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Submitted by Brian Levy on
Thanks to both Shanta and David for their comments. To take Shanta's issue first: South Africa, it turns out, has very 'empowering' enabling legislation through the South African Schools Act (SASA. SASA makes it very straightforward to establish private schools -- and, indeed, there has been a proliferation of them....not only schools serving elites, but also less expensive schools for parents more in the middle of the income distribution. (Revealingly,teachers in the public schools quite often send their kids to private schools.) But this is no solution for parents that lack the resources to pay -- and/or for kids whose parents are not willing to pay. How, then, to go further? One option, as per Shanta, is to give families vouchers. A second option -- one which robust research has shown can often be effective -- is to leverage the strong formal authority SASA gives to School Governing Boards (the majority of whose members are, by law, parents), and empower these Boards with better information on performance, and knowledge and support to make use of their formal authority. Both options can be effective. While both will face political obstacles, my sense is that a focus on school governing boards is more likely to get traction in the short- and medium term than advocacy for vouchers. Turning to David: he raises the dilemma as to what might be the political consequences when a school system structurally produces more graduates than the economy can absorb. David highlights especially the impact on the polity of more university graduates. Viewed from a narrowly South African (middle-income) lens, the risk he points to currently is not large -- there continues to be a very large excess demand (indicated in the wage premiums I describe in my post) for university graduates. But the risk may be much larger in low income settings, where the formal economy is much less developed. Reflecting on this post, it points, I think to the need for us to think much more systematically (and honestly) than we have about the challenges associated with sustaining democracy in low-income countries. Comparative data developed by Adam Pzreworski and associates in their book Democracy and Development (2000) points to much more back-and-forth between authoritarianism and democracy in this group than we like to acknowledge. I plan to explore this further in a later post.