The Role of Purpose in Driving Change in Education Systems


On Tuesday 25 October 2022, 15:00-16:30 BST, the Research on Improving Systems of Education (RISE) Programme will hold a webinar on the role of purpose in driving change in education systems.

View the webinar recording


Chair: Yue-Yi Hwa, RISE Research Manager, Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford


  • Luis Crouch, Senior Economist at RTI’s International Development Group and member of RISE’s Intellectual Leadership Team 
  • Jonathan London, Associate Professor of Global Political Economy – Asia, Leiden Institute of Area Studies 
  • Dan Honig, Associate Professor of Public Policy, University College London   
  • Michelle Kaffenberger, RISE Deputy Director of Research, Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford 

About the event

Education systems in many low- and middle-income countries are stuck in low learning equilibria. A growing body of research is investigating education systems with the aim of understanding not just individual interventions that can improve outcomes, but how the overall system can be transformed to achieve better outcomes for all students. 

A common theme that emerges is the role that “purpose” plays in facilitating positive transformation of education systems. This panel will feature four papers from researchers affiliated with the RISE Programme that look at different aspects of purpose in driving change in education systems. 

First, Luis Crouch will present on a paper that examines the role of purpose in a set of historical case studies. This paper employs historical case analysis to explore the origins of transformative reforms in two countries, Japan between 1860 to 1970 and Korea from 1960 to 1995, and lessons for policy makers undertaking system reform today.

Next, Jonathan London will present a contemporary political economy analysis of Vietnam. Through a political settlements analysis, the authors explore the features of Vietnam’s political economy that have driven learning outcomes that are significantly stronger than its regional and economic peers.  

Next, the discussion will move from national political analysis of purpose to organisational management analysis, with a essay from Dan Honig on the role of motivation in driving management for performance improvement. In this framework paper Honig argues that for complex publicly provided services like education, management that is focused on motivation will be more effective at performance improvement than management focused on monitoring and control.

Finally, Michelle Kaffenberger will present a paper arguing that at the core of the learning crisis is a crisis of purpose. This paper presents a conceptual framework and empirical examples of education systems that have successfully shifted to improve children’s learning and show the role that commitment to the purpose of learning played in each case. 

Learn more

This is the first in a series of three webinars that RISE is running as part of a messaging campaign with its community from October through December 2022 to bring attention to the global learning crisis and the need to use systems thinking to improve learning outcomes for children worldwide.

Follow #FromSchoolingToLearning on Twitter to keep up with the latest news from the campaign, or look out for these other RISE webinars coming soon!

  • 15 November, 2-5pm GMT: Teachers and Teacher Norms
  • 6 December, 2-3pm GMT: Introducing the Learning Trajectories Tool (co-organised with UNESCO GEM Report)

Speaker Bios

Luis Crouch

Luis Crouch is a Senior Economist at RTI’s International Development Group and a member of RISE’s Intellectual Leadership Team. He specialises in education policy, decentralised finance (e.g., funding formulas), political economy of reform, education statistics, planning, and projections. He has experience in all key areas of education data analysis, from the generation of primary data via surveys and citizen input, to statistical and econometric analysis, to evidence-based, Cabinet-level policy dialogue. He has previously worked at the World Bank and at the Global Partnership for Education. He has worked closely on South Africa’s education sector funding reforms, Egypt’s decentralisation experiments, and decentralisation and other policy reforms in Peru and Indonesia. His more recent work is in early grade reading and Early Childhood Development, as key entry-points to improving quality. He has worked in more than 25 countries in a 30-year career in development, and is the author of reports, technical papers, and books. 

Jonathan London

Jonathan London is an Associate Professor of Global Political Economy – Asia at the Leiden Institute of Area Studies. He has previously held positions at the City University of Hong Kong and Nanyang Technological University. London’s research interests span the fields of comparative political economy, development studies, and the political economy of welfare and stratification. A leading scholar of Vietnam, London’s recent publications include Education in Vietnam (ISEAS 2011), Politics in Contemporary Vietnam (Palgrave 2014) and research articles in such journals as The Annual Review of Political Science, The Journal of Contemporary Asia, and Social Science and Medicine. London is editor of the forthcoming Routledge Handbook of Contemporary Vietnam and sole author of Welfare and Stratification in Marketizing Asia (Palgrave). Fluent in Vietnamese, London is author of the first and only Vietnamese language blog on Vietnamese politics written by a foreigner. He has served as an analyst for international organizations such as UNDP, UNICEF, and OXFAM. London holds a PhD in Sociology from the University of Wisconsin.

Dan Honig

Dan Honig is an Associate Professor of Public Policy at University College London's School of Public Policy/Department of Political Science. His research focuses on the relationship between organisational structure, management practice, and performance in developing country governments and organisations that provide foreign aid. He is a non-resident fellow at the Center for Global Development; a fellow of Harvard's Building State Capability Program, Johns Hopkins SAIS' Foreign Policy Institute, and Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)' MHRC; a member of the Scholars Strategy Network; and on the editorial board of the Journal of Public Policy.  From 2015-2021 he was an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins SAIS, and he has also previously held visiting appointments at Thammasat University (Bangkok)'s Department of Economics, Leiden University (Netherlands') Institute of Political Science, and the West Africa Research Center in Dakar. Outside the academy he was special assistant, then advisor, to successive Ministers of Finance (Liberia); ran a local nonprofit focused on helping post-conflict youth realise the power of their own ideas through agricultural entrepreneurship (East Timor); and has worked for a number of local and international NGOs. He holds a BA from the University of Michigan and a Ph.D. in Public Policy from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

Michelle Kaffenberger

Michelle Kaffenberger is the RISE Deputy Director of Research.  She leads research, impact, and engagement focused on improving education system effectiveness and learning outcomes in low- and middle-income countries. Previously, she was a Senior Research Advisor with the World Bank, focusing on financial inclusion, social protection systems, and international education. She has designed, led, or advised on dozens of quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods empirical research studies. Michelle has also served as research adviser and consultant to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the United Nations, the Asian Development Bank, and a variety of private sector and nonprofit organisations. Previously she was research manager and lead analyst at InterMedia, an international development research organisation. She began her career establishing a new base of operations for an international nonprofit in Darjeeling, India.