Accepting Western Education Development Aid: Weighing up the Pros and Cons

 Malick Elias
There has been much talk recently of education reforms in the people’s house of the new Egyptian parliament and of whether the government should continue to accept the conditional education aid of donor nations, such as the United States. The main trust of the argument was that the meagre subsidisation of US funding, which was conditional upon increasing the teaching of English was seen as intervention into the running of the affairs of the state. I do not see the objection as unhealthy, quite to the contrary, because this is the type of pull and tug that is needed to enable donor-receiving countries, especially Islamic nations to establish their identity in a world of nations. But, in an interdependent world is it always the case that the giving of aid is motivated by attempts to exert influence upon the donor receiving nations? It is true that in the west the traditional analysis of education development has been primarily economic in character and aid not bearing the meaning of charity. However, alternative approaches now advocating that the goals of education be human, cultural development and empowerment has gained recognition and prominence in international relations and it is right that Muslim nations place at the top of their agenda the cultural interests of their nation first. The problem has been, as Little identifies, is that theories of the relationship between education and development, both old and new, were founded by the wealthy western donors countries and institutions “outsiders” and “generated from contexts beyond those to which” they were to be applied, the poor South. (Little, ch.3, p.3, 1999) This does not imply the irrelevance of these theories, but that they should be validated on the premise of their viability and relevance to the new contexts they seek to analyse.
Hence, a holistic approach towards the contribution of education aid to development is now needed, but for this to happen considerable shifts in thinking within the international system which remains characterised by nation states and dominated by the rationality of Capitalism and free market economics has to take place. On the one hand, it is true that Capitalism needs markets or that the richer North needs to stimulate demand and supply for its products, skills and knowledge industries from dependent economies; or in politically acceptable terms: ‘developing markets and economies.’ On the other hand, it is false to believe that relationships of dependency, has to be characterised by the worst of human traits: greed, supremacy, domination and raw power. To what extent is a world free of a hegemonic power possible, I wonder? This is where theodicy steps and in the interests of justice it becomes the duty of the powerful to make sure that its power can be kept in check by those over whom it exercises its power.
Let us put those theoretical constructs into a practical context. Firstly, banks, including the World Bank and its other financial institutions, like the IMF, when they lend money to states it is seen as an investment with some expected returns to be made in the form of money, goods and or services. Therefore, the World Bank, which is at the centre of global change in education, is first and foremost a bank and not a charity. Secondly, in the world as we know it, states remain the main actors and there will always be a measure of economic dependency between nations, and where the structural adjustment measures of banks or donor countries are demanded this will inevitably conflict with the plethora of interests and obligations recipient nations has with its interdependent partners. The winners will be those countries that could negotiate the best deals for their people, for ultimately, it is people that will matter the most in any case. And this is where the relevance of human capital and cultural empowerment analyses becomes important in transforming donor-ship countries into partnerships ones working towards a’ fairer’ interdependent world. I use the word ‘fairer’ here in the context of John Rawls (1973) theory of ‘Justice’. Therefore, ‘development’ has to mean ‘human development’ in the first instance, measured firstly by the extent of a nations’ expression of its right of self determination to shape and fashion the world in their imagination and secondly, by that nation’s ability to offer ‘good governance’ for its people. The Quran is clear that the reason for arriving at power is to serve Allah through the service of others (waliyan) and to deliver the helpless (naseeran):
“And how could you refuse to fight in the cause of God and of the utterly helpless men and women and children who are crying, “O our Sustainer! Lead us forth [to freedom] out of this land whose people are oppressors, and raise for us, out of Thy grace, a protector, and raise for us, out of Thy grace, one who will bring us succor!” (4:75, Asad’s translation)
The depraved do not seek to be dominated by the corrupt usurpers of power, nor did Allah sanction the striving for political positions for the sake of power: “As for that [happy] life in the hereafter, We grant it [only] to those who do not seek to exalt themselves on earth, nor yet to spread corruption: for the future belongs to the God-conscious.” (28:83, Asad’s translation)
This assertion is the spirit of the 1990 UNDP report, which urged that ‘neither economic growth nor income distribution be construed as ends in themselves’ but as a means towards the development of people. (Little, 1999, p:18) It is also consistent with the idea of education being a human right as enshrined in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) which states that “Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory.” Furthermore, it was also enshrine in the preamble of the UNESCO constitution (1945), where the member states affirmed that they believe in full and equal opportunities for education for all.
Moreover, the definition of ‘human development’ in the context of the MDP Goal 2 “Achieving Universal Primary Education,” identifies learning and the quality of learning as distinct from measuring enrolment numbers in school at its heart. Furthermore, these basic rights are to be granted at the school level and not be made a burden upon households to provide private tuition for their children after school due to the inadequate nature of education at point of compulsory delivery. This is a problem faced by many developing nations and Muslim ones too despite the earliest teachings of Islam advocating the obligatory status of knowledge for both male and female.” (Ibn Majah and Al-Bayhaqi)
Therefore, any solution has to take into consideration the multifaceted issues involved in producing a holistic approach towards analysing the relationship of education to development. By holistic, I mean an approach to education and development, which ties together human-capital theories of the present and political economy theories of the past. Approaches towards development which now highlights the importance of investing in the social and human rights of its population are now well grounded in international development and so donors when they give should do so with genuine interests in the well being of the receiving nation as a human right and not in exchange for loyalty.
Change in the world economy is taking place on a multiple of levels: change in the social attitudes of people; change in the social and fiscal policies of the states to enable a transformation in social attitudes of their populations and so change amongst donor countries and international institutions in seeing recipient nations as partners in solving international development issues, should now follow. For both western and all donors in general their major concerns will be the extent to which receivers of education development aid is capable of the ‘good governance’ of those resources.
During my studies in education, I stumbled upon an excellent example of a third world nation taking on the giants and succeeding – Mauritius. In the literature it was cited as a good example of the good governance of education development aid. The country first spat with education was during the colonial era with the work of missionaries. During the 1940s, with the rise of independence movements, the country experienced a change in the peoples’ consciousness for education as a means of liberation from repressive social conditions; but most had to pay for that privilege. By the late 70s the government abolished the paying of fees for secondary schooling. But this was introduced at a price, when during the 1980s the country faced severe economic challenges and the burden of structural adjustment programmes, which undermined its education budget. The country, however, managed to maintain a free education system, “despite donor pressure calling for the policy of free education to be reviewed. (Parsuramen, 2006)”
Mauritius’s ability to forego the pressures of world financial institutions’ approach towards the development of its education system and therefore, of its people was hailed as a model example of what third world governments can achieve.
Education only became free in Mauritius in 1976 and despite severe economic difficulties during the 1980s and structural adjustment programmes imposed upon the country’s education system from outside they continued to provide a free education for its citizens. The results were that by 1991, according to a World Bank evaluation, the gross rate of primary enrolment (6-11) had reached 99.4%, the net enrolment rate was 97%, with no difference in gender intake. (Parsuramen, 2006, P:64)
Jacques Hallak (1995) titled work ‘Negotiation with Aid Agencies: A Dwarf against a Giant,’ provides a checklist of sixteen suggestions for negotiations with aid agencies, divided into four categories: (1) Prior to negotiation (2) What to negotiate (3) How and (4) When to negotiate. He reminds recipient countries that the costs of mistakes to donors (misallocations of aid resources) are normally small, if not negligible whereas the costs to governments could prove to be catastrophic no matter how small the share of aid in the education budget. As Hallak (1995: 8) argues: A donor-driven agreement leading to a national policy development coming up with the kind of answers the donors were looking for, may, at best, prove politically impossible to implement, and, at worst, put countries in blind alleys, imported from donors’ own perceptions of what is rational for a society with a completely different political culture. Given the time factor in implementing changes in education systems and their impact over at least one generation of youth and adults, the consequences of wrong donor-induced policy reforms cannot be overlooked.
Keeping this in mind, Hallak suggests that negotiation should not start without the recipient country having made prior inquiry about the aid agencies’ concern. Gathering information on their agenda, culture, modalities of operation, and perspectives is a crucial first step to be considered by any government in trying not only to balance the existing asymmetry in information between lenders and borrowers, but also, he claims, to build national capacity for communication with donors. Hallak warns against the adoption of complex programs within the education sector, as they may easily hinder national capacity building and generate donor-driven bureaucracies with limited scope for effective implementation and donor co-ordination. He claims that the donor move from project investment to credit agreement to support change in policy environment frequently hides major challenges needing to be addressed by local governments. He sees the challenge for borrowers in resisting the strong pressures from some aid agencies to negotiate an overall policy framework on the grounds that the only purpose of the credit agreement is to support changes in the policy environment. Hallak’s advice to recipient governments on how to resist such potential pressures from donors and lenders is as follows:
1. Use the donors’ own rhetoric on capacity building and ‘sustainability.’
2. Disclose information generally not available to donors on problematic consequences of adoption of donors’ agendas.
3. Publicize the failure of many attempts by donors to use aid funds to persuade governments to introduce policy changes. (Hallak, 1995:11)
Ulla Kann, who has worked as aid coordinator in Namibia for many years and whose experiences were referred to in Chapter 3, tells how little power is often left to the recipient government in aid negotiations. She offers the following advice from her twenty-five years of experience working for governments in Africa:
Don’t forget the word NO. It is admittedly difficult during negotiations to decline an aid offer. It is more difficult for a very poor country than for a less poor country. Whatever is the case it is the recipient country that will have to live with the decision made. A NO indicates that the recipient country is serious and may open up for a better discussion. Remember, it is the business of donor agencies to disburse aid. (Kann, 1997: 7, emphasis added)
Mauritius lived up to this advice and elaborated a master plan in 1991, eight years after the then minister had, upon taking office, decided not to accept the structural adjustment measures the donors wanted the country to adopt. Catherine Odora Hoppers (1998) tells that Mauritius took its time in preparing its master plan, and that despite the appointment of a coordinator who originated in the Ministry of Finance rather than education, and the presence of donor agencies, the main agenda remained clearly a Mauritian one. She quotes the following passage from a document of the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA, 1996:12 quoted in Odora Hoppers, 1998: 165).
Subsequent events suggest that Mauritius’s refusal to apply adjustment measures to the education system harmed neither the education system nor the macroeconomic climate. On the contrary… by maintaining the reliability of the education system and its capacity to deliver uninterrupted services to the population, instead of focusing on the elimination of inefficiencies with potentially disruptive consequences — the Mauritian policy contributed to the enabling environment that preceded the country’s strong economic growth.
Some educators in the West acknowledge that Westerners have a lot to learn from other continents. We need to change our euro-centric curriculum to incorporate non-Western understanding, not only to do justice to oppressed groups, but also because this change will make for a fruitful cross-fertilization of ideas. In our time of upheavals and cross-migration, it is important that as many people as possible, and especially educationists, develop a cross-cultural perspective. We can learn much from continents like Africa and the Middle East if they are allowed to develop from within their own heritages. Researching indigenous knowledge, within mathematics for instance, may lead to penetrating knowledge, which also may change conceptions in the West as it once did with the cross-fertilisation of knowledge in algebra, medicine and scientific progress. In the words of a mathematician from the West: “research on mathematics in non-western societies is changing our understanding of this fundamental human activity and helping educators develop more effective teaching strategies as well” (Struik, 1995: 36). There can be no global village without the knowledge we find in the villages of Africa, the Middle East, India or in the Amazons of South America – would you agree?

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Malick Elias

The vision of 'Vivaislam' is to provide a space for Muslim and non-Muslim activists to air their voices on how best to organise and manage their world. The aim is to focus upon recommending solutions to issues of social injustices, freedoms and citizenship facing predominantly Muslim and non-Muslim societies, rather than offering descriptions of problems. It is our hope that these voices will reach the echelons of power and influence.