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Political expedience too often put before education quality, warns new report.

Written by Joseph Wales, Susan Nicolai, Annalisa Prizzon, Sebastien Hine

Politically-expedient reforms in many developing countries are holding back progress in the quality of children’s schooling, a new report has warned.

Analysis by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) has found that politicians often prioritise vote-winning measures like building schools and fee abolition at the expense of more difficult decisions to improve the quality of education on offer, which require sustained political and fiscal commitment.

While 100 million more children in developing countries attend school today than in 2000, there are still 57 million out-of-school children and more than 250 million who are not learning to basic standards.

ODI research fellow Susan Nicolai said, “Too often political incentives lead governments to focus on enrolment.  Unless more is done to emphasise quality, progress in learning outcomes will continue to fall short in many countries.”

The conclusions, drawn from case studies of education in several countries, showed that:

·         In the Kenyan elections in 2002 and 2008, access to education and abolishing school fees were key issues. Funding for secondary education more than doubled and, between 2001 and 2009, the country witnessed a 50% rise in secondary enrolment. 

·         However, two thirds of Kenyan secondary school students fail to achieve the minimum grade for entry into university and a recent study found that over 42% of teachers are absent from the classroom.

·         In Indonesia, popular pressure has led to a drive to improve teaching quality. This led to higher teachers’ salaries and skills improvement.

·         Yet, while Indonesian teachers who retrained have seen their salaries double from, on average, $200 to $500 per month, the impact on student’s educational attainment has yet to be seen.

The report also flags persistent inequality of outcomes in secondary and tertiary education.  It notes that although Chile is one of only three OECD member countries to improve pupil reading assessments by more than 20 points from 2000-2009, it still has the strongest link between socioeconomic background and school performance of any OECD country.

The report, by the ODI’s Development Progress project, makes a number of recommendations to better use political dynamics to improve the quality in education systems:

·         Make education quality a political priority for the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals, the successors to the current Millennium Development Goals;

·         Include indicators of learning outcomes alongside more traditional access measures in monitoring systems;

·         Communicate information on both education access and quality to parents and communities to make learning outcomes more measurable and visible;

·         Strengthen demand by backing education coalitions and campaigns that focus on improving quality, particularly in marginalised areas.


For interviews or to read the report contact Zoe Smith at [email protected] or +44 (0) 7795 101259 or Alfonso Daniels at [email protected] +44 (0)7808 791265.


- Development Progress is a four-year research project carried out by the Overseas Development Institute and supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

- The working paper, Imbalanced progress: What political dynamics mean for education access and quality, draws on four new case studies exploring education in Chile, Indonesia, Kenya and Mongolia, amongst others.