Agustina Paglayan

2020 Hellman Fellow

Assistant Professor, Political Science
UC San Diego

Project title: The Autocratic Roots of the Global Learning Crisis

Project description: Education systems are uniquely positioned to level the playing field, empower individuals, and promote economic development. Around the world, governments have made impressive efforts to expand access to primary schooling: While in the early nineteenth century only five percent of school-aged children were enrolled in primary school, today almost all countries have universal primary education. A large literature in political science and economics argues that the leading force driving the expansion of primary education was the spread of democratic voting rights and the electoral incentives this created for politicians to promote human development (Brown 1999; Mariscal and Sokoloff 2000; Lindert 2004; Brown & Hunter 2004; Stasavage 2005; Acemoglu & Robinson 2006; Ansell 2010; Harding & Stasavage 2014). The argument that politicians have incentives to promote human development, at least in democracies, appears to clash with the global learning crisis, a term coined by UNESCO to describe the worrisome fact that many children are completing primary school without having learned even basic reading and arithmetic skills (UNESCO 2014; World Development Report 2018). In fact, the crosscountry correlation between average years of schooling and scores in international assessments of student math skills is 0.07 (Paglayan 2018, under review).