The discursive and social practices of actors in Benin involved in the provision of pre-school and primary education in the context of the 2010 decentralisation policy

Eva Bulgrin
School of Education and Social Work, University of Sussex
August 2020

This qualitatively oriented, in-depth study explores how the decentralisation policy in Benin (West Africa) is discursively and socially constructed, and how actors involved in the provision of pre- and primary education mediate this policy. Education decentralisation is a critical topic reflected in the national education strategy in Benin and much-debated amongst scholars and practitioners in the field of international education and development since the emergence of the global ‘good governance’ agenda in the 1990s.

The conceptual framework draws on literature about the concept of decentralisation (Rondinelli, 1980, 1990; Cheema and Rondinelli, 2007) and policy analysis (Ball, 1993, 1997, 2015; Rizvi and Lingard, 2010). Critical discourse analysis (CDA) (Fairclough 2013; Fairclough 2010) and actor-network theory (ANT) (Latour, 1996, 2005; Fenwick and Edwards, 2010) inform the analysis of the policy tensions and mediation. The empirical research draws on qualitative data, including 68 semi-structured interviews carried out in 2017 with high and middle-ranking officials from the Education and the Decentralisation Ministry as well as their sub-units. It also includes focus groups with teachers and parents in a Northern and a Southern field site in Benin.

This policy study finds that it is underpinned by the discourses of development and modernisation and reflects Benin’s colonial and post-colonial legacies and development trajectory. It also reports that the policy as enacted results in a multiplicity of social practices of actors at the national, regional and local levels in Benin. Finally, the findings suggest that exogenous factors as well as endogenous factors influenced the construction of the policy in 1990.

This research contributes to the understanding of education governance in the Global South, particularly Sub-Saharan Africa. It provides insights into how local, national and global factors influence the policy of education decentralisation in Benin. As such, this study offers a holistic understanding of the emergence and implementation of decentralisation reforms in Benin, contributing to a deeper understanding of how policymakers discount local policy knowledge.