Stephen Kosack's "Education of Nations"

The Education of Nations:

How the Political Organization of the Poor, Not Democracy, Led Governments to Invest in Mass Education

Oxford University Press

Stephen Kosack

Assistant Professor of Public Policy

Harvard Kennedy School

Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation



Mass education is vital to sustainable development, particularly in the information age. In The Education of Nations, Stephen Kosack provides a framework for understanding when a government will invest in quality mass education or concentrate on higher education restricted to elites. Drawing on detailed evidence from more than five decades in Taiwan, Ghana, and Brazil — three countries with little in common — Kosack demonstrates that two conditions lead developing nations to invest in mass education. The first of these is an economy in which employers face a shortage of skilled labor that they cannot meet with outsourcing or by hiring foreign workers; the second, and more common, is a government engaging in “political entrepreneurship of the poor” — developing organizational structures that allow poor citizens to act collectively to support the government. In bringing these conditions to light, The Education of Nationsprovides a method to explain not only how governments try to distribute educational opportunity, but also the implications for a range of key features of actual education systems, from the relative conditions of schools to the availability of financial aid. In an era when much of a country’s success depends on its education, this book explains why governments adopt particular education policies and the political and economic changes that would lead to different ones.

Notable Quotes

“Democratization leads to the expansion of education in developing nations. Or so conventional wisdom would have it. But in this innovative book, Stephen Kosack argues that conventional wisdom is often quite wrong. He develops a new theory that, by going beyond regime type to consider the logic of politics, puts the explanatory emphasis not on whether the poor are simply allowed to vote, but rather on whether political entrepreneurs have been able to organize them as a powerful constituency . His three, well-chosen case studies provide empirical support, adding illuminating detail about real education systems, their politics, and their development. This is a provocative argument destined to stimulate debate, new thinking, and new research on a topic of great importance.”
— Terry M . Moe, Stanford University
“An excellent work that goes beyond platitudes about democracy and education by offering a fine-grained analysis of the conditions in which quality primary education emerges.”
— Lant Pritchett, Professor of the Practice of Economic Development, and Development Area Chair, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

“With lucid reasoning and breathtaking empirical scope, Stephen Kosack offers a bold new theory of policymaking that explains why democracies often fail to produce pro-poor policies. The Education of Nationsis vital reading for anyone interested in inequality, poverty, and sustainable development in the Global South.”
— Richard Snyder, Professor of Political Science, Brown University

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