What is distinctive about both this compelling book and a related (forthcoming) OUP collection1 (also based on research conducted with the Effective States and Inclusive Development Research Centre) is the insistence that the crisis of schooling without learning is fundamentally a challenge of politics and governance, and that the routes forward must involve changes in these interrelated realms.
This emphasis on politics and governance resonates with wider debates within international development and policy. Indeed, the analysis and findings presented in this book operate at the cutting-edge of a broader discourse on development in the twenty-first century, stretching far beyond the field of education. By bringing high-level debates around the role of inter-elite bargaining in shaping long-term development trajectories into direct contact with pressing issues of service delivery, it starts to breach what Merilee Grindle terms the ‘missing middle’ of the newly emerging governance agenda.
The book’s presentation of a method that enables us to identify and explore how different kinds of reform unfold in different ways in different types of contexts marks a considerable advance on the now-anodyne insistence that ‘context matters’. The rigorous comparison between two provinces within South Africa illustrates the power of the method, and offers an approach that can be borrowed for many other such studies. Importantly, this approach uses comparisons between the Western Cape and other settings to reveal the limitations of systems that rely too heavily on hierarchical accountability mechanisms and bureaucratic procedures, as opposed to more flexible systems for governing service provision.
Brian Levy, the lead editor and principal investigator behind the research on which this book is based, has already contributed much to the project of rethinking the politics of development and devising ‘best-fit’ governance solutions for particular types of context, not least through his 2014 book Working with the Grain. This new work builds directly on this wider project— (p.vi) both by bringing it right down to the front line of service delivery, and also by further proving the benefits of ‘thinking and working politically’ for all of those concerned with understanding how injustices such as the learning crisis occur and how they might be challenged.
Professor Sam Hickey
Professor of Politics and Development at the University of Manchester, and Joint Director of Research at the Effective States and Inclusive Development Research Centre.
(1) The Politics of Education in Developing Countries: From Schooling to Learning?, edited by Sam Hickey and Naomi Hossain, will be published by OUP in 2018. The book centres on six country case studies, and includes a chapter on South Africa by Brian Levy and colleagues.