Equal rights and equal rise: discussing education reform

Prior to studying for the Masters of Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government, I worked as a legal aid advocate in the State of Bihar (India). For roughly two years, my job involved defending financially weak individuals accused of committing crimes, in the courts of the poorest state of India.

Schoolchildren in India

Schoolchildren in India. Image: Pxhere.

While I did not realise it at the time, my work with the legal system instilled in my mind the ‘rights-based approach’ as a normative framework for assessing and evaluating human development. In the courts I tried to defend my clients’ rights dispassionately; as the context changed to lecture theatres at Oxford, I found myself arguing intensely against economic concepts such as cost-benefit analysis. “Surely you cannot put a ‘fair’ numeric value on the lives of people,” I would say while my professors would explain the importance of such tools for allocation of scarce resources and formulation of public policy.

Over the course of my time in Oxford, I came to realise that both the rights-based approach and the economic approach have their place. In particular, I became interested in Research on Improving Systems of Education (RISE) – a large scale, multi-country research programme, aimed at conducting high-quality research to build evidence to enhance children’s learning levels throughout the world. RISE aims to understand how school systems in the developing world can overcome the learning crisis by seeking holistic, practical answers about how education systems can innovate, improve learning outcomes, and better serve all children and communities.

‘Equity’ plays an important role at RISE. Contemporary literature indicates that across the world unfair policies, programmes, and practices have historically lead to inequality in education performance, results, and outcomes. However, as the global political attention shifts from focusing on enrolment to addressing the learning crisis; as we move away from short-term interventions to education system transformation; there is a need to refresh our understanding of equity in the context of education system reforms and assess how the discourse on equity in education could translate into equitable education systems. In furtherance of this goal, RISE is hosting a panel discussion focused on the question: What is “equity” in the context of education system reforms?

The thematic panel discussion will include analysis of “equal rights and equal rise” – the idea that education systems should be inclusive of all as a matter of rights; but also focus on improving learning performance at all levels, because including the marginalised into a dysfunctional system is not a goal that will lead to significant increases in learning. The event will bring together leading academics and education researchers to discuss education system reforms, specifically through the lens of equity. A new RISE Insight, titled Raising the Floor on Learning Levels:  Equitable Improvement Starts with the Tail, covering the event theme has been produced by RISE team members and panelists in the above discussion, Luis Crouch and Caine Rolleston.

RISE Panel Discussion 2017 – Equal Rights and Equal Rise: Contextualising Equity in Education Systems Reform takes place today , 4 September 2017 at 11am. The debate will be livestreamed on the RISE YouTube channel.

Diwakar Kishore is an alumnus of the Blavatnik School of Government (MPP Class of 2015). He is a lawyer and has particular interest in education.

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