Catégories
blog

#03 The World Bank and education: Does the wolf wear the grandmother’s bonnet?

The wolf is wearing Grandmother’s bonnet, but the perceptive observer can still note the size of its teeth

(Sensenig, 2012, about the influence of the World Bank on national education policies)

We wished to devote our first article on the actors of international cooperation in education to an essential organization, namely the World Bank.

Even if it is the subject of abundant and often very critical literature, and even fantasies about its supposed omnipotence, it seems important to us to recall the role it plays in the education sector at the international level; its influence is not weakening.

Some general characteristics

The World Bank was created in 1945 in the aftermath of the Second World War. Its original name was the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and its mission was to help the countries of Europe and Japan, deteriorated by the war, to rebuild themselves. Thus, the first loan granted by the Bank in 1947 was for France. It was only after decolonization in the 1950s and 1960s that it focused on developing countries and the education sector.

Governance189 states // “1 dollar/1 vote”: distribution of voting within the bank was based on measures of national income, foreign exchange reserves, and contributions to international trade
Areas of interventionDeveloping countries (through the International Development Association – IDA)
Fields of interventionMultisectoral (industry, agriculture, health…)

Policy guidelines

In blog #02, we had already pointed out that the World Bank, like many other international organizations, has for several decades been part of a capitalist liberal vision of development, which has implications for education:

  • Education to improve economic growth (which should help to lift people out of poverty) Investments in quality education lead to more rapid and sustainable economic growth and development (World Bank, 2011)
  • Education as preparation for job market 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)

We can specify by reminding that this vision is to be linked to the theory of human capital (= good students finish their studies with a head full of knowledge that they can then use for their future job and thus contribute to the productivity of their country). With this in mind, the Bank began investing in vocational training programs in the 1960s, which was based on the demand for skilled labor. In the 1980s, it eventually expanded its scope to all levels of education, from pre-primary to higher education. However, this theory of human capital is still relevant for the Bank, as this video shows.

This focus on economy is all the more true since the World Bank expects a return on investment from actions aimed at educational policies. To measure this investment, it relies very heavily on benchmarking and the analysis of rates of return on education. The latter approach is not without its challenges, since rates of return must be calculated quickly with long-term projects, and with incomplete statistical information. Thus, it is not surprising to note that priority is given by the Bank’s specialists to the material conditions of education (construction of schools, libraries, provision of textbooks, etc.). And in this concern for profitability, educational investments that involve too high costs, and which are not effective, must be avoided.

This cost-cutting rationale led many countries in the South countries to adopt Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) in the 1980s and 1990s to respond to the financial crises of the 1970s. Here are the characteristics of the SAPs1:

  • A sharply curtailed role for government in educational provision;
  • The rationalisation of its role in educational finance and system oversight;
  • A commitment to decentralisation, cost-recovery and privatisation in higher education;
  • Increased attention to ‘productive’ inputs like textbooks;
  • A movement out of technical vocational education.

Teachers have often been targeted by the World Bank’s cost-minimization approach. Indeed, their salaries and training were considered by the Bank’s experts to be excessive in relation to the services provided in the classroom; hence the need to reduce them. However, these measures have led to the inefficiency of the system, which is contrary to the wishes of the organization, since they have caused blockages in the school with repeated strikes. That is why today, after encouraging drastic actions in the 1980s and 1990s, the Bank recognizes the need for motivated teachers with a wide range of learning skills2.

We will conclude this section with a discussion of the World Bank’s orientations and recent developments. First, it should be noted that a reversal occurred at the end of the 1990s and in the 2000s, namely that the organization took into account the criticisms addressed to it, particularly with regard to the SAPs3. Also, while we noted that the Bank was interested primarily in quantitative aspects of education, over time, more intangible issues, such as learning outcomes, have become central to the discourse and particularly to the Bank’s loan portfolio2.

Moreover, the organization has been working for decades in areas of education that can be considered alternative or more socially oriented. These areas are not explicitly linked to a neoliberal logic such as projects related to the financing of bilingual indigenous education in Ecuador. Moreover, social and environmental aspects are becoming increasingly important in the World Bank’s discourse since the organization has been involved in the process of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which suggest a broader vision of development and education. In this sense, even if the Bank still defends a capitalist-liberal vision, there is an evolution compared to previous periods4.

Policy instruments

Beyond the World Bank’s orientations, it is relevant to look at the organization’s instruments at the level of education policies, which are much more significant than the institutions traditionally dealing with this field such as UNESCO or UNICEF (which will also be the subject of an article shortly). Three main instruments will be presented successively: 1- funding; 2- conditionalities; and 3- expertise.

Since its inception, the World Bank, through the International Development Association (IDA), has been active in 113 countries and has provided $375 billion for investments in 113 countries. More specifically, the Bank provides loans to low-income countries as well as to small island economies and some lower middle-income countries such as Nigeria and Pakistan5.

Year after year, the volume of its commitments has increased. IDA funding represents 20% of all development aid that flows worldwide. According to the evolution of its loans, the social sector, including education and health, has grown in importance over the past 30 years. It corresponds to more than a quarter of the loans today.

Since the 1990s, basic education has been at a level of 30% to 40% of the volume of credits to the education sector. The international meetings in Jomtien (1990) and Dakar (2000), which had as their motto « Education for All », encouraged the Bank to increase its commitments in this sector, which continued with the SDGs.

Thus, as an external funder of educational development worth several billion dollars, an administrator of several multidonor trust funds for education in countries affected by conflict or in crisis, and the main donor to the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) (a major antechamber for the past decade or so), it can be said that the Bank shapes education aid policy globally6.

However, in quantitative terms, the financing of education through the Bank represents a relatively small percentage of national education budgets. It is more the conditional nature of its credits that increases its influence on education systems. And even if they have not disappeared, conditionalities have reached their peak with the SAPs which, according to many authors, have been imposed on States in exchange for funding1.

Mais au-delà des financements, et des conditionnalités qui y sont attachées, c’est par sa capacité d’expertise que la Banque mondiale influence le plus les politiques éducatives. L’organisation développe des recherches et des études internes, qui assurent une large connaissance technique des secteurs aidés. Tout en tenant compte de leurs limites méthodologiques et théoriques, ces études recèlent un ensemble considérable d’informations qui sont utilisées comme références lors de la négociation des accords. Cela fait de la Banque mondiale la plus grande institution de recherche sur le développement du monde.

Thus, the institution has reinvented itself over time and self-identifies as a “knowledge bank”, increasingly acting as a global policy adviser to national governments and positioning itself as a powerful think tank among all aid agencies. From this point of view, it claims, on the basis of its analyses, to know not only what is good for the beneficiary countries, but also what other aid agencies should support. This capacity for expertise has been legitimized by the longevity of the organization, which has accumulated a number of projects, and therefore experiences, particularly in the education sector.

Thus, the institution has reinvented itself over time and self-identifies as a “knowledge bank”, increasingly acting as a global policy adviser to national governments and positioning itself as a powerful think tank among all aid agencies. From this point of view, it claims, on the basis of its analyses, to know not only what is good for the beneficiary countries, but also what other aid agencies should support. This capacity for expertise has been legitimized by the longevity of the organization, which has accumulated a number of projects, and therefore experiences, particularly in the education sector.

FINALLY, THE WORLD BANK IS A POWERFUL ORGANIZATION WITH NEOLIBERAL FUNDAMENTALS THAT CAN HAVE AN IMPACT AT THE LOCAL LEVEL. NEVERTHELESS, IT SHOULD BE STRESSED THAT THIS INFLUENCE IS MODULATED BY THE EMERGENCE OF DYNAMICS LINKED TO DIFFERENT CONTEXTS (COUNTRIES, PERIODS, ACTORS, ETC.), WHICH SOMETIMES MAKES IT DIFFICULT TO DISTINGUISH THE WOLF FROM THE GRANDMOTHER (TO USE THE INITIAL QUOTATION).

References

1 Robertson, S., Novelli, M., Dale, R., Tikly, L., Dachi, H. & Alphonce, N. (2007). Globalisation, education and development: Ideas, actors and dynamics

2 Fontdevila, C. & Verger, A. (2015). The World Bank’s Doublespeak on Teachers. An Analysis of Ten Years of Lending and Advice

33 Lauwerier, T. (2017). Rethinking World Bank influence on national basic education policy in Francophone West Africa. Teacher policy in Mali and Senegal from 1980 to 2010

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. (2017). Global Education Monitoring Report 2017/8. Accountability in education: Meeting our commitments

6 Mundy, K. & Verger, A. (2015). The World Bank and the Global Governance of Education in a Changing World Order

7 Sensenig, V. J. (2012). The World Bank and Educational Reform in Indonesia

Votre commentaire

Entrez vos coordonnées ci-dessous ou cliquez sur une icône pour vous connecter:

Logo WordPress.com

Vous commentez à l’aide de votre compte WordPress.com. Déconnexion /  Changer )

Photo Google

Vous commentez à l’aide de votre compte Google. Déconnexion /  Changer )

Image Twitter

Vous commentez à l’aide de votre compte Twitter. Déconnexion /  Changer )

Photo Facebook

Vous commentez à l’aide de votre compte Facebook. Déconnexion /  Changer )

Connexion à %s