By Marcelo Souto Simão, Programme Specialist, IIEP-Buenos Aires, and Mariela Buonomo Zabaleta, Programme Specialist, IIEP


SDG 4 requires financing that reaches the classroom and effective and efficient use of resources. But do we know how different systems of governance affect the use of resources?

Decentralization has been said to allow for the provision of more relevant, pertinent and cost-effective investment in education. The devolution of decision-making power to sub-national governments and school actors in areas ranging from defining curriculum and learning programmes to school infrastructure and management of teacher careers has permeated education reforms in practically all countries since the 1980s. 

Arguments favouring these policies assume that actors closer to schools are in a better position to incorporate actual needs into decision-making. Other proponents say the capacity to generate resources required for quality service can be leveraged by making sub-national governments and school actors accountable. Decentralization has also been linked to more democratic governance of a public education system. 

Despite all these presumed virtues, international trends are not unidirectional. Several countries that have decentralized the management of their educational systems have more recently resorted to some kind of re-centralization, while in others, the central government has deepened the level of delegation to actors operating at lower levels. Some reforms that meant the partial reversal of previous decentralization policies have tried to foster equitable treatment of schools in decentralized systems marked by strong regional disparities. In some cases, they have also tried to compensate for fragile institutional capacities. 

Empirical evidence on the effects of reforms in both directions is abundant. Unfortunately, this evidence is not accumulative: studies adopt different and even incompatible definitions of decentralization. The plurality of analytical frameworks has limited dialogue among research traditions and investigation of individual cases has prevailed over comparative studies that could lead to more general conclusions. More surprisingly, very few studies have directly addressed the question of whether decentralization leads to more efficient use of available resources. At IIEP, we are trying to fill in this knowledge gap with new research that focuses on the impact of financial decentralization on an education system’s efficiency, effectiveness and equity.

Launched in January with support from the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity, the soonto-be concluded first stage aims to describe the different institutional arrangements through which decision-making power is decentralized. This includes the distribution of regulatory, executive and oversight competences, the decentralization of financial resources and the design of accountability mechanisms. 

Covering approximately twenty countries from Europe, the Americas and Africa, the research will explore alternatives for further quantitative and qualitative inquiry intended at establishing the causal links between decentralization and policy outcomes. The final report, databases and research tools will be freely available to encourage collaboration among academics and practitioners. 


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