Education reform is actually a fairly vague phrase that encompasses a wide variety of activities. Education reform can be defined generally to mean an attempt to systematically change education across a society. More complex are the motivations for change, which span economic, social, and less commonly, pedagogical reasons: managing China’s huge human resource pool, providing more gender equity in India, “learning less to learn more” in Singapore. Many educational reforms are actually attempting to address issues within all of these types of motivations, to greater and lesser degrees, such as NCLB in the US.
Matthew Beatty has posted that he feels that economic competition is a salient factor influencing education reform in the US, and it is not much of a stretch to identify it as an important variable in all of the cultures we have investigated. It seems that there is a fear (to use a classmate's word) of further solidification of the “winners” and “losers” across the globe, or from slipping from being a winner to being a loser. Otherwise, why even attempt reform? It’s expensive, politically dangerous, and no reform system we have studied has performed to the desired level. There are always blind spots, weaknesses, and reversals. India’s educational institutions, Jayaram argued, actively resisted education reform efforts.
Somehow, polities decide that the system that brought them to where they are (and for individuals in decision-making positions, brought them far) is not good enough for their children. The world looks like a significantly different place than even 20 years ago. Individuals, work groups, companies, and industries must be ready just to keep up. What is unclear is how to be ready. India has made great gains, but in a specific skill set in a specific industry, which makes it vulnerable to change. China still has a vast underserved hinterland and very serious resource degradation problems. Qatar and Kuwait rest on their petroleum-based economies and may take themselves out of the “race” entirely. The US cannot work out issues of equitable distribution or the balance between strong central leadership, states’ rights and individualism.
The very technology that is driving economic competition and therefore much of education reform across the world also provides access to best practices, methodologies, research, examples of failure, and a common community for the concomitant conversations. Ultimately, education is a fundamental human right, according to signatories of the United Nations' International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Article 13). That is a good enough reason by itself to continue to struggle through the process.