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Education economics in the developing world

“Developing” countries (those below the $12,000 per capita income threshold for rich countries) make up 36 per cent of the world economy, but 83 per cent of world population, and 87 per cent of the world’s school pupils. Identifying and tackling the matrix of factors that contribute to the massive waste of human and social capital implicit in these figures is one of the great reform challenges of our times.

Yet it has not been recognised as such until relatively recently. In the introduction to their award-winning 2011 business book Poor Economics, Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee argued that development economics had been neglected for much the same reasons as the poor themselves are. “All too often,” they wrote, “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 could at the time have been said of education economics. But just as development economics, once a fringe, is gaining increasing prominence in the mainstream (with the number of development papers in the top 5 journals doubling in the last 15 years), so too has education economics made considerable advances. This has mainly to do with the increased use of micro-empirical methods and randomised control trials (RCTs), the latter of which not just at classroom level, but on structural features too. 

So while education economists in advanced economies typically have the advantage of abundant data to work with, those working in developing countries are making rapid progress because it’s both easier and cheaper to run large-scale randomised and other experiments.

In this year’s CfEE Annual Research Digest, edited by CfEE fellow Lee Crawfurd (strategic advisor to the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change), leading thinkers on global education highlight the scale and intractability of the global learning crisis and where reform initiatives have brought benefits. 

Taking into its purview the state of education provision across developing countries from Asia, to Africa, and South America, the volume offers country-level descriptive analyses; causal studies investigating large-scale system reforms and new pedagogical approaches; and, going beyond test scores, studies of the effects of schools on socialisation and social mobility at a national level.

To download a pdf of CfEE’s Annual Research Digest 2017-18, visit this page of our website.

To download a pdf of Lee Crawfurd's introduction, visit this page.

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