Politics of Quality in Education: A Comparative Study on Brazil, China, and Russia

Prof. Jaakko Kauko

The question of quality has become one of the most important framing factors in education (Leeuw, 2002; Power, 1994; Smith, 1990), although it is a concept developed in the global North and now used also in the global South. Drawing on the final report of a four-year research project, the presentations analyses the politics of quality: how it has changed the basic conditions in which school education functions. It contributes to the research on policy transfer (e.g. Chabbott 2002; Mundy 2007; Steiner-Khamsi and Waldow 2012; Verger, Novelli and Altinyelken 2012). The presentation uses a theoretical-methodological framework of Comparative Analytics of Dynamics in Education Politics (CADEP), where we aim to understand the changing and fluid nature of politics by analysing. The framework draws on analysis of the policy process (Kingdon, 2003; Baumgartner & Jones, 2009; Sabatier & Jenkins-Smith, 1993), and a conceptual-historical analysis of politics (Palonen, 2003; 2006).

Research material of the project is documentary material, interviews (N=200), and observations from Brazil, China, and Russia. Documentary and interview material were collected from international organisations, and national, subnational, and municipal level actors. Interviewees were politicians, officials, teachers, experts, and other stakeholders.

Our main findings can be summarised in the argument that three types of dynamics can be discerned in Brazil, China, and Russia:
1) Quality assurance and evaluation (QAE) has become the objective for education governance rather than quality itself.
2) The toolbox of QAE is not producing quality as such, but rather works as a means to control the provision of education, and to tease out results necessarily dealing with education. The implementation is contingent and many times transnational.
3) QAE both destabilises and reorganises actor roles. For instance state actors can easily use quality for establishing their position, but the opening of the QAE toolbox can lead to destabilisation of the status quo in the new space available for politicking also for new type of expert, third sector, or state actors.