While millions more children in developing countries are in school than was the case at the turn of the millennium, there is growing awareness of a ‘learning crisis’, with many of those in school unable to meet basic standards. In addressing this, the role of power and politics has been relatively neglected in favour of more technical solutions, yet a deeper examination of the former can help to explain why gains in quality remain elusive.
Our analysis shows how global and domestic conditions have conspired in many instances to create a ‘perfect storm’ that holds back quality improvements. At the domestic level, incentives can be skewed towards areas which are visible, targetable, and perceived to offer higher political rewards. At the global level, this has been reinforced through Millennium Development Goal targets and attention to what is more easily measurable.
Harnessing political dynamics to better drive balanced education outcomes, particularly in terms of quality, will not be easy but more can be done. In addition to a strong post-2015 goal on quality, which may help shift incentives, learning from countries which have already made progress in overcoming common political barriers is key. This paper begins to explore this, drawing principally on case study research conducted as part of ODI’s Development Progress project, bringing in other examples where relevant.