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close this bookThe Courier N° 159 - Sept - Oct 1996 - Dossier: Investing in People - Country Reports: Mali ; Western Samoa (EC Courier, 1996, 96 p.)
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EU's investments in education and training in the ACP states


by Digby Swift

The European Community's investments in human resource development-health, nutrition and education-in ACP states have regularly been covered in the pages of this magazine whether in the context of dosiers or of country resorts. Here we present a brief description of how the EU's policy in education and training evolved under the Yaounde and Lomonvemntions.

Educating all the people. This is not just a slogan. In a poor, underdeveloped country, there may be some short-term gains from supplying high quality education and training to an elite few. But, as the 'Asian Miracle' has proved, major long-term gains in development and wealth are possible only if the entire population possesses a reasonable level of education.

Now for the problem. For many countries, notably those of sub-Saharan Africa, a large proportion of school age children receive no education at all. Of those who do attend school, many receive little benefit from their education because of the very low quality of provision. Only a small minority reach secondary education. And yet a higher proportion than ever of national budgets is now going to the education sector.

The problem is urgent because of the time it will take to resolve. Even if we could wave a magic wand to provide all children with a good primary education, it would take a decade to see the benefits.

How is European aid helping to tackle this problem? What have been the guiding principles of European aid to education in the past? And why is the problem still acute in, for example, subSaharan Africa, despite decades of investment in aid to education?

Aid mirrors developments

Aid to education has mirrored developments in the education sectors of the countries concerned. For example, the low-income countries of Africa, which account for 73% of Africa's population, have seen a rapid expansion in their education systems followed by a collapse of funding. This has resulted in a serious decline in standards of provision. European aid, which began by providing piecemeal assistance to infrastructure and manpower, shifted to a 'project approach' to tackle these emerging problems and is now moving towards a coordinated sectoral approach to help tackle the reform of whole education systems.

From 1970 to 1980, the number of pupils enrolling in the primary schools of developing countries more than doubled, and the numbers in secondary and tertiary education quadrupled. Even relative to the increasing population, there was a 90% increase in the proportion of primary-aged children in school, and a large increase in the proportion of girls. This growth was accompanied by a doubling of government budgetary resources made available to education.

In the massive general economic decline between 1980 and 1985, the money made available for education from the public purse fell by 40%, yet the education systems continued to grow. The result was that teachers' salaries plummeted, and funds for non-salary recurrent costs such as teaching materials and maintenance virtually dried up.

Since 1985, the financial situation has somewhat improved and funding is now at an all-time high. Nevertheless, for many African states, the education sector is in a state of crisis. Buildings are crumbling and inadequate; teachers are untrained or undertrained and often absent because of low incentives and weak supervision. There are few books and other teaching materials. Consequently, many pupils leave school virtually illiterate and innumerate. Moreover, because of the low quality of instruction and increasing costs to parents, many parents are no longer bothering to send children to school even when places are available. Primary enrolment fell by around 10% between 1990 and 1992. Thus in many countries, a fundamental reform of the sector is seen as the only way forward.

Evolution of aid

In the early days of European aid, education and training were seen as suppliers of manpower for countries to modernise their economies. The priority themes of the 1970 Yaounde Convention for European Community aid were industrialisation, regional cooperation and international trade. Community support to education and training focused on the construction of colleges and university faculties to serve industrialisation and regional cooperation.

The 1975 Lom Convention referred specifically to 'the establishment of regional institutions of advanced technology, in the context of training programmes to enable nationals to participate fully in economic development'.

The 1980 LomI Convention introduced multiannual training programmes, and support in the form of training awards and courses/seminars; experts and instructors; teaching equipment; collaboration between training or research establishments and universities. The emphasis was still on vocational training for other sectors.

A significant proportion of European bilateral aid to education and training took the form of European teachers for secondary schools, colleges and universities. These helped to cover the shortage of locally trained teachers, whilst educating an elite able to fill senior and middle positions in the public and private sectors.

By 1985, problems were becoming all too apparent within the education systems being supported. As in other sectors, there was increased emphasis on the 'project approach' towards tackling these problems. Thus the Lomll Convention includes support to education and training 'in the form of integrated programmes aimed at a well defined objective'. This could include, for example, 'assisting the ACP States' own efforts to restructure their educational establishments and systems and to update curricula, methods and technology employed, in order to step up the effectiveness and cut back the cost of all types of training'. A concern for under-represented groups, particularly women, was also becoming explicit.

By 1990, the concept of investing in people through education and training had moved high on the donor agenda, and alongside it, a growing concern for sectoral reform. According to the 1989 LomV Convention, 'Cooperation shall be aimed at supporting development in the ACP States, a process centred on man himself and rooted in each people's culture. It shall back up the policies and measures adopted by those States to enhance their human resources, increase their own creative capacities and promote their cultural identities. Cooperation shall also encourage participation by the population in the design and execution of development operations.' In a chapter entitled Operations to enhance the value of human resources, a section on Education and Training refers to supporting the ACP State's efforts to 'reform their basic education institutions and systems, in particular by providing overall primary education coverage and adjusting imported systems as well as building them into development strategies'.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, European states and the Community joined the World Bank in support of structural adjustment. In a 1991 communication to the European Development Council, the Commission stated that it 'will give absolute priority to the social dimension of adjustment, in particular ensuring that the health and education sectors are adequately covered, in conjunction with sectoral reforms introduced or planned in these two areas.'

Balancing this concern for system reform has been a growing appreciation of the importance of decentralised cooperation. An example is the cost-sharing microprojects for grassroots development first introduced in Lom with explicit mention of support to primary schools. Another example is the need to support the activities of nongovernmental organisations.

A new policy

Two events in the early 1990s have had a profound impact on European support for education and training. The first was the World Conference on Education for All: Meeting the Basic Learning Needs held in Jomtien in 1990. This emphasised the need for universal

primary education and adult literacy to be firmly placed on the political agenda, and has resulted in a profound swing of donor support away from higher education and towards primary education. The second important event was the 1992 Treaty of European Union which requires the coordination of Member States' policy and operations, particularly in the social sectors. Guidelines are contained in the 1994 Council Resolution on support to education and training in developing countries in which 'the Council emphasises that education, in particular basic education, is a fundamental right'.

According to the Resolution, 'the priority for the Community and the Member States must be both to maximise access to education within the limits of the resources available and to ensure that the quality of education provided is suited to the needs of the majority of students. 'This is to be achieved through 'a balanced, programme-based strategy, tailored to the specific circumstances of the individual developing country', with pride of place accorded to basic education. It should provide 'support to the developing countries' own policies and efforts', not acting as a substitute for local initiative, and should involve better integration of action under structural adjustment with education sector priorities and aid activities. The Council also recommends a special emphasis on coordination in a number of pilot countries.

From the outset, Community aid to education and training in African, Caribbean and Pacific countries has been in response to requests from the ACP states with an emphasis on ownership of the resulting programme by those states. What the new policy introduces into this process is a dialogue between government and all donors on needs, priorities and approaches set in the context of the education sector as a whole. Only through such a comprehensive approach can developing countries and European states reach a true partnership in realising the education and training needs of all citizens on which the future of their countries so crucially depends.
D.S.