Who Governs Education? Unpacking the ‘Black Box’

by Pravin Balakrishnan
Public School Teacher
Padang Midin National Secondary School, Malaysia

As teachers, we are often reminded to stay in our territory of pedagogy and practice – never to question the hegemonic practices of education. Therefore, my recommendation list would focus on the multiple actors and networks that attempt to govern education through their specific logic and mechanisms.

In a recent announcement, the Ministry of Education Malaysia highlighted its partnership with the World Bank to provide capacity-building for teachers. The question emerging here is how did the World Bank, an international financial institution providing loans and grants to governments, become a powerful global actor in education? The interview with Maren Elfert answers this by examining the complex relationship between UNESCO and the World Bank through the Co-operative Program from 1964 to 1989. Initially, UNESCO was tasked to provide technical assistance to governments on educational projects, and the World Bank to provide financial aid. However, during the 25 years of partnership, the World Bank eventually developed its intellectual capacity in education, and ultimately, became a powerhouse in global education governance.

Another economic-centered global actor emerging in the field of education is the OECD. The interview with Christian Ydesen dives into the formation of the OECD. Ydesen pointed out how establishing the Indicator of Education Systems (INES) laid the groundwork for PISA. The growing number of non-members of the OECD participating in such international education tests (e.g., PISA, TALIS, PIAAC) highlights how the OECD, a Western-based organization, was able to wield ‘soft governance’ based on quantification and measurement.

My next recommendation is the interview with  Matthew Thomas, Emilee Rauschenberger, and Katy Crawford-Garrett, which focuses on Teach For All, a global network that focuses on improving education quality by contracting young graduates for two years in the classroom as teachers. Going with the tagline ‘Best and Brightest’, TFA’s grandiose idea of solving educational problems by employing graduates from these so-called elite universities undermines the value of teachers who are already in the classroom. From my experience with the local network, Teach For Malaysia, their teachers, or called as fellows, often leave the classroom after some years to establish privately-funded social enterprises. These social enterprises create new forms of public-private partnerships that we have yet to observe.

My final recommendation would be Ben Williamson’s interview, in which he explores the idea of ‘performance logic’ as to why education institutions adopt a more data-driven approach. While he points out that there is not much compelling evidence that shows student improvement through the collection of mass amounts of data, Williamson highlights the shifting role of teachers through the emergence of ‘pedagogic routines,’ in which AI would determine what pedagogical routines are best used by teachers to improve students’ performance. Worryingly, EdTech companies and governments speak the same language regarding technology-enhanced education, which eventually encourages teachers to view students through a data gaze, a term coined by David Behr.

Tying all these interviews together, my recommendation serves as an introduction to unpacking the black box that governs the education landscape from a teacher’s perspective.

April 1, 2023