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Lant Pritchett and Akshay Mangla

The South Asia Institute sponsored a seminar entitled “The Rebirth of Education” on Friday, September 20th. As part of a yearlong education seminar series, Professor Lant Pritchett of the Harvard Kennedy School presented on critical issues in education policy implementation and ineffective schools, drawing heavily on his research in India. With over 50 attendees, Pritchett discussed the low levels of actual learning happening in the majority of schools in South Asia, emphasizing that simply expanding schooling opportunities or increasing the amount of time students spend in school will not bring about the anticipated education mastery gains. He challenged conventional ideas that classify educational inputs as the dominant factors in educational success, once again pointing out the flaws in almost all government responses to crises in education.

Using the concept of isomorphic mimicry, Pritchett explicated on the danger of the prevalence of schools that look like well-equipped, well-staffed schools but that in fact do not promote student learning. Drawing upon concepts from Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom’s book about the difference between centralized and decentralized organizations, The Starfish and the Spider, Pritchett argued that education systems should evolve out of their environments so that they are locally operated and performance pressured. This, he said, will be the way in which schools become effective sites of learning that can begin to narrow the learning gaps between countries with different levels of student learning.

In response to Professor Pritchett’s talk, Professor Akshay Mangla from the Harvard Business School discussed his reactions to Pritchett’s ideas and spoke about his own work in India that touched on salient factors of caste and poverty. Attendees then asked insightful questions about education systems in South Asia and what Professor Pritchett would recommend as first steps towards achieving the goal of universal learning, reflecting the new insights into education reform that Professor Pritchett shared with the group.

This event was cosponsored by the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s International Education Policy Program