Cross-nationally Comparative, Evidence-based Educational Policymaking and Reform: Volume 35

Cover of Cross-nationally Comparative, Evidence-based Educational Policymaking and Reform

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(15 chapters)


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The shift from data-informed to data-driven educational policymaking is conceptually framed by institutional and transhumanist perspectives. Examples of the shift to large-scale quantitative data driving educational decision-making suggest that data-driven educational policy will not adjust for context to the degree as done by the data-informed or data-based policymaking. Instead, the algorithmization of educational decision-making is both increasingly realizable and necessary in light of the overwhelmingly big data on education produced annually around the world. Evidence suggests that the isomorphic shift from localized data and individual decision-making about education to large-scale assessment data has changed the nature of educational decision-making and national educational policy. Big data are increasingly legitimized in educational policy communities at national and international levels, which means that algorithms are assumed to be the best way to analyze and make decisions about large volumes of complex data. There is a conceptual concern, however, that decontextualized or de-humanized educational policies may have the effect of increasing student achievement, but not necessarily the translation of knowledge into economically, socially, or politically productive behavior.

Part I: Preparing for National Education Reform


The United Nations (UN) actively incorporated new media as a tool for consultation and agenda setting during the Millennium Development Goal (MDG)–Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) transition. As global actors shifted their attention to the sustainable development goals, the UN and its partners scaled up their digital engagement with civil society, multinational agencies, and country-level stakeholders to inform the post-2015 agenda. This chapter explored how the UN integrated Twitter into the post-2015 consultation and how the UN Women and the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative used Twitter to construct and diffuse girls’ education policy discourse during the MDG–SDG transition.


The six member nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have witnessed a significant jump in the quality of education since only the 1970s—becoming sovereign because of boom in oil resources and petrodollar prevalence—to the extent that the level of their higher education system nearly fulfills all Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) standards. Among successful criteria undertaken by the most GCC universities are establishing partnerships with other foreign universities in developed countries and following international organizations’, such as UNESCO and the World Bank, recommendations by focusing on establishing knowledge economies in line with globalization. Looking into the GCC success stories, the focus of this research paper is Egypt, after the country’s last revolution on January 25, 2011. The Arab Republic of Egypt has a strategic location worldwide, is a vital peace keeper, especially in the Middle East and the Arab region, and has a rich oriental heritage: cultural, social, and traditional, in addition to its unique pharaonic history. Suggested selection of some tools of assessment would be elaborated in the Methodology section to assess the quality of national tertiary education. This chapter aimed at generally highlighting some aspects of evolution of national post-secondary system during the last two decades in an effort to come up with findings and recommendations to promote country’s higher education system. As in many other developing countries, in Egypt the university constitutes a social and political hope, and is one of the pillars of social mobility and economic development for the country. However, professional endeavors are repeatedly turned down in finding a suitable job or at least entering the labor market, resulting in a rise in unemployment rate. This is due to, on the one hand, the nature of the labor market, hence the fact that the supply of graduates exceeds the market demand for them, and on the other hand, the negatively affected quality of higher education, especially in the public sector, mainly being overloaded, which produces weak qualified potential employees. This—among other factors—contributes to the downfall of country’s economy. Many who graduate from a stronger private system encounter difficulties in either being classified as overqualified, and hence get refused and are unemployed, or are placed in a position that under evaluates their capabilities, and hence with time lose enthusiasm or escape (brain drain). In conclusion, conducting a comparison between Egypt’s private and public universities, as expected beforehand, would be in favor of the former because of having better facilities and qualified faculty, earning higher salaries, in addition to the use of advanced equipment and technology in academic research. Therefore, this research intended to expand in future the comparison to include other countries from the Middle East and North Africa region—similar to Egypt in its economic and social compositions—for mutual benefits of learning from the best practices and successful models.


A thematic analysis of teachers’ experiences in implementing the Annual National Assessments (ANAs) policy in South Africa was presented in this chapter. Describing the lack of preparation and capacity building on behalf of policy makers, this chapter argued that teachers’ roles in the policy formulation of the ANAs positioned them as only policy implementers without agency. Two broad categories described the experiences. The first was concerned with the preparation process of assessments. The second was concerned with the implications of assessments, outlining the worry and fear in the use of results for teacher blaming culminating in a standoff between teacher unions and the ministry. The shift in the policy mandate expressed through increased reporting and monitoring requirements for poor performing schools reveals that the assessments deviated from being a diagnostic tool to testing for teacher accountability. Finally, the chapter concluded with a reflection on how the National Assessment Framework, set to replace the ANA policy, could be strengthened based on the opportunities revealed by the ANA policy implementation process.


Post-apartheid Africa and post-Soviet Georgia implemented a variety of education reforms since the 1990s. Many of these reforms exhibit recognizable similarities despite the significant contextual differences between the two countries. This paper examined the school decentralization process framed by the world culture theory and compared how the enactment of reforms was influenced by country contexts. It focused on the development of regional administrative units and school governance in these two countries to illustrate how specific reforms may have structural similarities but be functionally different. The scope and depth of the functions of new educational structures also play an important role in understanding how they respond to local needs.

Part II: Implementing National Education Reform


School inspection or supervision is one of the core institutional mechanisms for ensuring the quality of education. While analyzing the practices of this quality assurance tool at the basic education level in six developing and emerging economies, this paper found that there has been a major shift in exercising supervision system pushed by the policy dynamics of both international actors and state institutions. The school supervision system has been shaped by decentralization, school-based management, monitoring, data gathering, and output-focused governance. These are also known as the elements of New Public Management (NPM). The growing practice of NPM in all these countries has made the external supervision a less prioritized issue, which is evident in its stagnated and sometimes deteriorated state. On the other hand, the pro-NPM management system advocating for greater autonomy, decentralization and results has not evidently yielded any major positive outcomes, especially in lower-income countries. Thus, the absence of an effective supervision system, both support and control, has created a vacuum in the educational quality assurance instruments. By oversimplifying local contexts in situating NPM, this foreign-emerged management system also has shown reluctance toward fundamental crises of weak institutions in lower-income countries, including resource constraints, skills shortage, and service recipients’ lack of trust, among others. In short, developmental level and institutional capacity matter for the successful implementation of NPM.


This article put forward two claims. First, it argues that, historically, the rationale for education has shifted from religious and national indoctrination to, in the more recent neoliberal period, human capital and the related notion of individual empowerment. Second, the article argues that the recent shift toward individual empowerment is reflected in international organizations’ (IOs) changing emphases in education. IOs’ educational agenda has undergone various changes since their early work in the 1960s: From the structural expansion of national education systems to the measurement of individual educational achievement through a focus on competencies and, most recently, individual psychosocial development.

Based on a content analysis of 60 documents from 38 IOs involved in international education networks between 1990 and 2015, this work identified an expanding field of IOs directing attention to the mental capabilities of a learner. The proliferated model of an individual actorhood reflected in these novel assessment designs will be presented and embedded in wider discussions about the cultural construction of the individual in contemporary world polity.


An inherent challenge within the United Arab Emirates (UAE) higher education sector is the absence of both comprehensive system of data collection and consistency in the use of indictors among a variety of collection projects. At the root of this distributed system is a federal arrangement with two levels of government potentially involved in licensing and supervision combined with a series of academic “free zones” that can have unique or limited regulatory controls. As a result, there is a very limited systematic collection of institutional data in the country’s dynamic higher education sector, which hampers the alignment of planning activities and reduces the ability of institutions to benchmark performance with peers. To address this issue, an ambitious attempt to consolidate higher education data collection in the UAE is being developed by the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research through the creation of Centre for Higher Education Data and Statistics (CHEDS). Combining the best international practices and an inclusive stakeholder-focused approach, CHEDS designed a system to collect raw data from institutions and then convert this data into a set of indicators with the potential for distribution to the public. The critical element for developing a truly comprehensive system is the degree to which international branch campuses of foreign institutions voluntarily participate, for these institutions tend to be located in the free zones and are therefore outside the jurisdiction of the central government ministry overseeing the CHEDS. If successful in recruiting these institutions, CHEDS has the potential to create a truly cooperative system of data collection that should be regionally replicated or even expanded to encompass other countries within the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Part III: Evaluating National Education Reform


This research paper tries to look into the issues of achievement gaps in education in Gulf countries. The paper sets forth an idea that the international projects such as Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), Trends in International Mathematics and Science (TIMSS), and Progress in Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) could serve not only as means of setting and checking quality standards in education but also as mediators in closing achievement gaps and in helping increase the accountability of schools toward the wider public. The paper also makes an attempt to look at the relative standing of Arab Gulf countries in the international projects such as TIMSS, PISA, and PIRLS. The research assumes that the large-scale international data might appear useful for benchmarking the progress made in any individual country. The paper suggests that the arrows of influence move and operate in both directions, implying that while setting global standards, international projects base their judgments on identified local challenges in education systems of individual countries. Most importantly, they could be used in influencing national policies to make education systems more transparent and comparable to international standards.

First, the paper states that in order to carry out the benchmarking process efficiently and obtain meaningful results for policy making on an international level, assessment procedures such as testing and questionnaire reporting should be conducted on a local level prior to moving to international level. The paper draws experiences from high-performing countries such as Chinese Taipei, South Korea, and Japan. These countries go through intensive local testing practices at early schooling stages before moving on to participating in TIMSS, PISA, and PIRLS projects. Consequently, school children, schools, school districts, and entire countries show high academic readiness and performance at the fourth and eighth grades on an international level.

Second, the paper hypothesizes that discrepancies between teaching methodologies of items covered by individual country curricula, a variety of approaches toward explanation and delivery of various concepts to students, and teacher-specific implementation of theory and practice balance during classes could all potentially contribute to wide gaps and discrepancies between TIMSS, PISA, and PIRLS scores of separate countries no matter how similar their national curricula might look. Strategies for narrowing down examination and questionnaire issues to the items covered in the curricula of all countries have been offered on several occasions; however, this procedure causes oversimplification of teaching and items, and leads to considerable lowering of standards. Therefore, this issue has been presenting a substantial dilemma in TIMSS, PISA, and PIRLS projects’ success across countries.


This chapter briefly explores selected English and general education policy documents, curricula, and textbooks within the context of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) from a Critical Discourse Analysis perspective and examines how they have changed pre- and post-21st century. First, a policy document related to education in KSA in general (pre-21st century) is analyzed along with an English language teaching (ELT) policy document of the same period. Next, two general policy documents post-21st century are explored, followed by one related to ELT policy. Finally, one post-21st century document related to higher education is discussed. The “network of practices” within which these documents are situated are first detailed, as well as the structural order of the discourse, and some linguistic analysis of the choice of vocabulary and grammatical structures (Meyer, 2001). Issues which might be problematic to the learning and teaching identities of the students and teachers interpreting these documents are also highlighted. Finally, we consider whether the network of practices at this institution and KSA in general “needs” the problems identified in the analysis and critically reflect on the analysis.


This paper sheds light on one of the educational projects that was launched by Ministry of Education (MOE) in Oman in the academic year 2007–2008. The project, which is called the “Cognitive Development Program for Students in Science, Mathematics, and Concepts of Environmental Geography”, was introduced in 741 government schools in response to the low national score in Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2007. Hence, the main aim of the program is to develop the students’ science and mathematics capabilities in order to improve their levels in mathematics and science and to give further emphasis to these skills that form the basis of the rapidly changing world. This paper endeavors to acquaint the Gulf Cooperation Council countries with the nature of this program. It also focuses on the impact this program has on mathematics and science teachers’ and on students’ achievements in mathematics, science, and concepts of environmental geography. To achieve this goal, two questionnaires – one for teachers and the other for students – are conducted to measure the effectiveness of the Cognitive Development Program from teachers’ and students’ perspectives. The results of the questionnaires showed that the program has remarkably affected both teachers and students. One of the positive effects of this program was that it has encouraged the teachers to be always updated about what is new in these subject areas and the students are exposed to questions that test their synthesis. However, there are a number of drawbacks to this program from teachers’ and students’ perspectives. Constructive feedback for the program developers and supervisors in the MOE to base improvement is provided.


In the field of comparative education there is a vast and growing amount of research on how education policy agendas are formed at the transnational level, and how these may influence policymaking in individual countries. Particularly the World Bank and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) play an important role in the dissemination of education policies. This article seeked to contribute to a more nuanced understanding of how the two organizations have formulated their policy advice concerning quality assurance and evaluation of school education toward the intended beneficiaries of such advice, either in standardized form or taking into account local contexts. The case countries were Brazil, China, and Russia (BCR), which in terms of their political power and economic resources differ from the typical World Bank client countries, but at the same time are not OECD members. Our data consisted of World Bank and OECD publications from the three BCR countries published during two decades from the mid-1990s onward. The document analysis was complemented by some factual information gained through interviews of relevant actors. In the analyzed material prescriptions given in the tone of “international best practice” were predominant. This position saw the quality of education as a concept that has a globally applicable definition. In addition, the advice directed at Russia and China has in an ambivalent manner acknowledged the sociocultural context of the concept of quality in the national pedagogical tradition.


Pages 329-344
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Cover of Cross-nationally Comparative, Evidence-based Educational Policymaking and Reform
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International Perspectives on Education and Society
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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