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Key Issues in Educational Development
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Oxford Studies in Comparative Education

Key Issues in Educational Development


1993 paperback 168 pages, £24.00, ISBN 978-1-873927-07-6

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About the book

This book considers the schooling of the young and adults in the world’s poorest countries in the light of the World Conference on Education for All held in Jomtien, Thailand.


Terry Allsop & Colin Brock. Introduction

Keith M. Lewin. Defining the Education and Development Agenda: six key issues

Christopher Colclough. Primary Schooling in Developing Countries: the unfinished business

Keith Watson. Changing Emphases in Educational Aid

Nadine K. Cammish. Sons and Daughters: attitudes and issues affecting girls’ education in developing countries

Lalage Bown. Preparing the Future by Changing the Present: women, literacy and development

Laura Rival. State Schools against Forest Life: the impact of formal education on the Huaorani of Amazonian Ecuador

Chris Martin. ‘UPE’ on the Cheap: educational modernisation at school level in Mexico


Seven speakers in a seminar series held at the Department of Educational Studies of the University of Oxford under the aegis of its Centre for Comparative Studies in Education, early in 1993, contribute articles to this volume. They were brought together from a wide variety of backgrounds to consider aspects of educational development in the aftermath of the World Conference on Education for All, held in Jomtien, Thailand in 1990. The first three articles look broadly at the issues of planning, policy and aid for education. The following articles highlight particular issues of importance – the education of girls, literacy for women, language and schooling, urban schooling. The perspectives of economists, anthropologists and others on issues of educational development simply serve to highlight the increasing need for integrated development, with education (of which schooling is just one important dimension) as just one aspect of social policy and development. Only perhaps in respect to pedagogy do we need to consider education as a separate specialism; in this volume it is not our intention to focus on classroom practice, although that too should be an urgent priority for research in low-income countries.

Post-Jomtien, we are seeing a revival of confidence, despite a troubled global economic background, in education as investment both for the individual and for national development. But the revival will be a cautious one, based on hard-won understandings over the last 20 or so years. The alarming differential costs between primary, secondary and tertiary education, where perhaps 20% of educational investment goes to support 2% of the age cohort, are being strongly challenged. The manifest disfunctionality of much secondary and tertiary education is acknowledged. What we do know is that actually being in primary school makes a difference, but that teachers have to be there as well, and that means they have to be able to afford to be there. And we do know that girls who have had a significant amount of access of primary schooling contribute strongly to a range of important changes in society, e.g. better child nutrition, smaller family size.

Allied to this new determination to provide basic schooling for all, is new thinking about the financing of education, particularly for those countries where there is little realistic expectation of internal funding being able to support both quantitative expansion of the system and an investment in raising the quality of provision. Challenging contributions from the World Bank ask for new thinking about how the schooling system may be made more responsive and flexible, and also question seriously the orthodoxy that education financing should be primarily the responsibility of national governments. But it remains less than clear how the poorest rural communities, in the poorest countries, can generate resources sufficient to provision a school which represents more than a parody of a quality learning environment. However, Keith Watson concludes his contribution to this issue with the cautiously optimistic note:

There are glimmers of hope. There has been a reassessment of the working practices of certain key agencies. There is a recognition that development assistance is for a long period, that indigenous administrative and planning capacities need to be developed, and that considerable sums of aid may now be for less glamorous expenditure such as consumer expendables, basic resources and recurrent costs rather than for high profile projects.

The Jomtien report is unambiguous in its championing of the role of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), thus “NGOs shall be part of all formal structures for the implementation of Education for All at all levels ...”. At present NGOs provide around 10% of donor aid to the South, from a bewildering variety of sources. It is clear that, in a number of cases, their operations are more responsive and cost-effective than the grander enterprises. It may be that the very encouragement of NGOs to assume a wider role in implementing education projects and programmes raises the wider question of the role of governments in the provision of education in the South. In Bangladesh, the fact that the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) already runs some 6000 primary schools and has 50,000 as its target, has led some donor agencies to worry that it is in danger of becoming ‘a government within a government’. Even if this were true, would it be a source for worry? The policy question is whether, given the growing gap between the cost of maintaining a national education system and the funds available, governments would do better to concentrate on some particular functions (defining and disseminating an official curriculum, supporting textbook development, running an effective national examinations council, organising an inspectorate to set professional standards) while possibly not ‘running’ schools at all but leaving this to local communities and to a variety of NGOs.

In his wide-ranging opening article, Keith Lewin begins by providing a concise description of the development experiences of the past 30 years in relation to educational provision, and shows how these have been further affected by the enforcement of structural adjustment programmes in many countries in the last 10 years. Against a prevailing paradigm over the 30-year period of government and social commitment to expenditure (and therefore investment) in educational services, the data show an all too frequent decline, against competing pressures, in the proportion of central government expenditure on education, with decreasing expenditure on each pupil and decreasing enrolment ratios, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. The private, family commitment to schooling remains very high, and on this commitment is built the increasingly heard argument that individuals and local communities should be seen to be investing more in the provision of schooling for their children. Lewin provides evidence that structural adjustment programmes have frequently resulted in at least a short-term decline in government expenditure on education, although there has been some protection for the sector with the least loud political voice – primary schooling. In many parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, salary levels of teachers have fallen to such a level that they bear scant relation to the cost of supporting a family; we see the emergence of teachers for whom being in school teaching is a second, or lower, daily priority, with acute consequences for the quality of schooling provided. Yet aid donors are deeply suspicious of involvement in commitments to long-term recurrent expenditure on teachers’ salaries. Lewin then introduces and discusses crucial external factors – population growth, scientific and technological change, environmental degradation, good government and human rights – all areas where major policy options and decisions have immediate and longer-term implications for educational provision in both formal and informal sectors. Just the notion that, to provide education for all (EFA) in Sub-Saharan Africa with its very high population growth rates, with reasonable teacher–pupil ratios, would require 1 in 40 of the adult population to be teachers, gives food for thought. And the crucial problem of access of scientific and technological knowledge for the poorest countries may be encapsulated in the following quotation:

Greater investment in education can, at this time in African history, be expected to yield broad economic benefits ... The stock of human capital in Africa will determine whether Africans can harness the universal explosion of scientific and technological knowledge for the region’s benefit, or whether Africa will fall farther and farther behind the world’s industrial nations. (World Bank, 1988)

He concludes by offering the first contribution in this volume relating to the education of girls and women, recognising that intrinsically – in terms of equity – and extrinsically – in terms of rates of return through lowering of family size, increased school attendance, improved nutrition – the priority is very compelling.

In the aftermath of the Jomtien Conference, Christopher Colclough looks in his article at the continuing struggle in many countries of the South to provide primary schooling for all their children. He argues that to think in terms of universal primary education (UPE) is inadequate, given the barely hidden factors of low actual attendance figures even in countries purporting to have reached UPE targets, and the quite inadequate quality of schooling provided in many instances. The notion of schooling for all (SFA) is more powerful, if it is defined as

the circumstances of having a school system in which all eligible children are enrolled in schools of at least minimally acceptable quality.

He reports the findings of research with Lewin, first in six brief case studies made in countries with a wide range of economic backgrounds and educational traditions (China, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, Senegal, Ghana and Colombia). The studies do show that, with imaginative and often unconventional approaches, such as double-shift schooling, employment of teaching assistants, multi-grade teaching, reduction of school administrative staff, flexible approaches to curriculum planning, significant improvements can be made in both enrolment and quality. Secondly, a simulation has been developed to model the costs of reaching SFA through a package of reform strategies, some cost-saving, some shifting costs and some quality enhancing. The financial and other difficulties of attaining SFA are very unequally distributed between countries. The starkest problems come in Sub-Saharan Africa, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Even if appropriate reforms are introduced, and educational expenditure is increased in proportion to population growth, around 40 countries will still incur deficits, which are only likely to be met by aid from major donors such as the World Bank. This represents a major challenge to the Bank, which has generally found it difficult to disburse funds for educational development to the most disadvantage; if infrastructure is lacking it is tough to deliver successful projects. Yet the correlation between community poverty and low enrolment in primary school is very high, with particularly devastating consequences for females.

Keith Watson contributes an important analysis of the justifications for, and history of, development aid to education since the end of the Second World War and early Unesco work in literacy. The role of the World Bank since the late 1960s is carefully delineated, through a period where it has internally revolutionised its policies, developing simultaneously an unparalleled research base on education and development, and through which period it has had to develop its own responses to changes such as structural adjustment programmes and the increased pressure of political conditionality on aid disbursement. Such is the Bank’s influence that one writer has written:

Its investment in research surely exceeds that of most African countries and perhaps all of them combined. In some domains – education is a prime example – the World Bank’s development advice may have as much influence on programs and policies as its loans. (Samoff, 1993)

The importance of the World Bank’s own publications, such as Education in Sub-Saharan Africa: policies for adjustment, revitalisation and expansion (1988) and Sub-Saharan Africa: from crisis to sustainable growth (1989), is stressed, as is the Bank’s eventual volte-face on such issues as aid for prevocational and technical education in the school environment only after close to 20 years of careful critique by Foster (1987)! Watson stresses that, in the aftermath of Jomtien, donor agencies will not only be urged to increase their assistance to basic education, which is not in itself straightforward, but also be challenged to think in terms of long-term programmes rather than short-term projects when working with the poorest countries, and to bite the bullet of aiding recurrent expenditures, certainly for consumable equipment and possibly even for teachers’ salaries.

Whereas the first three contributions to this volume are concerned with broad issues and trends in policy and planning for educational development, those comprising the second half derive from specific, field-based research studies, addressing different issues from different methodological perspectives.

Of the four, those by Nadine Cammish and Lalage Bown focus on the fundamental and universal phenomenon of female disadvantage in respect of educational opportunity and experience. Far from being resolved in the industrialised world, this problem is nonetheless most evidently manifest in the countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America, and particularly in the poorer states within these regions which are the recipients of various forms of international aid for educational development. Both of the contributions on gender, education and development derive from fairly recent research commissions undertaken by their authors, the first by Nadine Cammish having been sponsored by the Overseas Development Administration (ODA), the second by Lalage Bown having been conducted on behalf of ACTIONAID. This reflects the concern of both government aid departments and of NGOs to inform their policies and actions with fresh evidence and fresh thinking in relation to what may be the key issue for development.

In her article, Nadine Cammish focusses on a particular aspect of the ODA project which investigated factors affecting female participation in education in six developing countries, the report of which was made public in 1991 (Brock & Cammish, 1991). The researchers were charged with the brief to concentrate on the primary sector of schooling, and while it was necessary to take into account many contextual issues, including the attitudes of parents and teachers and the influence of economic and socio-cultural constraints, the largest single component of the field research was a survey of the attitudes and experiences of students at the upper primary level in respect of the education of girls. While there were variations of outcome between urban and rural, privileged and underprivileged, and between countries, in general the early acceptance by the majority of boys (her findings in relation to the propagation of ingrained prejudices from fathers to sons are particularly chilling) and girls of the status quo, was telling. It illustrated the urgent and widespread nature of the problem, and the need for fundamental shifts of attitude and approach, as yet another generation proceeds to the structured and pressurised experience of adulthood and parenthood.

Lalage Bown’s work is also in part concerned with the damaging misconceptions of the role of women in development and, in particular, the nature and purpose of programmes of literacy acquisition and enhancement in relation to rural women. She provides a sharp critical analysis of a number of fields of contextual significance for the enhancement of meaningful literacy acquisition, including: the whole approach to development as the delivery of services; the assumptions of the ‘education for all’ movement; the established approaches of many literacy programmes; and the approach to gender as an issue in the development debate. The concerns she expresses on all of these fronts are amply justified by the outcomes of her field research, which show conclusively that women, and especially rural women, are at the heart of any prospects for significant development, but that this depends crucially on the nature and purpose of literacy schemes. Acquisition of skills, functional or otherwise, is not enough; there needs to be widespread recognition of the underlying significance for women of the acquisition of literacy in terms of individual, personal development. This must incorporate the enhancement of self-esteem and show the importance of this in the empowerment objective (who participates in decisions about development?).

Laura Rival’s paper is a narrative based on 18 months of living and working with one of many previously hunting and gathering communities in a state of transition to sedentary cultivation and integration into citizenship in Ecuador, itself a country with strong traditions of educational participation. In Ecuador schooling lies at the heart of the modernisation process. The acquisition of a primary school literally puts a Huaorani village ‘on the map’ and upgrades the official status of parents to that of voting citizens with a documented identity. Inevitably a tension is involved between those associated with the school and those who are not: between schooled and unschooled. She describes how the symbolism of schooling is pervasive of the total lifestyle, with the schoolroom itself becoming the symbolic centre of the village. As the Huaorani language is unwritten and not materially significant in the traditional economy, attempts to enhance vernacular literacy and the preservation, even enhancement, of indigenous culture tend to create parodies of that culture. Indeed, formal schooling de-skills children with regard to knowledge of the forest environment. Many new problems have been created, dislocating both ecological and social relationships, and Rival concludes that new forms of learning that will do justice to the cultural knowledge of the Huaorani, and similar groups elsewhere, are urgently required. At present it seems that, where a government is determined to develop schools, and schools appear as the most powerful way of sedentarising people, there can only be one winner.

Chris Martin, like Laura Rival, approaches the study of educational development from the standpoint and training of the anthropologist. He examines certain aspects of educational operations in Mexico in the light of the Educational Modernisation Agreement (EMA) there. As he points out, educational reform is almost endemic in Mexican schooling and constantly creates tensions in the vital relationships between teachers, parents and pupils. Much of his discussion focusses on the ‘trade-offs’ involved in these relationships; their being the lubricant that makes a complicated, cumulative system operate at all. As with the case of the Huaorani, this study in and around Guadalajara illustrates the essentially cultural and economic context of education, and therefore the need to see this field of human activity from a wider and more integrated perspective than that normally generated by specialist educators. But most of all he has been able to illustrate the key position occupied by teachers in the dynamics of schooling at the point of delivery, especially in a context of massive population increase and the growth of the urban poor – a significant though relatively neglected component of societies in both the North and the South.

It would, of course, have been possible to identify ‘Key Issues in Educational Development’ other than those on which our contributors focussed. Certainly additional case studies from Africa and Asia would have illustrated distinctive problems in particular places. However, we hope and feel that a number of the most important themes have been addressed here, and that at least the notion that educational development can no longer be isolated from contextual issues and contributing disciplines has been well illustrated by the articles that follow.

Terry Allsop & Colin Brock

References Brock, C. & Cammish, N. (1991) Factors Affecting Female Participation in Education in Six Developing Countries, ODA Research Report.

Foster, P.J. (1987) Technical/vocational Education in the Less Developed countries, International Journal of Educational Development, 7, p. 137.

Samoff, J. (1993) The reconstruction of schooling in Africa, Comparative Education Review, 37, p. 181.

World Bank (1988) Education in Sub-Saharan Africa: policies for adjustment, revitalisation and expansion. Washington, DC: World Bank.

World Bank (1989) Sub-Saharan Africa: from crisis to sustainable growth. Washington, DC: World Bank.


Terry Allsop is a Lecturer in the Department of Educational Studies, University of Oxford. Prior to coming to Oxford he worked in science education and teacher education in Uganda and Hong Kong. More recently he has been tutor in charge of the innovative internship initial teacher education course in Oxford. He has carried out teaching and evaluation studies in many low income countries and is currently developing a partnership between the Oxford Department and the newly created Institute for Educational Development in the Aga Khan University, Pakistan.

Lalage Bown is a past president of the British Comparative and International Education Society, read modern history and (later) development studies at Oxford, where she trained in adult education. She spent 30 years in university adult education in Africa, ending as Dean of Education, University of Lagos, and 11 years as Director, Adult and Continuing Education, Glasgow, where she is Professor Emeritus. Currently an honorary professor at the University of Warwick, she holds honorary doctorates from the Open University and the Universities of Paisley and Edinburgh.

Colin Brock is a Research Associate in the Centre for Studies in Comparative Education, Department of Educational Studies, University of Oxford, and is also Chief Education Adviser to UNECIA (Universities of England Consortium for International Activities) and co-Director of the Centre for Global and International Education at the University of York. He has worked in the field of international educational development for over twenty-five years and undertaken assignments in Africa, South and South East Asia, Latin America and the tropical island zones for all the major agencies. A past Chair of the British Comparative and International Education Society, he is also co-Editor of the journal Compare.

Nadine K. Cammish is PGCE (Secondary) Adviser and Modern Languages Tutor in the School of Education, University of Hull, and also teaches in the field of comparative education. Her publications have been mainly in language teaching, language problems in developing countries, and gender issues. Having been French Adviser in the Ministry of Education in the Seychelles, she is particularly interested in the problems of small island states.

Christopher Colclough is a Fellow of the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex. He is an economist, with special interest in development theory, economic planning and adjustment, and human resources issues, on which he has published widely. He is co-author of The Political Economy of Botswana (Oxford University Press), co-editor of States of Markets? Neo-liberalism and the Development Policy Debate (Oxford University Press, 1991) and principal author of Educating All the Children: strategies for primary schooling in the South (Oxford University Press, 1993). He is also Managing Editor (Economics) of the Journal of Development Studies.

Keith Lewin has worked on educational planning, financing and science education in China, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe in the recent past and has undertaken policy studies for a wide range of donor organisations over the last 20 years. He was originally trained as a physicist, and then moved to the Institute of Development Studies before joining the University of Sussex where he currently holds the position of Reader in Education. He was a Round Table presenter at the Jomtien Conference on Education for All and has directed two university exchange programmes with Chinese universities. He is the author of nine books on aspects of education which include Educational Innovation in Developing Countries (Macmillan, 1991), Science Education in Developing Countries (International Institute of Educational Planning, 1992) and Educational Innovation in China (Longman, 1994).

Christopher Martin is a Senior Lecturer in the South Bank University, London, and a Research Fellow of the Michael Harrington Institute of Queens College, City University of New York. His Doctorate from Birkbeck College, University of London, was on education and labour migration in Western Kenya. Most recently he has published anthropological research on the effects at local level of structural readjustment on basic educational provision.

Laura Rival is a lecturer in Social Anthropology at the London School of Economics and Political Science, where she obtained her doctorate in 1992. She also holds a Research Fellowship at Mansfield College, Oxford, in the Oxford Centre for Environment, Ethics and Society. She has published several articles in Spanish on Ecuadorian nationalism and multi-culturalism. She is collaborating with several non-governmental organisation for the development of a bilingual radiophonic educational programme for the Huaorani Indians, and is presently reviewing her doctoral dissertation for publication.

Keith Watson is Professor of Education at the University of Reading and is Director of the Centre for International Studies in Education, Management and Training. He is the author of several books and numerous articles on different aspects of comparative and international education and is the Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Educational Development.

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