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Brian Levy
Episode 73rd November 2021 • The RISE Podcast • Research on Improving Systems of Education (RISE)
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In this episode of the RISE Podcast, Carmen Belafi, RISE Research Associate at Oxford University’s Blavatnik School of Government, speaks with Professor Brian Levy. During the episode, they discuss Brian’s decades of work on governance, and how governance interacts with institutions and power. They talk about systematic ways to analyse different governance contexts, and how this can guide action. They also discuss Brian’s latest book, “The Politics and Governance of Basic Education: A Tale of Two South African Provinces,” and how issues around governance matter for aligning education systems for learning. Not least, Brian offers insights on the legacy that South Africa’s first democratic government inherited from the Apartheid regime, and he compares and contrasts the unique challenges that persist in the different South African provinces until today.

Links:

  • Levy, B., Cameron, R., Hoadley, U. and Naidoo, V. 2018. (Eds.). The Politics and Governance of Basic Education: A Tale of Two South African Provinces. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 
  • Levy, B. 2014. Working With The Grain. Integrating Governance and Growth in Development Strategies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • World Bank. 2018. World Development Report 2018: Learning to realize education’ promise. Washington DC: World Bank. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/28340
  • World Bank. 1997. World Development Report 1997: The State in a Changing World. New York: Oxford University Press and World Bank. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/5980

Guest biography:

Brian Levy is a Professor of the Practice of International Development at the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University in Washington, DC and Academic Director of the Nelson Mandela School of Public Governance, University of Cape Town. Prior to this, Brian had a 23-year career at the World Bank, where he was at the forefront of sustained efforts to integrate governance concerns into the theory and practice of economic development. Between 2007 and 2010 he was head of the secretariat responsible for the design and implementation of the World Bank Group's governance and anti-corruption strategy. He worked in the Bank's Africa Vice Presidency from 1991 to 2003, where his role included leadership of a major effort to transform and scale-up the organisation’s engagement on governance reform. He has worked in over a dozen countries, spanning four continents. He has published numerous books and articles on the institutional underpinnings of regulation, on capacity development in Africa, on industrial policy, and on the political economy of development strategy. He received his PhD in economics from Harvard University in 1983. 

Attribution: 

RISE is funded by the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office; Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Programme is implemented through a partnership between Oxford Policy Management and the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford. The Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford supports the production of the RISE Podcast.

Transcripts

RISE Programme:

Hello and welcome to the RISE podcast series, where we aim to explore the stories behind education, research and practice as part of the multicountry Research on Improving Systems of Education endeavour, funded by UK Aid, Australian Aid, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Carmen Belafi, Host:

Hello, and welcome to a new episode of the RISE podcast. My name is Carmen Belafi and I am a research associate for the RISE Programme based at the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford.

Carmen Belafi, Host:

Today, I'm speaking to Professor Brian Levy, who teaches at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, DC. He also teaches at the Nelson Mandela School of Public Governance at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, of which he is one of the founding directors. Brian has over 20 years of experience at the World Bank, and has published widely on issues of political economy, governance and development policy. The overarching theme of our talk is the area of governance, and the interaction of governance with institutions and power. We talk about what governance is, and what his systematic analysis of different governance contexts looks like.

Carmen Belafi, Host:

We discuss his effort to bridge the gap between the education discourse and the governance discourse, and go deep into issues he describes in his latest book on politics and governance into South African provinces. We talk about why and how governance matters for improving education systems and aligning them for learning. And we get into the difficult legacy that a democratic South Africa inherited in 1994, from the apartheid regime, and the unique challenges that persist in the different provinces until today. Welcome to the RISE podcast, Brian. It's really great to have you with us today.

Brian Levy, Guest:

It's my pleasure, thank you for inviting me.

Carmen Belafi, Host:

So first off, let's give the listeners some context, and talk for a few minutes about your own biography and background. And I think this will be relevant for some of the content of the book that we will be discussing later on because you have close ties with at least two countries. One is South Africa, where you grew up, and the other is the United States where you live and teach. Now, tell me a little bit about this journey of yours and how you're connected to these different countries given that we want to talk for a fair bit about South Africa today.

Brian Levy, Guest:

Happy to. So I was born in Cape Town, South Africa. And I was shaped by the experience of being raised growing up in apartheid South Africa with all of its challenges. I left South Africa in 1977, to begin a PhD in economics, which is my formal training. And over the subsequent 43 years, I've I spent 23 of them in the World Bank. And I've spent, aside from six years doing the PhD, I spent about 15, also teaching at universities. So it's a mix of both. But I have consistently maintained ongoing ties with South Africa. It has motivated my passion and my interest not just in economic policy, but in its relationship to Governance and politics. And between 2011 and 2020 I was spending part of each year in Cape Town, South Africa, teaching at the University of Cape Town and was the founding Academic Director of the Nelson Mandela School of Public Governance at the University of Cape Town.

Carmen Belafi, Host:

So you already said you decided to become an economist. And not just that, but an economist at the World Bank who discovered, and you mentioned the magic word for today's podcast already, to discover that governance is important. And I have two questions about that for you know, for listeners that might come in not having spent decades on governance as you have, the first is what is governance? How can we think about governance? And the second is, why is it important, so important, in fact that you spent decades of your professional life grappling with it and trying to understand it better. So can you give us some some context on how we can approach governance?

Brian Levy, Guest:

Sure. So I think we should think of governance as having three parts and its definition. The first one, governance is a process of policymaking and implementation. The second one is that that process is shaped by institutions, the rules of the game. And the third one is that institutions can't simply be parachuted in, but institutions are both shaped by and they shape power. So the way I came to this is having initially a fairly conventional economics education, which is all about finding Best Practices policies, there was a journey and it's a journey which I can describe for you in, in three parts sequence. There's a journey through which it progressively became clear to me that it didn't, at least to me make sense to think about policy, independent of institutions and power, or more broadly to think about policy independent of context. So, as I said, In the beginning, I'm a conventional economist with a strong policy orientation. And importantly, for our discussion, today, a strong sectoral orientation. And it became apparent to me through the sectoral work, some of it while I was still an academic, I spent a year in East Asia, some of it when I was at the World Bank, that any notion of best practice didn't stand up to the reality of how context shaped what actually happened and what the entry points were for enabling change to happen within those sectors. And this first part of the journey, it sort of culminates for me I was part of the core team of a 1997 World Development Report at the World Bank on the state of the changing world in which I tried to the one of the themes of that was of role of capability or to put that differently. Some of my contribution to that was be concrete about the way in which context shapes the available set of options and entry points for change, mostly at the sectoral level. So that was the first phase of the journey. The second phase of the journey, with it a dozen years that came after that. And these were when I became part of a core group that has its mission to mainstream governance into the work of the World Bank Group. And I spent, as I say, it was a dozen years, it was involved in shaping a World Bank governance and anti-corruption strategy. For some years, I subsequently headed the World Bank's implementation team of the governance and anti-corruption Secretariat. And this was a deep immersion in the challenges of taking some of the ideas that I had been formulating, and trying to bring them into practice, and to shape and help reshape practice across with a strong emphasis on my side consistently, and also engaging the sectors across the World Bank, and that, obviously, with the World Bank through its programmes. And then the third phase comes as I exited the World Bank, because it, it became apparent to me that it's all very well to say things like, governance matters, context matters, institutions matter. But unless you have something more concrete than that, unless you're able both to find a framework for thinking about different types of governance contexts, and to complement that, with a way of thinking and concrete options that are anchored, and sectors have different kinds of entry points for change, the rhetoric was both empty and wouldn't gain traction. So that was the good news of what I learned in the World Bank, the bad news, the more difficult news was that it's easy to say and get agreement on these things at a general level. But the moment you try to become concrete about them, then different people have different views of what this concrete approach looks like. And I, I ultimately felt that I could only offer what I hope is a coherent way of thinking about this once I'd left the World Bank, and it was no longer me saying, here's the way that you should do it. It was rather me trying to lay out what I thought I'd learned and see where it led. That was the third phase that led to the writing of the book, Working with the Grain.

Carmen Belafi, Host:

Wonderful, that was going to be my next question, because in 2014, you did publish your first book, Working with the Grain. And I think the first question on that is, what does Working with the Grain mean? And how did you connect the dots from these three stages and of these three stages of thinking about governance that you just described into the book that then became Working with the Grain? So what is the essence of that book?

Brian Levy, Guest:

So crucial question when we engage with this interplay between policy economics, institutions and politics is what's the time horizon, that big picture. Researchers sometimes use it often as a historical time horizon. So long time horizon is the period of a half century. And from the perspective of practitioners, that kind of time horizon a time horizon that's more than five or 10 years is not really helpful. So the question from a practitioners point of view always is, so what? How can I engage now in a way that might be useful in effecting change within a five to 10 year time horizon? And take that idea, complement that with at least what I take now as given that best practices thinking is just not helpful. Because Best Practices thinking assumes away all of the real incentives and constraints shaped by politics and institutions, which are the context within which one actually engages in policymaking and implementation. So the question, then, from the practitioners point of view, is, how can I engage in processes of change within a five to 10 year horizon? And what the title of the book says is, the way to do that is to work with the grain, the way to do that is to invest in understanding the context and within a five to 10 year horizon, treat that broader context, the bigger picture context, more or less as given, understand how it works and ask how we're aware, given that context, are the entry points for effecting change. And that's, that's the title.

Carmen Belafi, Host:

And if I understand correctly, your contribution is also finding a workable, tangible middle ground between a one size fits all approach. And that almost a totalogy of saying context matters, but not having anything concrete any bigger framework that can then guide questions of how to deal with context. Because if we don't have a bigger systemic, systemic view or framework, it's going to be very hard to engage with context in a meaningful way.

Brian Levy, Guest:

Yeah, I think that's exactly right. The one piece I want to add to that is, so yes, there's a framework. And within that framework, there's a sustained effort to work through the logic of different types of contexts. But it's important to recognise that the middle ground has attention of its own. Because when you're when one lays out a framework, a framework is a way of thinking. And there are different paradigmatic patterns. And some places are, can be hybrids of different patterns. But at least in my experience, both as practitioner working with mid career professionals across in the public sector across a wide variety of sectors, wide variety of countries, having this framework as a point of departure, as long as one wears it likely, so to speak, is hugely helpful in moving, moving beyond what I think of as these two unhelpful places for policymaking and implementation, either best practice or every place is unique.

Carmen Belafi, Host:

Let's now try and jump to, and the jump might not be as big as one might think, let's jump to education. Because your second book that's titled, The Politics and Governance of Basic Education, A Tale of Two South African Provinces, deals with governance and education in South Africa, and we will put a link to this book in the show notes. But this is where you really ventured into the realm of education. And I'm, first of all, I'm wondering, what was your impetus for writing this book and for venturing into education? And what I mean by that specifically, is, what about education in South Africa was it that intrigued you? And maybe you can give us some background on education in South Africa and the two provinces so this is the Eastern Cape and the Western Cape that you and the other co authors and contributors look at in this book, to give the listeners some idea of what is the state of education in South Africa at the moment?

Brian Levy, Guest:

Excellent. So two parallel reasons for this research. The one I will get at around why education in South Africa, the other one is why education and governance. And let me speak about the why education in South Africa. And then you can prompt me as useful in the way education and governance. So as I mentioned, I've long sustained and engagement and passion for that engagement in relation to South Africa, which is what led me back to the University of Cape Town and the Mandela School part of each year. And it was evident to me that the education sector in South Africa was absolutely crucial for the country's future. The legacy of disaster left behind by the education by the apartheid regime in South Africa, when it came to education was massive. Just to give you a sense of this, in 2015, that's 20 years, 21 years after Nelson Mandela becomes President, in 2015, South Africa, in the terms of the polls, results, ranked amongst the absolute worst of countries in terms of performance in those standardised tests of learning outcomes. But here's the weird twist. I think it's TIMMS between 2003 and 2015. South Africa also showed the most rapid gains that any country ever saw. Now, how's that possible? It's possible, because there was a movement from catastrophic to disastrous. So there's a devastating legacy. If the country is to build an inclusive society and inclusive economy, I think almost everybody listening to this podcast will agree that that means that the education sector and improving learning outcomes and transforming those for the society as a whole is absolutely central. And I saw it, in fact, it's probably the central medium to long run issue. And the challenges were massive. There was also in this dust begins to open up the governance part of the story. But there were also massive institutional reforms in the education sector that were undertaken in the first half dozen years after democratic South Africa begins all of those reforms and perhaps come back to their details later, as you find helpful, but all of those reforms are and were and in my judgement, also, our highly, highly desirable in terms of what was done and the transformations that were made. But as per the data I described to you, the learning outcomes as late as 2015, are still deeply, deeply troubling. And so I felt that passion to ask, is there anything from my own experience on this interface between politics, governance and sectors? And this approach that I've described is anything in that that could be helpful in the South African case? So that's the South Africa context for the book.

Carmen Belafi, Host:

Let's maybe stay with contrasting the Western Cape and the Eastern Cape a little bit. Because when you spoke about South Africa, earlier, not on this podcast, but when you and I, you and I spoke before, you also described this, the transition to democracy in South Africa and what happened in education there, as a quite successful delegation, from the national level of authority, but also discretion to the provincial level. And that then the provincial level was a good level of analysis for research. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

Brian Levy, Guest:

Sure. So I think by all accounts, the South African reforms in between 1994 and 2000, they put in place in a thorough going, systematic way, what many, many Latin American countries were aspiring to do, they got the assignment of responsibilities at the national level at the provincial level, and at this school level, they got it, quote, right in the following way. So as a necessary foundation for an equitable system, they assign the responsibilities for financing the system and regulating the system to the national level, as in my view, a highly desirable way of managing the system. They said a single national system for a diverse country of 50 million people is too hard to manage directly. So they assigned the responsibility for managing the system to the provincial level. And within that, and perhaps we'll come back to it later. They also assign fairly significant and responsibility at the school level, to school governing bodies which were made up of multiple stakeholders, let me say a little bit more about the provincial level because it mattered for the research. So it turns out that the nine provinces that were created in South Africa through its new constitution are very, very diverse from one another, very different from one another. The differences between the Western Cape and the Eastern Cape are massive, we will, those differences are deeply deeply rooted in the histories of those two regions in a whole variety of ways, which I'll leave to you as to how much depth we get into. But suffice it to say that the legacy was such that the Western Cape was quite well positioned to govern, it said ucation system through a fairly conventional classic hierarchy. But by contrast, the Eastern Cape inherited and found it devilishly difficult to break out of indeed, has not been able to, despite a variety of efforts to break out of something that was much more fragmented, and much more personalised. And so this from a my interest in comparative governance, I mean, what's striking, by the way, is to note here that you can get these massive differences within a country at the level of different regions, provinces, states, wherever they get called. And these to this Western Cape and this Eastern Cape there for me, were almost paradigmatic examples of some of the kind of diversity of context that I had been thinking about and writing about hopefully crystallised and working with the grain. So it lent itself to looking at how context mattered in education through the lens of these two provinces.

Carmen Belafi, Host:

Could you also quickly give us some context as to the differences in learning outcomes between the Western Cape and the Eastern Cape.

Brian Levy, Guest:

So there are multiple ways of measuring the learning outcome differences in the Western Cape and the Eastern Cape. The first one is simply to look at the results of standardised tests and SACMEQ, the Southern African Consortium for Monitoring Economic Quality, provides the data for this both at national level and also you can get the data down to sub national level. And if you look at the results within South Africa, and I'm talking referring now to the 2007 SACMEQ results, it turns out that the Western Cape is the best performer across South Africa's provinces. And the Eastern Cape turns out to be the weakest. So that's at an aggregate level. Also interesting at the aggregate level is, if you if you look on contrast, the Western Cape with Kenya, and Kenya is a country with a per capita income of about 1/5, the Western Cape and by all accounts, a country with a bureaucracy that is much more fragmented, much more patronage oriented than the Western Cape's bureaucracy, it's surprisingly turned down, that Kenya outperformed the Western Cape.

Carmen Belafi, Host:

This is really fascinating, Brian, and I would like to speak about the comparison between the Western Cape and Kenya in a moment. But for now, let's stay within the South African context and the contrast between the Western Cape and the Eastern Cape. And looking at the Eastern Cape, the way you describe it in the book, or the way I read it was that the big challenge in the Eastern Cape was that was one of political and bureaucratic fragmentation. So would you agree that this was the main challenge? And then, could you describe for us a little bit how that fragmentation actually manifested when you went to the Eastern Cape and did the research?

Brian Levy, Guest:

Sure. So yes, political and bureaucratic fragmentation is the big challenge that emerges. And what the book does is it tries to tease out the roots of that in the particular governance and political history of these in Cape and it's very clear, the apartheid legacy produces a both fragmented and somewhat patronage oriented bureaucracy. There is deep poverty and there's a very small middle class in these areas. There's a single political party that in practice is dominant. It's the African National Congress notes a single party, it turns out to have to be a coalition of an incredible wide range of surprising and actually more or less in practice incompatible bedfellows. So it has a challenge of adding up. So that is the root challenge. How does it manifest? I would say that the mean, interestingly, while in the South African context, this would the answer would be it manifests in poor infrastructure and the missallocation of where teachers are in the ability to adapt teachers to moving demographics. I think if you actually look at the data for the Eastern Cape, relative to other settings, the the allocation of teachers to the right places, not fantastic, but it's not absolutely terrible. There's enough there that you know, it works mediocrely and then these are the kinds of logistical ways it doesn't work, great, but it's not complete disaster. Where I think the massive challenge and difficulty is that it means that essentially, there's very little sign of governance relationships of functioning hierarchical relationships over a medium term, that cascade down from the, quote, top of the Eastern Cape of the bureaucracy down to the school level, and this a couple of ways in which that manifests. So one of the things that I think we learn about organisations and organisational capability is that leadership that is steady and sustained and then has continuity over the medium term is a very important strength of any organisation. It turns out that in the Eastern Cape, whether it's at the level of the political level of the the equivalent of a minister or at the level of the senior bureaucrat, there was massive, massive ongoing turnover. So there's no stability in the bureaucracy itself. And that cascades all the way through. I, one of the people who I spoke to about the sector described how and his task was to visit the district level in the Eastern Cape to try to provide support at that level at the level that supports a cluster of schools how he would visit every six months. And I'm sure it wasn't quite literally like this, but he would describe how each time he visited, the person he had just met the previous time was out of their job, someone new was appointed someone different was there because the process within the bureaucracy of continuity was broken through this ongoing politicisation. What this manifests into at the school level is an incoherence, even almost the absence of any systematic signals linking the bureaucracy to the school. And so what happens at this school level is shaped by dynamics at that local level with a relatively powerless bureaucracy and a bureaucracy operating across a variety of different ways.

Carmen Belafi, Host:

So Brian, from the way you described the Eastern Cape, and I would like to zoom out a little bit and make a general point about governance that I think is very important. When you contrast the Western Cape and the Eastern Cape, the way the Western Cape is portrayed in your book is several points, you've mentioned that it's actually from Weberian sense a well run bureaucracy. And for someone who doesn't know much about education, one approach might be to say, Well, why can't we just transplant these good things that we see in the Western Cape and try to make the bureaucracy and the governance better and more functional in the Eastern Cape? Why don't these transplants work? And why, coming back to what you described about how context matters, what is the interplay between these proximate determinants that you talked about all of the dysfunctions in the Eastern Cape and how we then have to approach solutions from a governance perspective that does take these bigger, these bigger, this bigger embeddedness of political, historical and social factors into account?

Brian Levy, Guest:

Great. So Carmen, I heard two different aspects to your question. And one aspect is around some of the specific features and characteristics and limits of the Western Cape and its bureaucracy, and I'll put that one aside for now. I will, the other part of what I heard in your question was so we, we sort of know what works in schools, and I call these the proximate determinants of learning outcomes. I'm drawing of course here from the 2018 World Development Report I mean, Learning to Realise Education's Promise, they list the approximate determinants. Are the learners prepared? Are teachers motivated and trained? Is the school well managed? Are the other inputs into learning made available? And it would seem to be a fairly natural way forward is that well, that's what you need to get learning outcomes. So just do it. Just do it. The thing about the Eastern Cape, as I say, there are issues with the Western Cape, but we'll come back to those. The thing about the Eastern Cape is that the the just do it presupposes a set of governance arrangements and how they function in practice, not just what they're like on paper. And behind those governance arrangements, a set of stakeholders that are aligned in a way that supports the deployment of these proximate inputs to to achieve and to strengthen learning outcomes. Let me make that a little bit more concrete. So what one often hears in discourses on policymaking and implementation is the important the just do it is another way to say that is the political world. And another way to say political will is to say, Well, we know what works, we need trained and motivated teachers, we need early childhood support, we need good principals just do it. But what I find so powerful about the 2018 World Development Report in its concentric circles framework, is it reminds us that the JUST DO IT approach, the proximate causes is embedded in a much more complicated relationship between many, many different stakeholders. And what links stakeholders to the JUST DO IT proximate causes are the governance arrangements. And so if the stakeholders are profoundly in conflict with one another, and if the governance arrangements, not on paper, but in practice, if the governance arrangements can't align all of that towards learning, then just do it is not a viable entry point for change. And so just to give you an illustration of the Eastern Cape. In the Eastern Cape, politics and bureaucracy are deeply, deeply intertwined.

Brian Levy, Guest:

So let's imagine that I'm an official in a district office in the Eastern Cape, and I'm committed to trying to support learning outcomes. And there's a new initiative that I've seen, and I'm very excited about it. And I turned to one of the staff, people who work for me, and I say, "Look, this is what I want you to do, because it's geared towards learning outcomes." However, the way in which it's geared towards learning outcomes is something that from a set of political reasons, it may have to do with the nature of how teachers get appointed at the school level, it may have to do with support for after school activities with communities. But from all of these perspectives, the person who I say this is what I want you to do, doesn't want to do it. And what does that person do in a fragmented system, that person alongside the hierarchy, the seeming hierarchical structure of the bureaucracy, that person also has a political network, and that political network can be quite powerful. So you know, end of the day, that person picks up the phone, calls someone and their political network says, "You won't believe what I've been asked to do by so and so. And if we do that, you know what it's going to mean, for the appointment process in that school, you know, how a, b and c at the school are going to resist because it's putting more demands on them. I really don't want to do this." And so then the person I call to say, "Don't worry, I'll take care of it." works through the political network, and the single signal comes back to my boss, no, sorry. But that's not something you can ask that person to do. The hierarchy is broken because of the fragmentation of the political and the bureaucratic. I mean, the consequence of this, as I said, is, at least in the Eastern Cape, and this is a subtle distinction. It's not so much that there is a set of patronage demand through the system, although there can be those two, it's that the demands to the system are sufficiently fragmented and incoherence and inconsistent over time that what you end up with down to the school level isn't noise in terms of what happens next. So maybe that gives a flavour of how just to bring it back to the WDR framework how any effort can be principle training would be another obvious one, how any effort that with good intent is parachuted into the personalised fragmented bureaucracy of which there are many around the world. It's parachuted in as a proximate cause Best Practice good intention, if the background governance arrangements and the background stakeholder dynamics are not supportive of it, it's going to get undercut and undermined. And that I think is a hopefully gives you a sense of how and why simply focusing on the proximate causes without looking at that those deeper governance dynamics does contact one so far.

Carmen Belafi, Host:

Thank you for this really rich description, Brian. And I think now we can better contrast even with the Western Cape, because in the Western Cape, the picture that you draw from there is, is quite different. In various chapters, you describe the Western Cape as a pretty well run bureaucracy as a province that is pretty well managed on logistics. And one question could be is well managed and well governed the same thing? And I have a hunch that you will say it does not. But the the bigger picture is, we have the Western Cape with a functional bureaucracy with strong, top down hierarchical governance. And yet, what you find in the book is yes, the learning outcomes are better than in the in the Eastern Cape. But and you alluded to this earlier, comparing the Western Cape, say to Kenya, which is not as strong when it comes to a per capita income or spending per student on education, the Western Cape doesn't perform as strongly so can you? Can you explain this puzzle. So what happened there in the Western Cape that both explains the strong hierarchical bureaucracy, but the limitations of not being able to translate that into better learning outcomes?

Brian Levy, Guest:

So there's an assumption in the Western Cape, that if something is well managed, and well managed, and well, governance governed in that setting would often be treated as synonyms, it would produce good learning outcomes. And what's interesting is that by any measures of management, and notice, I'm measuring management now not measuring learning outcomes, including measures that were conducted across 120 organisations, public organisations in South Africa, conducted by the South African presidency, using 41 Key Performance Indicators of good management, the Western Cape does emerge as being well managed. It is by those classic conventional standards, a well managed bureaucracy why now my second part of what I was getting at, why is it a well managed bureaucracy? Again, the answer is rooted in this what I described earlier, its history, history and its legacy. So there's three parts of that. So the Western Cape, first, it's much more affluent than Eastern Cape has got a strong middle class, which has got pressure for performance. Second, the way in which the Western Cape education bureaucracy was created the legacy the institutional and bureaucratic legacy that it inherited from apartheid was way less dysfunctional than for these in Cape so it inherits a legacy, which is, by and large, what I think we call it one place in the book. There's a paper in there by Robert Cameron and myself, it looks at the history of the Western Cape bureaucracy, I think we call it good enough to be Arianism, which is this, which the Eastern Cape decidedly did not have. And that's the legacy and the details are in the book of the inheritance. And then the third one, which is a further supporting factor, is that the Western Cape actually had much more vibrant political competition than the Eastern Cape and so when you're in power, you would try to services and that quality of services matter. So the so those are the two feet this governance versus management issue, the history of governance and management in the Western Cape. There's another feature of the history and this goes quite deeply into South African history for complex reasons or for historical reasons. Many in the Western Cape basically conflates management and governance on the one hand with achieving our outcomes on the other the assumption is that if we get the management from the governance, right, the outcomes will follow. Or to put that another way, if we comply systematically with processes, follow the rules, then we will get good outcomes. And if it's not working, the solution to that is just to refine and sharpen the rules and maybe add a few more rules that produce that. And it's it's a vision of achieving outcome through process compliance. That works well for what one might call logistical functions. And the functions of I mentioned these earlier, infrastructure deployment of teachers, textbooks, these the Western Cape does, managing budgets, the Western Cape, another one actually creating good systems, online computer systems for tracking outcomes. Western Cape does all of these fabulously. The only thing is, that men a crucial distinction in public management is the distinction between logistical tasks and craft tasks in a logistical task control can produce you the outcome you want, in a craft tasks. what is critical is motivation, an agency on the part of those who especially but not only friends actually cascade through a system on the part of those who are tasked with doing the task educators. In a classroom, you have teachers and you have kids in a school, you have an environment of teachers and kids and the principal, and you have the parents and you have the extended community that engages the school.

Brian Levy, Guest:

And so insofar as one believes, and I think the evidence points towards this, in some critical ways, learning and education is a craft-like task, then a system which is geared towards process compliance, runs the risk of squeezing out the motivation and the agency, and the desire for efficacy and the sense of professional value and worth, that are the key to learning and to a system functioning.

Carmen Belafi, Host:

What you describe Brian really reminds me of a quote that Lant Pritchett often says, and he says, "You cannot make Pinocchio into a real boy by adding more strings." And I think this is really telling what before you describe in the Western Cape as well, so you're not going to solve process compliance with more process compliance. But then the question is, what can you do to move a system that is on logistical tasks very successful, that has a strong bureaucracy? How can you move such a system to? Do you need to shake it loose? What what do you need to do to move this system to that to allow it to produce more learning, because obviously, this very tightly controlled system is producing a lot of things, but should be producing better learning outcomes, given all the resources and the man and woman power that's behind it.

Brian Levy, Guest:

Great. So this was where I found the Kenyan contrast, so very striking with the Western Cape. The as I mentioned earlier, in Kenya, you have a much weaker bureaucracy as measured by process compliance, then you have in the Western Cape, but you have better learning outcomes. And the question is why? And in probing this, the answer that emerged because actual quite powerful were the dynamics and the expectations that were operating at the level of both the school and the community more broadly, there was an expectation in Kenya that schools would produce strong learning outcomes, that expectation was manifested throughout the community. There were the Kenya certificate of primary education put into the public domain, the results of every school and communities, celebrated principles that produce strong outcomes, and they actually forced out principals who were repeatedly producing poor learning outcomes. So what you have in Kenya and it's, it's quite deeply rooted in Kenyan history, is you have a shared commitment to learning which if you like trumps the relative weaknesses in the bureaucracy. So the question is what do you do in an environment where you're trapped in process compliance. And you know, you know what the missing ingredient is it's we want this more evocation of agency and commitment to learning through the system. And I can think of two different ways in which one might engage. One is just to create more space and scope for innovation down at that local level. In the Western Cape, in the South African cases, I mentioned you have the formal institutional arrangements, don't be afraid of fostering innovation, don't be afraid of trying to engage stakeholders, because we know from broader organisational analysis that for craft based activities, motivation is the key to getting outcomes and motivation is often peer to peer. And in the case of a school, it's teacher to parent at school to community and within the school, so the one thing one can do, and this one can begin wherever one is, in a process compliance setting is just trying to create that space and see what happens. The dilemma is that doing that is in some sense, countercultural, it's clearly countercultural in the Western Cape. And at least for my taste, there have been less efforts in this direction than I think would make sense because it is so countercultural, that the idea is resisted. But the broader challenge, and this is what I think becomes intriguing, but it's a frontier, which goes well beyond the kind of way in which as educators, technocrats, one can engage is how do you transform a set of a culture and expectation away from the culture and expectation that if you like government will and should deliver that in a sense, press the button and learning outcomes will come out to a set of expectations that it's all for learning? That actually, if we're going to transform the system, it's the expectations on the part of all of us, so that the expectations not just on the part of the teachers and the principal, it's the expectations of the bureaucracy. But the right measure is not compliance with process, but it's learning outcomes. It's the expectations on the part of politicians, that what we want to talk about is not the latest infrastructure, but what are the job jobs and patronage. But we want to talk about learning and whether it's happening, it's expectations on the part of teachers unions, that we can embrace our professional identity. It's the expectation on the part of non governmental organisations, that our way of adding value here is not a crusade against shortfalls in logistical functions, like infrastructure and others, but it's to try to support and build and nurture this more engaged interface between communities and schools. And it's, that's not easy, because that's if you like, it's an incredibly broad cultural change when you contrast Kenya and the Western Cape when understands, what are the roots of this more inclusive all for learning culture in Kenya? And what are the roots of government should deliver in the Western Cape, but that's, that's the big prize. The headline that cuts across both of these is for craft activities, think about how you evoke agency and encourage motivation. And that that I think, and that's norms, whether at the micro whether in the big picture.

Carmen Belafi, Host:

This is a wonderful answer, Brian, because from RISE, I think we're going to see these emerging themes also around norms and agency, be it for teachers and frontline workers or bureaucrats. So I'm very excited that there is an overarching theme that also connects the governance work that you do. And the government's work on education, specifically in South Africa that also seems to fit into this picture, which is, is really fascinating. And I thank you for these detailed descriptions. Let me ask you one final question. And this is sort of a recurring question that we ask all of our guests on all of the episodes to round up this episode, which is from your experience, and you can take South Africa if you want, you could also be general, what is one thing you wish other people knew about education systems?

Brian Levy, Guest:

I wish that all of us knew that learning outcomes depend upon an incredibly wide range of interdependent variables, some of which are very specific to the education sector and there's deep specialist knowledge on the part of educationalists around those variables, others of which are broader there about what I've tried to do in my own work, which is to bring some insight into this interaction between stakeholders, power institutions and governance and how they affect a system. And my wish would be that all of us understood that in that sense, it takes a village, it takes all of us, skillfully acknowledging and honouring the expertise of those who have expertise different from us, and working to find out how can we connect these different types of expertise to improve learning outcomes, because if we only come in with a part of that puzzle, if I would only come in with the governance part and say, well, that's the whole of it. If you just get governance, right, everything will be fine, I would be wrong, because there are a whole series of specialist skills that education sector professionals have that I don't in which we need to deploy, if you only come in with those specialist education skills, and don't see the governance side, you're not going to have traction either. So that's what I wish, I wish that we were more skillful than we are in finding our way to the cooperative outcomes that are dependent upon a cooperation across a diverse range of stakeholders, including diverse range of technical professionals to achieve better learning outcomes. So thank you for the question. And for inviting me to do this interview. Carmen, I really appreciate it.

Carmen Belafi, Host:

But I also take from this conversation with you, Brian, is this this all for learning. I think one, one important contribution that you have made is because you not because the majority of your work is not in education, but your governance work is so rich, you actually help bridge this divide of also mental silos of thinking about education as just education and governance as just governance and helping to bridge some of these gaps in even just mentally the way we think about the world. And talking to you as always such a pleasure. I think we could have gone on for hours and hours. I could have asked you many more questions, but it was such a pleasure having you on the podcast.

Brian Levy, Guest:

Thank you, Carmen. It was very, very much my pleasure.

RISE Programme:

Thank you for listening to our podcast today. And if you liked it, be sure to check out our research at riseprogramme.org or follow us on social media at RISE Programme. You can find links to the research mentioned and other worksheets under the description for this podcast episode. The RISE podcast is brought to you by the Research on Improving Systems of Education (RISE) Programme through support from the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

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