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CfEE Forum round table, 24th April 2018

Education economists in advanced economies typically have the advantage of abundant data to work with, but those of us working in developing countries have the advantage that it can be much easier (and cheaper) to run large-scale randomised experiments, and on structural features, not just pedagogy. In the 2011 Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year, Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee wrote that  "All too often, the economics of poverty gets mistaken for poor economics: Because the poor possess very little, it is assumed that there is nothing interesting about their economic existence". The same might be said of education economics. But development economics, once a fringe, is gaining increasing prominence in the mainstream (the number of development papers in the top 5 journals has doubled in the last 15 years), and that is largely due to methodological advances. 

In April 2018, Lee Crawfurd (Head of Research and Evaluation at Ark) provided his perspective on the lessons for the UK from the economics of education in developing countries. He proposed two key lessons.

  1. Think rigorously about adoption – why do teachers or policy makers adopt some approaches and not others?
  2. Conduct more randomised experiments.

Participants at the event agreed that it is easier to conduct an RCT in a developing country for a range of reasons and noted that RCTs conducted in England are very complex. Regarding adoption, all participants acknowledged the complexity of education systems. They spoke of the importance of looking at the supply and demand dynamics that are present in the system and noted that education economics is particularly useful in providing this perspective.

Discussants were pragmatic about the role that evidence can play in policy making. They concluded that evidence is a guide to policy. Not a policy in itself. Having said this, there was still a recognition that researchers need to make it easier for policy makers to use evidence by ensuring they present it in a clear and timely manner. 

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