Saturday, March 30, 2013

Scholarship as Liberation?

Scholarship as Liberation?

“We find little evidence for modernization theory”-Willa Friedman et al.

Chambi Chachage

Willa Friedman, Michael Kremer, Edward Miguel and Rebecca Thornton's (2011) article on ‘Education as Liberation?’ reignites the debate on impacts of formal education. Based on a follow-up survey of a randomized girls’ merit scholarship program in Kenya it provides empirical evidence on the efficacy of modernization theory vis-à-vis empowerment and liberal views in explaining gendered impacts of education.

As someone who has worked in a non-governmental organization that advocates for the right to access education, known as HakiElimu, in Kenya’s neighboring country of Tanzania after being trained by a professor of international education, Kenneth King, I find the findings particularly interesting. On the one hand one of their overall conclusions that they find that there is little evidence for modernization is startling as far as gender is concerned. Since gender is very central in Friedman et al.’s survey – as the scholarship program is primarily about uplifting the girl child in an education system that is still modernist – any compelling evidence of such uplift would be a significant affirmation of modernization. In fact the researchers confirmed that the program persistently raised the girls’ test scores and secondary schooling. However, by associating the link between democratization and education without unpacking the nature of patriarchy and the type of democracy that has been promoted in Kenya the researchers tend to conflate modernization, empowerment and liberal views in their explanation on the social and political impacts of the program as evidenced below:

We find that exposure to the program reduces young women’s acceptance of the right of men to beat their wives and children and there is evidence it reduces the likelihood that parents are involved in choosing their daughter’s spouse. These findings are broadly consistent with both modernization theory as well as the view that education promotes a desire for autonomy and empowerment, but are harder to reconcile with the claim that education tends to reinforce existing patterns of authority (Friedman et al. 2011: 4-5).

The empowerment view, at least in the ways it had been advocated by the likes of Antonio Gramsci, Frantz Fanon, Paulo Freire and even Julius Nyerere, all of whom the researchers quotes, was not centered on liberal democracy that is at the heart of the political dispensation in Kenya as it is in its education system. When this is unpacked one can locate the following findings within such a liberal conception of democracy:

The evidence on attitudes beyond the household is not consistent with a modernization perspective but is more readily explained by the empowerment view of education. In particular, there is no evidence that the human capital created by the [Girl Scholarship Program] GSP leads to more pro-democratic or secular attitudes, or weakened ethnic identification. In fact, there is suggestive evidence that ethnic identity grows stronger among program beneficiaries, despite the Kenyan school curriculum’s stated aim of promoting feelings of national unity (Friedman et al. 2011: 5).

On the other hand, however, the researchers provide a compelling innovating way of unpacking confounding explanations on causality. They used experimental designs to measure, by way of separation, the impact of the program on acceptance of authority, that is, in such a way that the possibility of reversal causality as thus illustrated is controlled: “if those who are less willing to accept authority are less likely to stay in school, cross-sectional correlations between education and acceptance of authority will confound the causal impact of education on willingness to accept authority with the impact of acceptance of authority on education” (Friedman et al. 2011: 5). They thus strongly show the evidence that “education reduces willingness to accept authority” (Friedman et al. 2011: 26). But, again, their reluctance to unpack liberal democracy as highlighted above leads them to interpret this as affirming that ‘there is little support for the direct impact of education on ‘modern’ values” (Friedman et al. 2011: 16).

In line with the researchers attempt to combine experimentation and non-experimental literature it is recommended that they also rigorously engage with critiques of liberal democracy in Africa. Such critiques, particularly those emanating from transformative feminism, unpack the ways in which patriarchy continue to manifests itself through the imposition of liberal democracy and market fundamentalism in the social sectors such as health, water and education to reproduce gendered patterns of domination. In such a setup a seemingly benign educational program could promote empowerment with one hand and take it with another hand. What one may observe as the fostering of individual autonomy could actually be an imposition of another form of authority.


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