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GDN Education Issues Paper

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Name of the Asset | GDN Education Issues Paper
Type of Asset | Working Paper
Date | September 2009


In middle-income and poor countries alike, educational opportunities elude many children, especially those from poor and disadvantaged families, in large part due to economic, social and institutional reasons. This paper reviews governance and institutional challenges facing educational systems in developing countries, to serve as a background for GDN’s Global Research Project on Governance and Public Service Delivery.

This paper motivates the discussion with a brief review of the development of educational systems and human capital-based research on the value of investing in education and offers a framework for analyzing public service delivery in the education sector. It also reviews the growing body of evidence from developing countries on what works and specific remaining institutional challenges facing governments: agency problems, coordination tensions, imperfect information, and incentives related to the twin challenges of educational access and quality. Substantial though uneven progress has been made in terms of improving access, at least to basic education, but improving the quality of education remains elusive, even where reforms have been tried. The authors highlight how one of the most difficult questions to study in the context of education is what happens in the classrooms, how children learn and how to control this through governance measures in the sector.

Finally, the paper concludes with key research issues for future research, many of which were picked up by the country case studies in the global project:

  1. To what extent do existing processes for teacher recruitment, training, compensation and oversight create incentives for teacher and teaching quality? How and why?
  2. To what extent are teachers accountable to school heads, parents and communities, line bureaucracies, unions, political parties?
  3. To what extent are school heads and teachers accountable to parents and communities, line bureaucracies, unions, political parties?
  4. To what extent do processes in place allocate financial and human resources to schools create incentives for school quality? How and why?
  5. To what extent do the processes in place measure student and teacher performances


  • Rekha Balu, PhD Candidate, Economics of Education, Stanford University
  • Harry Patrinos, Lead Education Economist, The World Bank
  • Emiliana Vegas, Senior Education Economist, Human Development Department, The World Bank

Country and/or Region | Developing Countries
Name of the Program | Varieties of Governance: Effective Public Service Delivery
Funder(s) | The Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), Department for International Development (DFID), UK, the French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, Inter‐American Development Bank (IDB), International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Open Society Institute (OSI), The Partnership for African Social and Governance Research (PASGR) and the World Bank

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