieting, especially given the hegemony of economic globalization around the world. When the OECD becomes a global arbiter of educational quality (with the promotion of PISA worldwide), the most important aspects of children’s learning are trivialized – swept aside in favor of the dubious promises of “education for economic growth”.

Hence we see the move from government to governance, where the state’s role is increasingly about regulating what everyone else is teaching the nation’s kids. Without denigrating the importance of private education in many countries, this move towards seeing education as a profitable transnational business, unlinked in any meaningful way to national goals and local civic realities, is scary. The for-profit motive is relatively amoral, unconcerned with the rightness or wrongness of what it does – and such a motive is all right in its place, but not when you want to build a sense of ethics, civic responsibility and national identity into the children of the nation.

What makes it worse, I think, is the notion that a ‘global’ approach to education is actually going to serve the children of the educationally, economically, socially, and culturally marginalized. What we see instead is that ‘global’ priorities are readily taken on by national elites, but the “masses” are left behind. It is far too easy to look at a society and only see the people who are easiest to relate to, those who are familiar already with the ‘global knowledge’ on offer, those whose clothes, manners, language fluency and IT-literacy make them comfortable to work with.  But the uncomfortable fact is that these elites do not represent more than a tiny fraction of the population. In some quarters the notion of “humane” global education governance is being mooted. But how humane can global governance be, if by its very nature it ignores or denigrates the local educational realities of most of the Global South?

So it seems that global education governance is a great idea, if you are a global power player. If you are not, then maybe not so much. And when it comes to education, the people need a provider whose bottom line is accountability to society, not to the profit margins of investors. Any of us who engage with educational governance at the global level need to keep that fact front-and-center.


Barbara Trudell, PhD is the director of research and advocacy for SIL Africa Area.  She has lived and worked in Africa since 1993. Her association with NORRAG began in 2002, as NORRAG’s first “assistant for development”. Email:

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Breaking Down the Silos: Learning Knowledge and Skills for Agriculture and Rural Livelihoods

By Anna Robinson-Pant, University of East Anglia.

EgyptAs a researcher in literacy, gender and development, I was excited to have the opportunity to collaborate on a project that aimed to bring together policy makers, practitioners and researchers working on adult basic education, technical and vocational education and training (TVET) and agricultural development. These sectors are so obviously inter-connected in people’s lives and livelihoods, and yet researchers and policy makers in these fields often work in isolation from each other. Within the education sector alone, gaps in understanding, communication and conflicting policy priorities have developed between schooling and other forms of education; between adult literacy and other kinds of adult education (particularly vocational skill development); and between programmes for children and adults.

The IFAD-UNESCO project, ‘Learning knowledge and skills for agriculture and rural livelihoods’, set out to develop a more holistic analysis by researching how young people learn different kinds of knowledge, skills and strategies to enhance their livelihoods in rural areas. Rather than using training programmes and educational institutions as an entry point, the study adopted a ‘bottom-up’ approach to researching how informal, non-formal and formal learning is taking place in the everyday lives of young people. Research teams in Cambodia, Egypt and Ethiopia conducted ethnographic observation, focus group discussions and life history interviews in two contrasting rural communities. They explored how young people viewed their learning experiences (education in the widest sense – not just schooling), agricultural livelihoods and their aspirations for the future. They analysed this data in relation to case studies of skill providers in these communities and interviews with older women and men – to gain insights into intergenerational learning and understanding of changing social values and livelihood strategies. As Global Research Co-ordinator on the project, my role included supporting the country research teams through a review of the international literature and training in qualitative methods, and developing a comparative analysis across the three country contexts.

Having worked for several years in rural communities in Western Nepal, I have seen how young people dreamed of a future beyond the family land and subsistence farming. As roads, mobile phones and the internet have reached even remote mountain villages, I have witnessed the growing numbers of young women and men leaving for education and work in Kathmandu and the Gulf countries. So I guessed that the situation in our research sites in Cambodia, Egypt and Ethiopia would be similar. As much previous research has pointed out, young people often see farming as an occupation of ‘last resort’. In a sense, challenging our own assumptions as researchers was the first step on this project – how to suspend beliefs (particularly since many of the country research teams were originally from subsistence farming backgrounds) that young people would be better off in occupations away from agriculture and their rural communities. At our first workshop with stakeholders in Ethiopia, there was heated debate about whether the IFAD-UNESCO project was trying to ‘brainwash’ young people into staying in family farming.

As the field research progressed, the young people’s views and experiences from these very different contexts made us realise the complexity of the relationship between learning, agriculture and social change. Young people not only talked about their livelihoods in terms of ‘farming’ or ‘other’ in their accounts of their lives. Rather, they emphasised that farming was a ‘given’ within many different livelihood activities and roles over the course of their lives and that there were strong inter-connections between off-farm and on-farm work. For instance, a college student in Fayoum (Egypt) related how he returned to help the family with farming during holidays in order to support his studies. There were striking differences between the different country contexts in terms of how young people viewed agricultural work. In Siem Reap (Cambodia), some young women talked about the appeal of working in a factory rather than the farm as it offered a social space and chance to meet their future spouses, as well as gaining confidence through this interaction. In Gemi (Egypt), young women expressed great affection for the land and yearned to own their own piece of land for growing food for the family. In Basona (Ethiopia), the team interviewed several divorced young women who had moved to the town to make and sell alcohol. Although now independent of their families, they were dependent on traders and employment agencies that made them susceptible to abuse and exploitation.

So where did learning fit into this complex picture of rapidly changing and multiple rural livelihoods? As a young man in the Ethiopian study commented, ‘learning agricultural knowledge and skills is not a question of choice, we learned it because it is a way of life, where we are born from’. The findings revealed much about informal learning in these communities, such as how young people learned agricultural practices from their families. An older pastoralist woman in Yabello (Ethiopia) explained how young children would learn to look after one or two small calves at the age of 7, then move onto a larger herd at age 8, and she explained what they would learn – where water and fodder is available in which season, alertness, physical endurance to travel to distant places and fight with wild animals. New skills and technologies were also learned informally. Young people related how they had learned to use mobile phones through help from friends – even those who could not read and write had developed visual strategies to recognise incoming and outgoing calls.

Formal schooling is now a possibility for many young people in these communities – in contrast to their parents’ generation, some of whom saw schooling as a threat to traditional agricultural livelihoods, not least in terms of the financial burden and loss of labour within the family. Although young people did not expect to learn useful knowledge and skills directly relevant to agriculture in school, they emphasised the symbolic status of schooling, the confidence gained through being literate and an educated person. Young farmers commented that they had been excluded from agricultural extension programmes or training institutes due to the entry criteria: whether due to lacking educational qualifications or literacy skills or needing to own their own land. In Siem Reap (Cambodia), young women farmers explained how they turned to fertiliser traders to help them with technical advice on their crops. There were also instances of farmers learning informally from neighbours who had been included in training programmes, or by watching extension workers demonstrate new inputs to other farmers. In all the contrasting field sites, insights emerged into the ways in which informal learning supports and complements formal learning, particularly in terms of the wide range of ‘soft’ skills learned.

The project points to the need for researchers and policy makers to give greater attention to the extent and value of informal learning. The findings also provide strong evidence of young people’s diverse experiences and aspirations – challenging the one-size-fits-all approach in many educational programmes (whether adult literacy or agricultural skills development) and targeting youth as a homogeneous group.  Above all, as a team of educational and agricultural specialists, we learned the importance of moving outside our research and policy ‘silos’ to share assumptions and understandings of learning in these different sectors.


Anna Robinson-Pant is a Professor of Education and the Director of the Centre for Applied Research in Education (CARE) at the University of East Anglia. She is also the Global Research Co-ordinator on the IFAD-UNESCO project ‘Learning knowledge and skills for agriculture to improve rural livelihoods’.



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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:




[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:

Robert Palmer is an independent education and skills consultant. He also supports the Editor of NORRAG News and runs NORRAG NEWSBite. Email: 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:


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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: ; ;


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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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