30 December 2018

The Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) in 2018

Note: "UPE" stands for Universal Primary Education, indicating normal (free) government primary schools. 

This post is a second annual roundup of policy and research in the “Global Education Reform Movement”. GERM was coined as a pejorative metaphor for the spreading of “neoliberal” market-orientated education reforms. But it's actually quite a useful label for the set of ideas being experimented with around using assessment, accountability, and greater autonomy for schools to improve education. 



The Kaduna State Government announced plans to fire 20,000 teachers for failing a grade 4 student exam.

The Economist reported on the most frenetic education reforms in the world, in Pakistan. 

The Government of Uganda announced the phase-out of its private secondary school subsidy scheme, despite evidence showing its cost effectiveness.


The Global Education Reform Movement high society wedding of the year: Ekta Sodha (CEO of Camus-Sodha Schools) and James Tooley (the “Indiana Jones of education”) got married. 


President Museveni recommended that parents send their kids to private schools instead of government schools if they can afford it. 


An important paper was published in the American Economic Review showing that school integration in Delhi led to reduced prejudice from rich kids about poorer kids.

From Washington DC, more evidence that vouchers don’t help low income students.


Evaluation results from the Gates Foundation $500+ million reform effort in US schools found…. no impact… 

The annual Research on Improving Systems of Education (RISE) conference returned to Oxford this year (thanks to the Blavatnik School of Government for excellent Youtube streaming services for those of us not able to make it in person)

The Gates Foundation launched its new Global Education Strategy, for now focused on generating better data and further research to better understand the problem.

The FT and technosociologist Zeynep Tufekci discussed how Silicon Valley tech giants tend to dislike the use of technology in the schools that their own kids attend.

John Rendel, founder of the British/Ugandan/Zambian non-profit private school network “Peas” stepped down after ten years of running the group. 

The (now abandoned) A-F grading of NYC schools appears to have had positive impacts on the lowest performing: lower teacher turnover and quicker school improvement than the schools ranked just above them.

This study in Ghana found that parent engagement in pre-school made results worse.


Results published from an ASER pilot in Bangladesh compared BRAC schools with government schools. BRAC are the largest non-state school operator in the world, with nearly 50,000 schools. The results, from a small sample, did not show any substantially better performance in the BRAC schools. 


The new Liberian government announced that the Partnership Schools programme would continue. A second round of RCT results are expected in 2019.

Swaziland became the 15th country to launch a citizen-led student assessment (following in the footsteps of ASER and Uwezo).


The Centre for Education Economics in London published their first annual research digest focused on studies from developing countries.

“Teaching at the Right Level” - an innovative classroom management approach pioneered by Indian NGO Pratham with JPAL and now being replicated in several African countries took steps towards institutionalisation, launching a website and holding a conference


The World Bank released the new Human Capital Index - designed to rank countries and encourage them to get as competitive as they are about the Doing Business Index. UNESCO was not happy, saying “different calculations do not help”. 

A harrowing ProPublica investigation was published on multiple rapes of young girls by a Liberian staff member at the More Than Me academy in Monrovia in 2014.

Just 11 years after the start of the project and 5 years from first submission to a journal, the landmark “scaling up from NGO pilot to government implementation is harder than you think” paper by Bold, Kimenyi, Mwabu, Ng'ang'a, Sandefur is finally published in the Journal of Public Economics. 

A new report by Alina Lipcan and myself provided the first independent measurement of learning in Bridge International Academies private schools, from Lagos (mentioned in the new BBC podcast “People Fixing the World”).


The Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Status Index again highlighted the importance of the esteem in which teachers are held in a country for the outcomes. Across countries teacher status is not though that closely correlated with pay.


After much anticipation, results were finally released from “PISA for Development” - a new approach to including lower-income countries on the PISA scale. 

The EU parliament passed a resolution calling for donors to stop funding commercially minded private schools. 

Left-winger Obrador was elected in Mexico promising to reverse reforms designed to increase accountability for teachers.


Overall I come away from the year a little less enthusiastic about vouchers in particular, but with continued hope for intelligent reforms based on the broad principles of accountability. In particular, a critical point made most recently by Karthik Muralidharan in his contribution to the New Economic Strategy for India, is that too many education systems are really orientated around sorting and selection of the best students, rather than actually building human capital for all. The first step in a system of accountability for schools is letting them know what their priority objective should be, and for most schools in most developing countries, I'm not sure it is actually clear to them that their goal should actually even be universal basic skills. And of course even if it were, there then needs to be the right structure of support and monitoring to ensure that this goal is actually being worked towards. This movement has achieved a lot of change, but there is still a long long way to go, with a lot more experimentation needed and a lot more to be learnt about what the best policies are (and perhaps of equal importance, how to build the state capability necessary to actually implement policies). 

What did I miss?

Thanks to Susannah Hares for several suggested entries for this piece.