RISE Working Paper 19/029 - Creative Destruction or Idiot Winds: Schumpeterian Theory Meets the Educational Sector in Developing Countries

The Challenge: Imagining a System That Can Generate Steady Productivity Gains Through Innovations

The basic theoretical and practical issue facing the RISE initiative is to imagine and test a national level educational policy intervention that can produce steady productivity gains in the educational sectors of developing countries (RISE, Website).

That goal is very ambitious -- one that extends over many billions of individual learners, tens of millions of educational providers, and draws on assets and capacities from all three sectors of society – the government sector, the voluntary sector, and the commercial sector. It is also a goal that is animated and guided by many different social purposes, measured in many different ways. And while the urgency of achieving the varied goals is present and compelling now, it will take many years and much trial and error to achieve them.

The important question is how we can best continue to make progress, and accelerate the rate of learning.

At the outset, one should note that progress has already been made in terms of expanding the accessibility of educational services to children throughout the developing world. But, as RISE researchers have shown, much less progress has been made in improving the quality and impact of those educational services on those the system now reaches (Pritchett, 2018). We have achieved a certain scale, but not the quality at a scale that can help to improve the individual and social well-being of the next generation of children growing up in developing societies.

The question before us, then, is what do we know (or more likely, what hypotheses should we entertain) about the methods that can be used to sustain increases in accessibility, while dramatically improving quality and impact.

We start with a big assumption: namely, that important productivity gains in the educational systems of developing countries will not be solved simply by increasing the scale of resources committed to the task. Additional resources are always welcome, of course, and, all other things being equal, might produce improved educational impact as well as wider access.

But the fact of the matter is that much greater national spending on educational services does not seem to have much improved desired educational outcomes (Pritchett, 2018). This suggests that little improvement can be made until we find methods that can improve the productivity and quality of educational services. That, in turn, suggests that we need to innovate widely and quickly to find better ways of providing educational services to produce better educational outcomes.