Angela W. Little (1949 - )

Little Angela W.

Short Biography & Significant Contribution

Angela W Little has been Professor of Education and International Development at the Institute of Education, University of London ( since 1987. She was previously a Fellow of the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex. Born on the Isle on Man in 1949 and educated there to secondary level, she left the island to attend the Universities of Surrey, London and Sussex and to teach at primary level in the UK and secondary level in Nigeria. Since 1982 Little has worked periodically as an educational planner at various administrative levels in Sri Lanka. Throughout her career she has combined academic, professional and practical work including collaboration with many bi-lateral and multi-national agencies and with a wide range of national education ministries.

She is the author and/or editor of ten books, countless journal articles, book chapters and reports. She has been guest editor of four special journal issues and both writer and director of two films - The Diploma Disease (with Ronald Dore, released 1982) and The Qualification Chase (BBC, 1996)). Little's research portfolio has included the directorship of eleven comparative research projects in countries across Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America. She has successfully supervised 25 research students and is currently responsible for a further 12. (Current research sites may be viewed at MultigradeCreate-RPC, and Lifelong Education and International Development.

Little is very well known in the field of international and comparative education, not least for her incisive approach to agency and actor perspectives, which questions conventional behavioural assumptions in the social sciences used in analysing the processes of policy formulation and implementation, particularly at the levels of international agenda-setting and national 'adoption'. The approach is perhaps best illustrated in her extensive body of work around 'Education for All'; a goal in whose pursuit Little has invested considerable intellectual and professional endeavour.

Little adopts an inter-disciplinary perspective, drawing concepts from Development Studies, Social Psychology, Economics and Sociology yet rooted in observation, experience and insight at the grass roots level. Her causal analyses emphasise and privilege agency alongside structure, resisting an approach implicit in much comparative work which subordinates the personal, local and national to the universal and global and assumes North-South conceptual transferability, paying little attention to context. Little prefers to view the interactions in the process of learning from the perspective of the learner and those in the process of development from the perspective of the actors and structural forces at the local and national levels. Her inaugural professorial lecture Learning from Developing Countries (1988) encapsulates the key tenets of her approach and remains both an influential contribution to the field and a key frame of reference for her own work.

In Beyond Jomtien , Little presents a range of initiatives from the 1970s and 80s which pre-dated Jomtien, reminding followers of educational development that donor-led initiatives are only part of the EFA story. Labouring to Learn combines historical perspective with the seldom heard voice of Indian Plantation Tamils in Sri Lanka, unravelling their long and painstaking road to universal educational access over a period of a century and a half. Education for All and Multigrade Teaching: challenges and opportunitiestraces the development of the current form and universal ideal of monograded teaching and argues that the de facto form of schooling for millions of learners and their teachers worldwide continues to be multigraded. She argues that the EFA movement alongside national governments have ignored and continue to neglect this reality and presses for a radical reorientation of curriculum development and teacher education in recognition of multigrade and in pursuit of EFA.

Little challenges assumptions in Human Capital Theory about education and productivity and about motivations for education and learning in her studies of learners and workers in Sri Lanka, Mexico, Ghana and Malaysia. She interrogates approaches to academic success and failure from across the social sciences, setting them against notions held by learners in a comparative study in the UK and Sri Lanka. Her work on motivation theory challenges the relationships assumed by the Diploma Disease thesis between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Little's work on globalisation on education questions the neo-liberal orthodoxy and addresses the neglected but central role of context in the determination of costs and benefits by way of case studies covering China, India, Kenya and Sri Lanka.

Educational Background

B.Sc. (1st Class Hons.), University of Surrey, UK (1971)

Postgraduate Certificate of Education, Goldsmiths College, London University, UK (1974)

D.Phil. Sussex University, UK (1982)

Professional Background

Teacher of Mathematics and Science, Muslim Girls High School, Ijebu-ode, Nigeria (1971-1972)

Research Officer, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, (1973-1982)

Fellow, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex (1982-1987)

Chair/Professor of Education (with reference to Developing Countries). (Chair renamed Education and International Development in 2006), Institute of Education, University of London, (1987 to present)

UK government-appointed Commissioner of the Commonwealth Scholarships Commission (1987-1995)

Co-director of the International Centre for Research on Assessment, Institute of Education, University of London (1990-2000)

Pro-Director (International) Institute of Education, University of London, (2003-2004)

Lead consultant on educational planning and educational research in Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh for DFID and the British Council (various assignments 1983 - present)

Founding member of the London International Development Centre strategy group (2007 to present)

Member of editorial and advisory boards Comparative Education (1988 to present); International Journal of Educational Development(1989 to present); Assessment in Education (1993 - 2002); Journal of Educational Administration and Planning (1998 - present) andCaribbean Journal of Education (2003 to present)

Affiliations (associations, organizations, institutions)

President of the British Comparative and International Education Society (1987-1988)

President of the British Association of International and Comparative Education Society (2001-2002)

Academician of the Academy of Social Sciences (2004 to present)

UK Forum for International Education and Training (UKFIET) elected trustee (2007 to present)

Honorary Professorships/Fellowships are held at East China Normal University, Shanghai; Hangzhou University/University of Zhejiang; Flinders University, Adelaide; and the University of Sussex.

Selected Publications

Education for All and Multigrade Teaching: challenges and opportunities, Springer, Dordrecht (sole editor and contributor), 2006Education and Development in a Global Era: successful strategies for globalisation (with A. Green, S. Kamat, M. Oketch, E.Vickers), DFID, Researching the Issues no 69, London (co-editor with Andy Green and contributor), 2007 Click link to read 

Education for All: Policy and planning lessons from Sri Lanka, Researching the Issues, no 46, DFID, London Click link to read 

Primary Education Reform in Sri Lanka, Isurupaya, Ministry of Education and Higher Education Publications Department (sole editor and contributor), 2002 (Sinhala and Tamil editions published in 2003)

Labouring to Learn: towards a political economy of education and plantations in Sri Lanka, Basingstoke, Macmillan Press (English edition), 1999 (Sinhala and Tamil editions published by the Social Scientist's Association of Sri Lanka in 2002)

Education, Cultures and Economics: dilemmas for development, New York and London: Falmer Press, (co-editor with Fiona Leach and contributor), 1999

Assessment in Transition: Learning, Monitoring and Selection in International Perspective, Pergamon, Oxford (co-editor with Alison Wolf and contributor), 1996

Educational Innovation in China: tracing the impact of the 1985 Reform (with K M Lewin, Xu Hui and Zheng Ji Wei), Longman, 1994

Beyond Jomtien: Implementing Primary Education for All (co-editor with W, Hoppers and R. Gardner and contributor) Macmillan, 1994

Why do Students Learn? A Six Country Study Student Motivation Institute of Development Studies Research Report, Series Rr17, Sussex (sole editor and contributor), 1987

Journal articles and monographs

'Motivating Learning and the Development of Human Capital', Compare, Vol 33, no 4, 437-452, 2003

'Development Studies and Comparative Education: context, content, comparison and contributors', Special number Comparative Education for the twenty first century, Comparative Education, Vol 36, No 3, 2000

'Learning and Working: elements of the Diploma Disease thesis examined in England and Malaysia' (with J Sarjit Singh) Comparative Education Vol 28, pp 181-200, 1992

Learning from Developing Countries: An Inaugural Lecture Institute of Education, University of London, 1988

'Examination Reform and Educational Change in Sri Lanka, 1972-1982: Modernisation or Dependent Underdevelopment?', Institute of Development Studies Discussion Paper D180, 1982 (available currently in the IDS 'classics' collection)


Created: 3/17/2008

Updated: 3/17/2008

Contributed By: Andy Green, Institute of Education, University of London