School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University
How ‘Soft Governance’ Can Help Improve Learning Outcomes
- Distinguishing between proximate and underlying causes of low learning is essential for improving learning outcomes. Specialist knowledge about learning adds value where governance is good, but is less effective where underlying governance is messy.
- A recent RISE synthesis applied a framework for systematically assessing how political and institutional context influences learning outcomes to a set of studies of the political economy of education policy adoption in twelve countries.
- The results of this synthesis suggest some ‘good fit’ soft governance entry points for improving learning outcomes across a variety of different political and institutional contexts.
On the surface, global gains in educating children have been remarkable. Access has expanded enormously. So, too, has knowledge about ‘best practices’—both education-sector-specific knowledge about how students learn and successful teachers teach, and knowledge about ‘best practice’ arrangements for governing education systems. Yet the combination of access and knowledge has not translated into broad-based gains in learning outcomes. Why? In seeking to address this question, a useful point of departure is the 2018 Learning World Development Report’s distinction between proximate and underlying causes of learning shortfalls. Proximate causes include the skills and motivations of teachers, the quality of school management, the available of other inputs used in schools, and the extent to which learners come to school prepared to learn. Underlying these are the governance arrangements through which these inputs are deployed. Specialist knowledge on the proximate drivers of learning outcomes can straightforwardly be applied in countries where governance works well. However, in countries where the broader governance context is less supportive, specialist sector-specific interventions to support learning are less likely to add value. In these messy governance contexts, knowledge about the governance and political drivers of policymaking and implementation can be an important complement to sector-specific expertise. To help uncover new ways of improving learning outcomes (including in messy governance contexts), the Research on Improving Systems of Education (RISE) Programme has championed a broad-ranging, interdisciplinary agenda of research. RISE was organised around a variety of thematic and country-focused research teams that probed both proximate and underlying determinants of learning. As part of the RISE work programme, a political economy team commissioned studies on the politics of education policy adoption (the PET-A studies) for twelve countries (Chile, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, South Africa, Tanzania and Vietnam). A December 2022 RISE synthesis of the individual country studies laid out and applied a framework for systematically assessing how political and institutional context influences learning outcomes—and used the results to suggest some ‘good fit’ soft governance entry points for improving learning outcomes across a variety of different contexts. This insight note elaborates on the synthesis paper’s argument and its practical implications.
Levy, B. 2023. How ‘Soft Governance’ Can Help Improve Learning Outcomes. RISE Insight Series. 2023/053. https://doi.org/10.35489/BSG-RISE-RI_2023/053