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Education quality in Malawi: what role for decentralisation?

Barnett, Edward (2018) Education quality in Malawi: what role for decentralisation? PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.b80yawkpx5db


Contested, multi-faceted and conceptually confused, the relationship between decentralisation and education quality is not well understood. In this thesis, I use qualitative and quantitative methods to undertake an empirical exploration of decentralisation, education quality and the relationship between them in the context of Malawi. Through semi-structured interviews, I first consider how different actors within Malawi understand decentralisation and its implementation. I find that despite stalled democratic decentralisation, a new school-based management reform (the Primary School Improvement Programme) has gone ahead, financed mainly by international donors. Whilst the reform is welcomed by communities, it fails to counter the continued pressures to centralise power by Malawi’s ruling class. To understand if education decentralisation can lead to positive outcomes despite resistance to broader decentralisation reform, I investigate the effect of the Primary School Improvement Programme (PSIP) on pre-defined indicators of education quality. Exploiting its staggered national roll out and using standard difference-in-difference estimation, I find that the PSIP improves exam pass rates, reduces school dropout and increases the availability of toilets for girls. Put simply, these findings suggest that the PSIP ‘works’, although the reliability and validity of Malawi’s school census data is questionable. Finally, I turn to a deeper examination of education quality and its relationship with the PSIP through four case study schools. I find that the PSIP impact on schools is varied; while it creates the opportunity for schools and communities to work together towards school improvement, it also fosters suspicion about the management of school grants and tension over what to prioritise to improve education quality. Parents, community members and teachers are more likely to understand education quality in terms of quantity (classrooms, learning materials, numbers of students passing exams) while policymakers are more concerned with the acquisition of skills. This disconnect undermines the coherence and alignment of the reform. Making an original theoretical contribution, I show that there is a two-way relationship between decentralisation and education quality with implications for policy.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2018 Edward Barnett
Library of Congress subject classification: L Education > LB Theory and practice of education
Sets: Departments > Social Policy
Supervisor: West, Anne and Jenkins, Stephen

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