The Politics of Linking Educational Research, Policy, and Practice: The Case of Improving Educational Quality in Ghana, Guatemala and Mali [1]

Article excerpt

YIDAN WANG [*]

ABSTRACT

This paper examines the political dimension of the educational research undertaken by Ghanian, Guatemalan, and Malian teams as part of the 1991 to 1996, USAID-funded "Improving Educational Quality" (IEQ) project. The following questions are addressed: (a) why were (or were not) aspects of the educational reforms studied by the researchers; (b) why were (or were not) research findings used in decision-making about the educational policies and practices associated with the reforms; and (c) why were particular institutional arrangements and funding levels constituted for the research and dialogue activity. In offering answers to these questions, attention is paid to local, national, and global power relations and resource distributions.

Introduction

DURING THE LATTER two decades of the twentieth century the global economy has been radically reorganized through actions of multinational corporations, multilateral organizations (e.g., the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund), and national governments, particularly the United States (see Braun 1997). Paralleling the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the bloc of "socialist societies" in Central/Eastern Europe has been the emergence of "disorganized capitalism" -- "the geographical dispersal of production and distribution through the globalization of markets and industrial deconcentration" (Gilbert 1997:66). These dynamics provide major political economic challenges for those seeking to steer nation-states.

Given that during periods of political economic crisis or transformation, whether at the national or global level, the volume of educational reform rhetoric and action tends to increase (Ginsburg 1991), we should not be surprised that the 1980s and 1990s witnessed widespread international concern for improving educational quality (Chapman and Carrier 1990; Hallak 1990; Ross and Mahlck 1990). This focus on reforming education has deflected attention from political economic dynamics, making education the problem and the solution. At the same time concerns about education have been shifting from issues such as expanding access and retention to improving the quality inputs, processes, and outputs of education for all children (e.g., Inter-Agency Commission 1990).

This is the context in which the Improving Educational Quality (IEQ) project was conceived and implemented. Initiated in 1991 as a five-year, United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded project, IEQ's main objective was stated as designing practical ways to improve learning in classrooms and schools within the context of national educational reforms in selected developing countries. In the three countries supported under the core contract -- Ghana, Guatemala, and Mali [2] -- IEQ formed partnerships with one or more host-country institutions to:

* assist in the enhancement of country research capacity and application;

* collaboratively design and implement classroom research at the primary school level; and

* link findings to practice and policy at various levels (from classrooms to national ministries) of the educational systems.

Research teams composed of local researchers (and, over time, administrators, supervisors, and teachers) developed their capacity as disciplined inquirers and conducted investigations -- collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data in the context of classroom-anchored research (Ginsburg et al. 1996). IEQ studies examined how children of different characteristics (e.g., ethnicity, gender, language proficiency) interacted with ongoing or modified school practice and what consequences this had for various kinds of development and achievement. Moreover, based on the assumption that conducting such research is a necessary but insufficient condition for identifying, developing, and sustaining changes that improve educational quality, IEQ also stressed feedback to, and dialogue with, teachers, head teachers, district-level supervisors, parents, ministry of education and other government officials, as well as representatives from bilateral and multilateral donor agencies. …