(Political Economy Paper)

Why Students Aren’t Learning What They Need for a Productive Life


Image of Bruce Ross-Larson

Bruce Ross-Larson

Communications Development Inc. (DEVEX)

The RISE Programme is a seven-year research effort that seeks to understand what features make education systems coherent and effective in their context and how the complex dynamics within a system allow policies to be successful. RISE had research teams in seven countries: Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tanzania, and Vietnam. It also commissioned research by education specialists in Chile, Egypt, Kenya, Peru, and South Africa.

Those researchers tested ideas about how the determinants of learning lie more in the realm of politics and particularly in the interests of elites. They focused on how the political conditions have (or have not) put learning at the center of education systems (mostly not) while understanding the challenges of doing so.

Each country team produced a detailed study pursuing answers to two central research questions: Did the country prioritize learning over access, and if so, during what periods? What role did politics play in the key decisions and how?

The full studies detail their analytical frameworks, their data, and sources (generally interviews, government internal documents and reports, and other local and international publications), and the power of their assessments, given their caveats and limitations.

Country summaries extract from the full studies how leadership, governance, teaching, and societal engagement are pertinent to student outcomes (see the next page).

This synthesis, in line with Levy 2022, draws on the country summaries to detail the salience of goals of national leaders, alliances of stakeholders, missions of education bureaucracies, and expectations of society.


Ross-Larson, B. et al. 2023. Why Students Aren’t Learning What They Need for a Productive Life. PE13. https://doi.org/10.35489/BSG-RISE-2023/PE13