Dr. Amita Chudgar was the featured presenter at an engaging session of the MPP Speaker Series last Wednesday. Chudgar is an MSU specialist in education policy, particularly in the context of international development. Her open presentation style encouraged participation from our MPP students, who took advantage of the opportunity to ask questions and comment on her ongoing research.
Dr. Chudgar’s work focuses on educational access and attainment in areas facing serious resource constraints. She utilizes both national and cross-national datasets to uncover how different environments and policy factors affect educational participation and achievement outcomes. Her academic training in economics and methods complement her knowledge of policy and social contexts.
Chudgar noted that, over the past two decades, primary school enrollment has risen dramatically around the world. Now that access has been improved, however, communities, teachers, and policymakers must face the challenge of ensuring that children receive quality instruction and attain learning goals. Keeping students enrolled in school as they move on to the secondary level is an additional difficulty.
Many countries lack a sufficient pipeline of students interested in becoming teachers. Chudgar’s research has uncovered several reasons why this is the case. Attempts at solving any of these problems often affect other aspects of the educational environment. For this reason, education policy in the developing world is a complex and interesting field of research.
A recent project funded by UNICEF examined the demographics of those who teach the most marginalized students. As in other studies, Chudgar and her fellow researchers found that experience level among other factors is important in understanding teacher distribution.
In many countries, younger teachers are assigned to more rural or less desirable locations. As they gain experience and expertise, they transfer to more attractive positions. This leaves many marginalized students with the least experienced instructors. Many promising students are discouraged from becoming teachers and are instead pushed to enter other fields. Some countries, Chudgar explained, have reduced requirements for becoming a teacher in order to address shortages, but the tradeoff is that educational quality may suffer.
MPP students added to this discussion by sharing their own experiences with teaching and learning in North America, Europe, and Africa. Questions were raised about the role of technology in improving educational outcomes. This is connected to tendencies to package education in a uniform manner in hopes of more efficient delivery. Chudgar noted that this may raise ethical and pedagogical issues.
One research note that students can take away from Chudgar’s presentation is the availability of large-scale databases that can be used to examine interesting policy questions. Making good use of existing data, often in the public domain, has been an important component of several of her recent projects.
Chudgar’s research brings to mind the fundamental policy question of balancing cost efficiency, equity, and quality. She believes that research can inform policy and that research on educational policy should also be responsive to ongoing policy debates and questions.
Dr. Chudgar is currently teaching a course on Economics of Education. This course focuses on American domestic issues and shows how economic tools can inform education. She encouraged first-year MPP students to consider taking this class next spring and to explore other special topics courses in MSU’s renowned Education Policy PhD program.