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Educational Bureaucracy Tyranny

In many countries the branches of the Ministries of Education are extremely autocratic on deciding about key elements of school operations. Academic content, budget management or personnel hiring are examples of areas where a centralized system may intervene in different scales, decreasing schools’ autonomy.

An autocratic educational system affects schools’ flexibility. Teachers cannot adjust their educational methodology to students with different needs or different levels of development. Besides, schools are less capable of responding quickly to managerial idiosyncratic issues, which may affect negatively its performance.

Why do we have such dictatorial educational regimes then?

Basically, there is the other side of the picture. More autonomy leads to the possibility of more opportunistic behaviour. For example, teachers may be more careless about providing their students with the right knowledge or incapable of understanding students’ specific needs. Moreover, school directors may take advantage of school resources, or hire their family members as employees. Thus, there may be a problem of lack of capabilities or moral hazard.

Given this trade-off, what is the best alternative?

Hanushek, Link and Woessmann addressed this question in a paper in 2011 [1]. With panel data for individuals and countries they estimated the impact of school autonomy on PISA results (Programme for International Student Assessment). Their central finding is that school autonomy has an impact on students’ results. However, the sign of this impact varies across countries, depending on the level of economic and educational development. If a country is developed, then increasing school autonomy improves student achievement. Conversely, in developing countries more autonomy leads to worse results.

In developed countries teachers have better formation, thus are more capable of scanning and adjusting to their student’s specific needs. Besides, strong institutions create an environment of low general moral hazard. Therefore, in this situation, empowering teachers and the schools’ management will provide them with more flexibility to adjust, offering their students the learning experience that they need.

In the other hand, in developing countries, teachers’ absenteeism is an enormous problem. Duflo, Hanna, and Ryan in 2011 [2], performed a randomized experience in India and found that monitoring is extremely successfully in decreasing this issue. Given this, one could expect that if we reduce monitoring and increase these teachers’ flexibility, they could actually never appear in class! Besides, since corruption tends to be higher in less developed countries, there is a stronger need to control what is done in schools by teachers as well as by directors.

As a result, this becomes very clear in terms of macro policy orientation. In order to increase students’ performance, developed countries should increase school autonomy, while developing countries should do the opposite.


Diogo Teles Machado




S. L. L. W. Eric A. Hanushek, “Does School Autonomy Make Sense Everywhere? Panel Estimates from PISA,” IZA, 2011.


R. H. S. P. R. Esther Duflo, “Incentives Work: Getting Teachers to Come to School,” American Economic Review, 2012.


Author: studentnovasbe

Master student in Nova Sbe

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