Education encompasses teaching and learning specific skills, and also something less tangible but more profound: the imparting of knowledge, good judgement and wisdom. Education has as one of its fundamental goals: the imparting of culture from generation to generation. An Education Policy "refers to the collection of rules, both stated and implicit, or the regularities in practice that govern the behaviour of persons in schools.” On the other hand an Education Policy Analysis will focus on “scholarly study of education policy.”
Based on these assumption, any Education Reform agenda should include a plan, program, or movement which attempts to bring about some positive change in education, usually within a given nation, province, or community. What is construed as a positive change may vary widely, as may the means which seem sensible to achieve such change, so reforms and reformers are often in conflict, and what was perceived as a reform at the time of its inception may later be itself opposed by reformers as reactionary.
Education Reform is said to be a process of “Learning in the Present, from the Past, to invent a Future”, as imagined by the governing elite. It typically begins with bold proclamations, wrapped in most persuasive rhetoric and delivered with revolutionary fervour, and sense of urgency, promising passionate pursuit of plans for transformation of existing educational systems into new systems of the future – more Just, more Fair, and of high Quality. For Education Reform to be more than an exercise in wishful thinking, the rhetoric of reform must ultimately be brought face to face with realities surrounding the design and delivery of reformed education on the ground.
Over the last two decades, many developing countries have embarked on large education reforms aimed at rapidly expanding the supply of education, achieving equity in the provision of education; and significantly improving the quality of education. Some of these reforms have been far-reaching, transforming the budget priorities of many countries and altering in a fundamental way the manner in which governments have traditionally made education services available and how the public sector has operated in partnership with private sector. In the process, new relationships of accountability have been introduced. A number of developments have served as catalysts for reform: Changes in the world economy, the general dissatisfaction with the state of education in the 1980s and findings emerging from academic research on economic growth. Specifically, a more market-oriented world economy has encouraged initiatives aimed at creating a more market-oriented environment for the provision of education, including measures to foster public-private approaches.
In an environment characterized by low education attainment and inequitable access to, developing countries have typically implemented education policy reform to improve access to education and also to expand coverage among poorer households. Such is the rationale for significant additions to budgets for primary education, construction programmes and many compensatory programmes targeted at the poor. Efficiency considerations are also important. A substantial body of literature has emerged over the last three decades on the rate of return to education. Since the returns are relatively high in primary education, thus suggesting that spending should be switched from higher to lower education levels.
Some reforms are designed to improve public finances. Cost recovery schemes, for example, are designed to supplement government revenues when rapid education expansion had created significant pressure on budget. The resources raised may also be used to improve quality and boost demand for education. Some reforms such as voucher schemes, aim to create a market-oriented environment that encourages competition between public and private schools, enhances school quality, reduces costs, and adds to the choices available to students. Management and institutional reforms, such as, decentralization programmes, are designed to improve efficiency, accountability and responsiveness in education service provision. Decentralization reforms are meant to encourage local participation and ultimately improve coverage and quality.
Political pressures from within and outside a country have profound effects on educational policies, such as Free Primary Education or Education for All (EFA). The call for EFA and for measures to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in the international community has been particularly influential. The enhanced Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative – Fast Track – has also led to a reallocation of public resources toward the social sector.
It is, therefore, critical that programmes aimed at expanding the supply of education, by constructing schools in or targeting spending toward poorer communities, also identify the necessary complementary resources. Country experiences with the elimination of user fees suggest that the private costs (informal costs) are still high even after user fees have been abolished. This reflects problems in implanting policies for free primary education. There is also an issue of capacity within decentralization reforms, because local governments may not be fully prepared for their new responsibilities. The mechanism to determine teachers’ wages may undermine reforms that aim to introduce competition and rewards for good performance. In countries as large as China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan and Bangladesh, generating local solutions to educational problems and mobilizing local energies and resources can yield dividends for all.
This conference was organised in March 2012 at New Delhi to review the experiences of Indian and other neighbouring Asian countries in decentralizing their education systems, with the goal of understanding the challenges in designing reforms, distilling lessons on implementation, examining the impact on educational development. More the seventy-five participants from Australia, India, Bangladesh, China, Nigeria and UK attended the conference and discussed the nature and design of education reforms in these countries, as well as their implementation focusing on the overall legislative processes. The papers were presented on the following sub-themes within the context of overall Education Reform Process:
Professor Gautam Sinha, Director, IIM Kashipur and Dr Ashish Jaiswal from the Oxford Center for Higher Education Policy Studies jointly chaired the conference.