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Comparing Post-Socialist Transformations
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Oxford Studies in Comparative Education

Comparing Post-Socialist Transformations

purposes, policies, and practices in education


2018 paperback 206 pages, £38.00, ISBN 978-1-910744-03-1

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About the book

This volume revisits the book edited by David Phillips and Michael Kaser in 1992, entitled Education and Economic Change in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union ( Two and a half decades later, this volume reflects on how post-socialist countries have engaged with what Phillips & Kaser called ‘the flush of educational freedom’. Spanning diverse geopolitical settings that range from Southeast and Central Europe to the Caucasus and Central Asia, the chapters in this volume offer analyses of education policies and practices that the countries in this region have pursued since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

   This book explores three interrelated questions. First, it seeks to capture complex reconfigurations of education purposes during post-socialist transformations, noting the emergence of neoliberal education imaginaries in post-socialist spaces and their effects on policy discussions about education quality and equity across the region. Second, it examines the ongoing tensions inherent in post-socialist transformations, suggesting that beneath the surface of dominant neoliberal narratives there are always powerful countercurrents – ranging from the persisting socialist legacies to other alternative conceptualizations of education futures – highlighting the diverse trajectories of post-socialist education transformations. And finally, the book engages with the question of ‘comparison’, prompting both the contributing authors and readers to reflect on how research on post-socialist education transformations can contribute to rethinking comparative methods in education across space and time.

Contents [Please click on author name for summary]

Maia Chankseliani, Iveta Silova Reconfiguring Education Purposes, Policies and Practices during Post-socialist Transformations: setting the stage, 7-25

Elena Minina, Nelli Piattoeva, Vera G. Centeno, Xingguo Zhou, Helena Hinke Dobrochinski Candido Transnational Policy Borrowing and National Interpretations of Educational Quality in Russia, China and Brazil, 27-44

Sanja Djerasimovic Constructing the European Citizen: the origins and the development of the Serbian post-2000 civic education discourse, 45-62

Simon Janashia Introduction of the Per Capita Funding Model of Finance in the Post-Soviet Countries: the cases of Latvia and Georgia, 63-83

Tatiana Khavenson Post-socialist Transformations, Everyday School Life and Country Performance in PISA: analysis of curriculum education reform in Latvia and Estonia, 85-103

Mihaylo Milovanovitch, Kate Lapham Good Intentions Cast Long Shadows: donors, governments and education reform in Armenia and Ukraine, 105-125

Merli Tamtik, Emma Sabzalieva Emerging Global Players? Building International Legitimacy in Universities in Estonia and Kazakhstan, 127-145

Bridget A. Goodman, Laura Karabassova Bottom Up and Top Down: comparing language-in-education policy in Ukraine and Kazakhstan, 147-166

Garine Palandjian, Iveta Silova, Olga Mun, Rakhat Zholdoshalieva Nation and Gender in Post-socialist Education Transformations: comparing early literacy textbooks in Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Latvia, 167-192

Iveta Silova Comparing Post-socialist Transformations: dead ends, new pathways and unexpected openings, 193-206

Notes on Contributors, 201-206

Reconfiguring Education Purposes, Policies and Practices during Post-socialist Transformations: setting the stage
Maia Chankseliani, Iveta Silova


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Transnational Policy Borrowing and National Interpretations of Educational Quality in Russia, China and Brazil
Elena Minina, Nelli Piattoeva, Vera G. Centeno, Xingguo Zhou, Helena Hinke Dobrochinski Candido

Quality has emerged as an essential element of the common language of education, both as a means of problematising education and as a solution to diverse problems at grassroots level. This three-case comparative study explores how the apparent global consensus on the centrality of quality as a measurable attribute of education systems and as a legitimate purpose of and justification for education reforms manifests itself in Brazil, China and Russia. The analysis explores the extent to which educational quality complies with the global quality script, how national re-conceptualisations of quality exhibit links to transnational educational agendas through educational discourses and policies and how the global is recontextualised and reinterpreted in domestic contexts. Analysis of the three cases reveals a common assumption of quality as a quantifiable and measurable attribute of the education system that is best examined through national and international standardised tests of learning achievements. Standardised testing is seen as both a way to identify quality and as a central instrument of quality improvement. At the same time, comparison of the three cases reveals interesting differences in the way the quality paradigm has been adopted locally.

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Constructing the European Citizen: the origins and the development of the Serbian post-2000 civic education discourse
Sanja Djerasimovic

Twenty-five years ago, the European Union (EU) and the idea(l) of ‘Europeanness’ served as relatively fixed elements of the narrative of ‘return’ that directed most of the post-communist countries’ reforms. In the contemporary context of the former’s renegotiation, this chapter examines the discourse of citizenship as constructed in the civic education policies at the opposite ends of the ‘common’ European space – in Serbia, an EU candidate country, and one of the handful of formerly communist states not to have yet formally ‘returned’ to Europe, and in England at the dawn of Brexit. The analysis reflects on the normative qualities of the late transition of Serbia’s educational system, which began with the introduction of civic education in 2001, as well as on the international and transnational nature of educational policymaking in the European educational space in the twenty-first century, as the author queries the meaning and productivity of the ‘transfer of discourse’ approach to the comparative study of education policies. The findings identify shared key concepts and various points of divergence and convergence in the two countries’ substantive construction of civic education discourses, without, however, suggesting the direct transfer of discourse mechanisms. The chapter finally argues for a complication of global/local, East/West and similar polarities in the conceptualisation and methodology of educational policy research in the present context of dissolution of erstwhile rarely examined analytical categories.

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Introduction of the Per Capita Funding Model of Finance in the Post-Soviet Countries: the cases of Latvia and Georgia
Simon Janashia

This chapter provides a gateway to understanding some rationales and policy adoption strategies of policy actors in the post-Soviet space. Georgia and Latvia have introduced a similar approach of calculating general education finances on a per capita basis. However, nuanced examination of this development shows that as the policy problems differed in these countries, so did the implementation of policy solutions. In Georgia, per capita funding was an integral part of the large-scale education reform package that promised an increase in the transparency, effectiveness and fair distribution of funds through introduction of a market-based school funding system. In Latvia, the introduction of the per capita funding system served more a ceremonial purpose to secure international donor funding during a time of crisis. Both countries used the strategies of externalisation of the arguments, drawing upon success stories from abroad. However, both countries also constructed internal arguments drawing upon the negative conception of the Soviet legacy in education.

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Post-socialist Transformations, Everyday School Life and Country Performance in PISA: analysis of curriculum education reform in Latvia and Estonia
Tatiana Khavenson

Using a natural experiment situation, this chapter describes the process of curriculum reform in Russian-medium schools in Latvia and Estonia. The research question focuses on whether those curriculum reforms were successful from the perspective of schools’ interiorisation of new curriculum and PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) performance improvement. Using the three-layered curriculum approach (intended, implemented and attained curriculum), this chapter analyses how the intentions of the laws and other reform-related documents were implemented in everyday school practice and are reflected in attained educational results. To address this issue, a series of in-depth interviews in Russian-medium schools, in conjunction with the PISA 2003 2012 trends analysis, were conducted. The results showed that intended and attained curricula have grown closer in both countries. Schools actively implement proposed reforms in teaching, and PISA performance has been constantly improving, showing that the attained curriculum is approaching what was intended, though this process is different in the two countries.

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Good Intentions Cast Long Shadows: donors, governments and education reform in Armenia and Ukraine
Mihaylo Milovanovitch, Kate Lapham

Using the examples of Armenia and Ukraine, this chapter explores potential connections between reform programmes initiated in the 1990s, particularly those adopted by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, and the roots of corruption in education. The research follows a novel approach to corruption in education which addresses system-level problems, while putting people, their context, and expectations at the core of the analysis and suggested policy solutions. The chapter illustrates the existence of links between the good intentions of yesterday’s reform programmes and the disruptions in education of today, which participants in education address through ‘shadow’ solutions and problematic practices that help them bring outcomes and expectations closer together, despite fewer resources and less stability. The focus is on the origins and context of corrosive practices, and on establishing causality between them and the donor-driven education reform programmes of the 1990s. The chapter is based on secondary analysis of evidence gathered in assessments of education system integrity in Armenia and Ukraine, carried out in the period 2014 2016 by the Open Society Foundations (OSF), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the Center for Applied Policy and Integrity (Bulgaria).

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Emerging Global Players? Building International Legitimacy in Universities in Estonia and Kazakhstan
Merli Tamtik, Emma Sabzalieva

This chapter compares Estonia and Kazakhstan and their flagship universities – the University of Tartu in Estonia and Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan – as they seek to build international legitimacy. Using a qualitative research methodology, the chapter investigates the patterns and divergences in international legitimacy-building processes in the post-socialist space. The chapter also examines the nature of the relationship between the university and the state in this quest for global standing. The analysis reveals that international legitimacy-building processes are driven primarily by national governments with institutional-level support, although in Estonia these processes are also impacted and developed further by higher education institutions. The cases of Estonia and Kazakhstan demonstrate that even with strong government support and institutional alignment to national goals, international legitimacy building is not easily achieved. Having chosen to adopt the dominant notion of the knowledge economy, the challenge now for the University of Tartu and Nazarbayev University, as well as for Estonia and Kazakhstan, is to find a niche that allows them to emerge and flourish as global players on their own terms.

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Bottom Up and Top Down: comparing language-in-education policy in Ukraine and Kazakhstan
Bridget A. Goodman, Laura Karabassova

Scholars have written about the contentious and conflicted relationship between Russian and the state language in the Soviet republics during Soviet times. Since gaining independence from the Soviet Union, the state language in post-Soviet countries has taken on greater importance as a language of ethnic identity and nation building, although Russian has remained the de facto language of power and prestige in multiple spheres, including education. With the rise of globalisation and neoliberalism, English is playing an increasingly important role as a desired and necessary language for science and international communication, and integration into the global community. To shed light on how post-Soviet nations manage language policy and language practice in this new era, this chapter compares language-in-education policy of the titular language, Russian, and English in two post-Soviet countries, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. The analysis of policy and practice around three languages shows that despite both countries declaring independence in 1991, Ukraine and Kazakhstan have implemented different approaches to language in language-in-education policy, which reflects the diversity of power and policy transformations in post-Soviet countries.

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Nation and Gender in Post-socialist Education Transformations: comparing early literacy textbooks in Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Latvia
Garine Palandjian, Iveta Silova, Olga Mun, Rakhat Zholdoshalieva

Post-socialist transformation processes have been accompanied by gendered nationalism, deeming women unqualified to participate in the new nation-building projects. In this context, women have been relegated to private and home spaces, where their main roles have been associated with reproducing their families and nations. Yet, as the authors argue in this chapter, this private space – linking women to home and nature, while associating men with the public sphere and culture – is not always exclusionary but is also full of disruptions of modern gender dynamics. By focusing on analysis of early literacy textbooks in Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Latvia – through the lens of feminist critical discourse analysis – this chapter aims to show how textbooks produced in the post-socialist periods simultaneously reinforce and challenge gendered norms and how they (re)shape domestic, private spaces allotted to women to construct identities outside of gendered rhetoric. By directly linking the analysis of gender, nation and nature, as well as the intersections among the three, this chapter reveals how early literacy textbooks produce an ambivalent and ambiguous narrative of post-socialist nation and gender, reflecting multi-layered and sometimes contradictory histories of these nations.

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Comparing Post-socialist Transformations: dead ends, new pathways and unexpected openings
Iveta Silova


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Notes on Contributors

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Helena Hinke Dobrochinski Candido holds a doctoral degree in political sociology from the Federal University of Santa Catarina, Brazil, and a master’s degree in regional development from the Regional University of Blumenau, Brazil. She works as a research fellow at the University of Tampere, Finland and pursues a PhD in school, education, society and culture at the University of Helsinki, Finland. She develops research in education and politics, employing both quantitative and qualitative approaches. Her research interests include education politics, transnational dynamics in education, quality and evaluation in education, political interactions, sociology of education, education inequality, educational trajectories, and youth. She has published in Brazilian and international journals.

Vera Gorodski Centeno is a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Tampere, Finland. She holds a doctoral degree in comparative education from the Humboldt-University, Berlin. In her previous research, she has explored international educational discourses and transnational policy-making. She has recently focused on the complexities of early OECD educational agendas, and investigated agenda-setting and knowledge production within the organisation. Currently, her research centres on the impact of national and international large-scale assessments on education policies and practices. She has conducted research in and about Brazil, Canada, France and Portugal, and her work is published in English, French and Portuguese. Her main research interests are: educational bi/multilateralism, educational transfer and governance, the global–local nexus in education, international organisations’ educational agendas, quality-in-education and performance measurement policies.

Maia Chankseliani is Associate Professor of Comparative and International Education at the Department of Education and a fellow of St Edmund Hall, University of Oxford. She leads a flagship master’s course at the Department of Education – the MSc in Comparative and International Education. She is interested in the role of education and training in inclusive economic growth and well-being for all; this includes but is not limited to the study of equal access to quality education and training, the internationalisation of higher education and student mobility, and the development of excellence in vocational education/apprenticeships.

Sanja Djerasimovic is an Impact Research Fellow at the University of Exeter, where she studies the meanings, and the conditions of materialisation, of the impact of humanities and social science research, and the changing nature of knowledge production and valuation in the UK HE sector in recent years. She holds a DPhil in Education from the University of Oxford, where she held a teaching and research post before moving to Exeter. She has researched citizenship education, policy-making and educational reform narratives in the post-communist context, moving more recently towards higher education policy and academic practice and identity. Her overarching research interests are in the spheres of educational policy, governance and the use of discourse theory in educational research.

Bridget Goodman is assistant professor and director of the MA in Multilingual Education Program at Nazarbayev University Graduate School of Education, Astana, Kazakhstan. She has a PhD in educational linguistics from the University of Pennsylvania, USA. Her research, teaching and supervision interests include: language planning and policy, medium of instruction policy and practice, and skills transfer among languages in post-socialist contexts. She has been published in Language and Education, The International Journal of Pedagogies and Learning, the book Translanguaging in Higher Education and Anthropology & Education Quarterly.

Simon Janashia holds a doctoral degree from Teachers College, Columbia University and an MA from Harvard Graduate School of Education. He works internationally to advise on matters of curriculum, resource development and education governance. Until recently he served as an assistant professor at Ilia State University, Tbilisi, Georgia. At Ilia State, he led changes in the curriculum of the education department. Under his leadership a new MA programme in education administration has been established. In 2004 2009 he served as a member of a team leading an education reform project under the Ministry of Education and Science, Georgia. During these years he headed the National Curriculum and Assessment Center and led the development of the new curriculum, textbook development schemes, teacher professional development policies and student assessment instruments. His primary research interest is the education policy adoption process in post-Soviet countries.

Laura Karabassova has a PhD in Education from the Graduate School of Education (GSE), Nazarbayev University, Kazakhstan. She holds an MA in educational leadership and management from the University of Warwick, UK. Before joining the doctoral programme, she worked as a trilingual education specialist at AEO ‘Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools’. Laura has participated in the development of the ‘Roadmap of Trilingual Education Policy in the Republic of Kazakhstan’ (2013 2014) and in a large-scale research project on trilingual education implementation in Kazakhstan (2016). She also conducts content and language integrated learning (CLIL) training for secondary school teachers in Kazakhstan. She is co-author of the book Teaching in Three Languages: international experience and recommendations for Kazakhstan (IAC, 2017). Her current work involves the administration of extensive training programmes for Kazakhstan secondary school STEM teachers within the implementation of the trilingual education policy.

Tatiana Khavenson is a Research Associate at the Institute of Education, National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow. She specialises in factors influencing student performance in school, with a focus on inequality in education. She serves as a lead investigator on two projects that examine the case of resilience of high-performing students with low socio-economic status and the relative role of academic achievement and social class in social mobility, including the social structures that influence student educational trajectories. In addition, Tatiana conducts research on post-Soviet Russian education and educational policy vis-à-vis national and international test results. Her recent publications have appeared in Compare: a journal of comparative and international education, the American Educational Research Journal and the Oxford Review of Education.

Kate Lapham is deputy director with the Education Support Program of the Open Society Foundations. Her work is focused on overcoming barriers to education for communities facing exclusion from or discrimination within schooling. She is also a PhD candidate in comparative and international education at Lehigh University with publications that include Learning to See Invisible Children: inclusion of children with disabilities in Central Asia. She holds an MPA from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and a BS in foreign service from Georgetown University.

Mihaylo Milovanovitch is senior policy specialist with the European Training Foundation, Italy and a pro-bono affiliate and integrity expert of the Center for Applied Policy and Integrity, Bulgaria. He researches and publishes on education policy, corruption prevention, and integrity in education and has authored and co-authored reviews and thematic analyses on these and related themes in countries of Central Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the MENA region. Previously, he was a network fellow at the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at the Harvard School of Law, policy analyst with the Directorate for Education and Skills of the OECD, and co-ordinator for education and youth for the Stability Pact for South East Europe.

Elena Minina is Associate Professor with the Institute of Education, Higher School of Economics–Moscow, specialising in international comparative education. She serves as chief investigator of the multinational research project ‘Twenty-five Years of Transition: dynamics, influences, and outcomes of secondary school transformation in post-Soviet countries’. She holds a DPhil from the University of Oxford following doctoral research on cultural variations in neoliberal modernisation reform. She has previously worked and conducted research at a number of world-class educational institutions, including Oxford University, the University of California-Berkeley, the European University – St Petersburg, and Aleksanteri Institute-Helsinki. She has also conducted fieldwork in various cross-cultural environments, including Russia, the USA, the UK and sub-Saharan Africa. Prior to her academic work, she served as Education Adviser with the American Councils for International Education, designing and administering US Department of State–sponsored academic programmes.

Olga Mun is a Teaching Fellow at University College London Institute of Education (UCL IOE), United Kingdom. She has a BA in International Relations (Summa Cum Laude) from KIMEP University, an MA in Comparative and International Education from Lehigh University, and an MA in Nationalism (with distinction) from Central European University. Prior joining the UCL IOE, she completed an Erasmus+ Traineeship at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge. Her research examines the relationship between the migration and education of non-citizen (migrant, asylum-seeking and refugee) and minoritised youth in Europe and Central Asia. At present she serves as an Emerging Scholar Co-Chair at the Eurasia Special Interest Group (SIG) at the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) and teaches Central Asian Politics at Oxford Brookes University in Oxford, UK.

Garine Palandjian is a PhD student in educational policy and evaluation at Arizona State University. She was employed at the American University of Armenia between 2013 and 2017, where she set up the Center for Student Success and student support services. She received an IREX individual advanced research opportunity (IARO) fellowship in autumn 2012 to conduct fieldwork as part of her research on peace education in Armenia. Her master’s degree in comparative and international education focused on Armenian national identity in Soviet and post-Soviet Armenia. While at Lehigh, she conducted an internship at the United Nations Department of Public Information and NGO Relations in New York for seven months. Prior to Lehigh, she received her undergraduate degree in elementary education and went on to teach for several years in California.

Nelli Piattoeva holds a doctoral degree in educational sciences from the University of Tampere, Finland, where she currently works as an Associate Professor with the New Social Research Programme. Her research has previously focused on citizenship education policies in Russia, Finland and a number of large international organisations, and has recently shifted to studying performance measurement and the politics of educational evaluation in various national and supranational contexts. She is interested in the socio-material practices of numerical data production, and the political work done to, with and in the name of numbers. Her latest publications have appeared in the European Educational Research Journal, Comparative Education Review and the Journal of Education Policy.

Emma Sabzalieva is a doctoral candidate at the Centre for the Study of Canadian and International Higher Education (CIHE), University of Toronto. Her core research interests are the politics of higher education and social change in contemporary Central Asia. Her wider research interests in higher education include ideas and knowledge creation, public policy, university/community engagement, and the history of universities. Her publications include peer-reviewed journal articles, book chapters, essays and opinion pieces, as well as, a blog dedicated to education, politics and society in Central Asia. Her blog was named one of the best social media accounts for academics by the Guardian in 2016. Prior to joining CIHE in 2015, Emma Sabzalieva pursued a successful career as a university administrator in Central Asia and the UK. She is co-author of the book Managing Your Career in Higher Education Administration (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), a Times Higher Education book of the year.

Iveta Silova is Professor and Director of the Center for Advanced Studies in Global Education at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University. She holds a PhD in comparative education and political sociology from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Columbia University, USA. Her research focuses on the study of globalisation and post-socialist education transformations, including intersections between post-colonialism and post-socialism after the Cold War. Since 2008, she has served as a co-editor (with Noah W. Sobe) of the quarterly, peer-reviewed journal European Education: issues and studies (Taylor & Francis).

Merli Tamtik is an assistant professor (educational administration) in the Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba. Her research interests are in multi-level governance systems, internationalisation of (higher) education and education policy. She was a recipient of a two-year SSHRC postdoctoral research grant for a project that examined policy coordination issues in Canadian innovation policy. In 2014 Dr Tamtik received a graduate policy research challenge award from the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities for her PhD research. Her current research examines K-12 international student experiences in Manitoba. She is published in international peer-reviewed journals such as the Journal of Studies in International Education, Science and Public Policy, Review of Policy Research, Higher Education and others. She serves as a board member of the Canadian Society of Studies in Higher Education (CSSHE) and as a track chair for internationalisation of higher education, CSSHE.

Rakhat Zholdoshalieva is a coordinator of the youth and adult literacy and basic skills programme at the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning, Germany. She holds a doctoral degree in social justice education from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto (Canada), a master’s degree in teacher education from the Aga Khan University (Pakistan) and a bachelor’s degree in teaching foreign languages from Osh State University (Kyrgyzstan). Her doctoral thesis, ‘Rural Youth within Changing Education, Formal Labour Market and Informal Economic Conditions during the Post-Soviet Transition Period in the Kyrgyz Republic’, won the dissertation of the year award of the Special Interest Group on Rural Education of the American Education Research Association in 2016. She researches issues concerning the impact of the complex intersections of rural–urban, social class, gender and ethnicity on shaping young people’s life chances, especially their experiences of precarious migrant and worker positions at the margins of the global political economy, and gendered citizenship identities in the post-socialist nation-state-building process. Her life, school and research work experiences in different countries – Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Canada – have also informed her scholarly work and have resulted in her contributions in this regard in the areas of gendered schooling, youth citizenship, teacher education and adult learning.

Xingguo Zhou is a PhD candidate in the Department of Education, University of Turku, Finland. She graduated from Xiamen University, Fujian, China. She worked as a lecturer at Minjiang University, Fujian, before starting her PhD research. She is currently a full-time project researcher in the international comparative project entitled ‘Transnational Dynamics of Quality Assurance and Evaluation Politics of Brazil, Russia and China’. Her academic interests focus on the practices and policies of quality evaluation and assessment, transformation of educational politics and political discourse.

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