I am thrilled to announce that my paper on education policy in Rwanda was selected as the co-recipient of the 2018 Joyce Cain Award from the Comparative and International Education Society. The award is given to recognize “an outstanding scholarly article that explores themes related to people of African descent.” Dr. Cain was a teacher, researcher, practitioner, and international scholar. She was a forerunner in conducting comparative research on minority students in the USA and Africa. I was given the award for my article, “The political economy of primary education: Lessons from Rwanda” which was published in the journal World Development. I gave a few remarks at the awards ceremony in Mexico City:
It is such an honor to be selected as a recipient of the Joyce Cain Award. I want to thank the Committee Members and to offer a few brief reflections from my paper.
The 2018 World Development Report drew attention to the global learning crisis. My paper sought to shed light on an aspect of this crisis that often hides in plain sight. That is, education policies are not always introduced with the expectation that they will improve learning.
Put simply, politics shape policy.
It is fairly easy for leaders to make the case for improving access. Building classrooms tend to be straightforward, visible, and popular. But improving education quality is more difficult than building classrooms. It is less visible and can be more expensive. It can mean fighting powerful teachers’ unions or shifting budgets away from other priorities.
Each of these things can mean losing elections. Thus, contrary to what we might expect, education policies may be not always be introduced with the expectation that learning will improve.
My paper applies this perspective to look at the politics of education quality in Rwanda. In doing so, I hope to draw attention to the importance of understanding how political factors shape policy. In absence of quality, children may find themselves in an unenviable position: included in the education system, while excluded from meaningful participation, given the poor quality of that system.
I am proud to say that I can count a couple of the Joyce Cain Award’s past recipients as among my closest academic mentors, including Theresa Betancourt and Sarah Dryden-Peterson. I would also like to extend my gratitude to those who have been supportive of this research: Sam Hickey and Naomi Hossain at the Effective States and Inclusive Development Program at University of Manchester, Valens Rutazihana for his research assistance, the interview participants in this study, and the Joyce Cain Award Committee members and fellow nominees.