The problem with teachers: The political settlement and education quality reforms in Bangladesh
Working paper 86
Why has Bangladesh failed to raise quality in basic education when it successfully expanded school provision? This paper explores this problem through analysis of the influence of the political settlement on the design and delivery of the third Primary Education Development Programme (PEDP3), an US$8bn education reform plan. From document review, key informant interviews and comparative case study analysis of teacher motivations and performance, it concludes that the elite consensus on the need for basic mass education runs out when it comes to raising education standards: teachers are politically important, so reforms are more carrot than stick – in the form of training, increments, new entitlements. The centralised administration and its weak incentives to enforce unpopular reforms ensure discretion at the frontline/school level, so teacher performance depends ultimately on their inherent motivations. But the past generation has seen these motivations decline with the changing sociology of the teaching profession: teachers are less respected, relatively less well-paid and more often women (who have lower social status and more demands on their time), while the average public school pupil is ‘harder to reach and harder to teach’. Education quality is improving, but incrementally, in line with a political economy that has generated positive incentives for teachers, without holding them more accountable for their performance.