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#02 Why are international cooperation organizations so interested in education?

These few slogans promoted by international cooperation organizations emphasize the change that education can bring to individuals and/or societies. This article focuses on the vision of « change » that is adopted by cooperation actors.

The discourse in the recent Incheon Declaration, initiated by major international organizations and focusing on international educational goals by 2030, also indicates this idea of education for change: « Our vision is to transform lives through education, recognizing the important role of education as a main driver of development and in achieving the other proposed SDGs ». The idea of change is associated with the notion of « development »1. However, behind this notion lie many visions. We propose below to present the most common visions of development2.

The first one, the liberal capitalist paradigm, stresses the need to emphasize economic growth in the context of globalization. The strategy is to modernize institutions and economic activities, to change attitudes, and to improve workers’ competences and productivity. This paradigm is located within a very economic-centred vision. Next comes the marxist paradigm, often contrasted with the previous paradigm, which promotes the idea of granting liberty to peoples and individuals in a context of economic exploitation. Particularly for developing countries, the strategy is to break the ties of dependence on the former—sometimes even modern—colonial powers. A third paradigm is postcolonialism, which is mentioned less frequently. The idea is to achieve a different structure of society as perceived by others by dismantling the dominant conceptions of development. It is aimed particularly at former colonial countries. A fourth paradigm, liberal egalitarianism, corresponds to the official vision of the institutions of the United Nations system. Its key concepts are human rights, equality, fundamental freedoms or well-being. The strategy is to establish constitutional guarantees and international obligations in order that these principles are respected. Finally, the last paradigm is radical humanism, which has for vision the transformation of consciousness for the emancipation of the people and the creation of a just society. To achieve this objective, the strategy is to empower individuals and societies, particularly through education or various political initiatives.

It should be made clear that the paradigms we have just presented are, by definition, fixed models lacking flexibility. Indeed, some of these paradigms may overlap: we are thinking particularly of the Marxist and post-colonial models. Furthermore, the features of different paradigms may be identifiable in the development policies in a particular context. Finally, the first paradigm presented—liberal capitalism—is often considered as the dominant development model at the international level. For Morin (2011), « growth is perceived as the most obvious and dependable motor of development, and development as the most obvious and dependable motor of growth. The two terms are at the same time a means and an end of each other »3.

If we simply take three influential organizations in the field of education at the international level, namely the OECD, UNESCO and the World Bank they have shared (to varying degrees) this vision of development for at least three decades, which has implications for education4.

All citizens through learning become more effective participants in democratic, civil and economic processes (OECD, 1997); It is through education that the broadest possible introduction can be provided to the values, skills and knowledge which form the basis of respect for human rights and democratic principles, the rejection of violence and a spirit of tolerance (UNESCO, 1996); Development of specific content in curricula and educational materials to promote acceptance and integration of minorities, and use of minority languages in instruction (World Bank, 2005)

Education to improve economic growth (which should help to lift people out of poverty)

The increasing emphasis on the role in economic growth of people’s knowledge and skills, or ‘human capital’, has helped make education and training more central to the concerns of governments (OECD, 1997); UNESCO plans to study the issues arising from the transition to a knowledge society and to examine its effects on the organization, forms and content of knowledge […]. ICTs represent a strong lever for economic growth (UNESCO, 2002); Only by raising the capacities of its human capital can a country hope to increase productivity and attract the private investment needed to sustain growth in the medium term (World Bank, 2005)

Education as preparation for the job market

How much do various forms of education contribute to people’s employment prospects, to the literacy skills they need in everyday life, or to their prospective earnings? (OECD, 1997); Knowledge-based societies […] where knowledge and information increasingly determine new patterns of growth and wealth creation (UNESCO, 2002); Education must be designed to meet economies’ increasing demands for adaptable workers who can readily acquire new skills rather than for workers with a fixed set of technical skills that are used throughout their working lives (World Bank, 1995)

Education to improve economic growth (which should help to lift people out of poverty)

All citizens through learning become more effective participants in democratic, civil and economic processes (OECD, 1997); It is through education that the broadest possible introduction can be provided to the values, skills and knowledge which form the basis of respect for human rights and democratic principles, the rejection of violence and a spirit of tolerance (UNESCO, 1996); Development of specific content in curricula and educational materials to promote acceptance and integration of minorities, and use of minority languages in instruction (World Bank, 2005)

Even for UNESCO, which is often described as defending a humanistic vision, its positioning actually falters between progressive and economically-centred conceptions of development, blurring its expectations for education.

In the context of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) actively involving the three organizations, there is a tendency to broaden the vision of development by taking additional social or environmental aspects into account. However, the economy is key, even when it would seem that social aspects have been taken into consideration. The importance of education for economic growth and for acquiring the skills needed for the labor market has not disappeared. To give an example that concerns a large number of international cooperation institutions (see video below), 𝙜𝙞𝙧𝙡𝙨’ education is too often utilitarian (= gender inequalities will improve on their own as women become economic partners in development). A little limited, no? It is very rare to see in the discourse of cooperation agencies the desire to tackle in depth the roots of gender disparities.

Thus, many contradictions need to be highlighted in the discourse of international organizations: for instance, they wish to reverse the ecological model while promoting economic models that are destructive for the planet and societies (as recognised by UNESCO in its recent Rethinking Education report5). It is therefore crucial to step back from the ambitions of international cooperation: what world do we want through education? Should it not explicitly promote a humanistic education whose aim is the well-being of individuals and societies rather than a predominantly instrumental education whose main aim is economic production and consumerism?

IN ANY CASE, WE MUST BE WARY OF SLOGANS AND LOOK IN DETAIL AT THE PRECISE ORIENTATIONS OF INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION IN EDUCATION. WE WILL ADDRESS THIS TASK IN FUTURE ARTICLES.

whyeducation-3.jpg
Global Partnership for Education

References

1 UNESCO, Republic of Korea, UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF, UN Women et al. (2015). Education 2030: Incheon Declaration and Framework for Action for the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 4

2 McCowan, T. (2015). Theories of Development

3 Morin, E. (2011). La Voie. Pour l’avenir de l’humanité

4 Lauwerier, T. (2018). What education for what development? Towards a broader and consensual vision by the OECD, UNESCO and the World Bank in the context of SDGs?

5 UNESCO. (2015). Rethinking education: towards a global common good?

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