The Education of Nations: How the Political Organization of the Poor, Not Democracy, Led Governments to Invest in Mass Education

The Education of Nations: How the Political Organization of the Poor, Not Democracy, Led Governments to Invest in Mass Education

The Education of Nations: How the Political Organization of the Poor, Not Democracy, Led Governments to Invest in Mass Education

The Education of Nations: How the Political Organization of the Poor, Not Democracy, Led Governments to Invest in Mass Education

Synopsis

Mass education is vital to sustainable development, particularly in the information age. In The Education of Nations, Stephen Kosack provides a framework for understanding when a government will invest in quality mass education or concentrate on higher education restricted to elites. Drawing on detailed evidence from more than five decades in Taiwan, Ghana, and Brazil - three countries with little in common - Kosack demonstrates that two conditions lead developing nations to invest in mass education. The first of these is an economy in which employers face a shortage of skilled labor that they cannot meet with outsourcing or by hiring foreign workers; the second, and more common, is a government engaging in "political entrepreneurship of the poor" - developing organizational structures that allow poor citizens to act collectively to support the government. In bringing these conditions to light, The Education of Nations provides a method to explain not only how governments try to distribute educational opportunity, but also the implications for a range of key features of actual education systems, from the relative conditions of schools to the availability of financial aid. In an era when much of a country's success depends on its education, this book explains why governments adopt particular education policies and the political and economic changes that would lead to different ones.

Excerpt

This is not the book I expected to write. Several years ago, when I started to research its central question—when will a government serve poor citizens, in particular by investing in their education?—I was confident that I already had an important part of the answer: leaders have the incentive to serve the poor when they are democratically elected. For my generation of political scientists studying policymaking in the developing world, it has been an article of faith that democracies outperform autocracies in serving poor citizens. No wonder: although leaders come to office with many motivations, in order to stay in office they must first satisfy those citizens who, if unsatisfied, could remove them from office. Democratic institutions give this power to the whole citizenry, or at least those with the franchise. Because poor voters always outnumber rich, democratically elected leaders should reliably be relatively more inclined than autocratic leaders to serve poor citizens. There also appeared to be good empirical evidence of this inclination. Few studies had directly traced changes in regime type to changes in education policymaking, and those that did looked only at single cases. But several studies had found a convincing cross-national correlation between regime type and various measures of pro-poor education.

Thus I had little doubt that if I looked over long periods in diverse settings, I would see that education policy would turn systematically more pro-poor when the government turned from autocratic to democratic, and systematically more elitist when it turned from democratic to autocratic. That is not what I found. In this book I examine a half-century of government action in education in Ghana, Taiwan, and Brazil, three countries I chose because they vary widely on dimensions often thought to affect education policymaking—culture, geography, level of economic development—and, most important, have all been through transitions between democracy and autocracy. These transitions mattered little. That is, if mass education depended on democratic incentives, most of the expansion of mass education in these three countries would not have happened.

A telling example is early Ghana. In 1951, Ghana was still the British Gold Coast. But in that year the British, who were slowly warming to the idea of Gold . . .

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