Cover Image
close this bookThe Courier N 148 - Nov - Dec 1994 - Dossier: Education - Country Reports: Saint Lucia - St Vincent and The Grenadines (EC Courier, 1994, 104 p.)
close this folderMeeting point
View the documentA more practical approach to education in the developing countries.

A more practical approach to education in the developing countries.


Interview with Jean-Marie De Ketele (educationalist) and M'Hamed Chf (economist)

In tandem with the 'Education' dossier later in this issue, we include an interview with Jean-Marie De Ketele, Professor of Educational Science at the University of Louvain, Belgium, and consultant to international organisations, and M'Hamed Chf, Doctor of Economics and international consultant The purpose of this joint interview is to hear the points of view, said to be often contradictory, of an educationalist and an economist who both specialise in education in developing countries. On reading this interview, it can be seen that there are actually many points of convergence. The topics covered are varied, although by no means exhaustive: analysis of the role of international organisations, the use of local languages in education, the correlation between education and work, the scope for regionalisation of education, the consequences of Structural Adjustment Programmes and, lastly, the outlook for education in developing countries.

· Is there not a tendency for the international organisations involved in the development of the education sector to interfere in the public affairs of a state?

Chf: Once the need to turn to lenders for help arises, I believe it is necessary to submit, to a certain extent, to the criteria they use. The World Bank is an institution which obtains its funds on the financial markets. It must safeguard its credibility, it must be able to have access to capital which is cheap or at any rate lent on concessionary terms. Developing countries must accept that, or at all events take account of it, or else not borrow. There obviously has to be interference in the affairs of countries. Having said that, I am not sure that the lenders are always very clear about what has to be done, and there are often prejudices and preconditions. One of the roles of the international institutions is not to put up with waste on any account. Leaving the country to do what it likes with regard to education and health implies acceptance of the government's policy on the matter. Clearly in African countries today, even though priority is being given to education, when you look at the percentage of the budget allocated to that sector, it is still very low and tips lopsidedly in favour of higher education, at the cost of basic education. For a lender, this situation is unacceptable.

De Ketele: As far as the problem of interference is concerned, I would tend to go further than M'Hamed Chf. I wonder whether, in some cases, the international institutions do not have a duty to interfere, rather than a simple right, especially when we see what is going on in Central Africa. We are not straying outside the field of education here: when we see that certain African countries devote not a penny to education, must we simply put up with this or should there not be some interference in this decision-making process? I would tend to go further, though at the same time extremely cautiously. But situations are very different from one country to another.

Chf: Education is one aspect of a social plan and, above all, a cultural plan. I do not think that it can be looked at independently of society. This is where l start wondering about interference. I entirely agree that a lender must and perhaps even has a duty to see how things are going. I am hesitant about imposing imported models which do not necessarily fit in with the social plan. I think the tragedy of Africa today is that there is no longer a vision within it: no one is making social plans any longer. All the charismatic personalities date back to the time of independence. Since then, Africa has ceased to be mobilised by a plan for society. For confirmation of this, I think back to a conversation with a French cultural attachn Mauritania, who said to me: 'I cannot understand how Mauritania proposes to Arabicise everything. You know as well as I do, Mr Chf, that you can't possibly teach the sciences in Arabic.' I was shocked ! I always thought that a large number of scientific disciplines were Arabian in origin!

· Would teaching in local languages make for an increase in the school enrolment ratio and a c/ecrease in educational failure?

Chf: I have just returned from a visit to the Pygmies, who are being taught French from the first year onwards. The experts from the Bank tell you that experimental education in local languages is very expensive, so you have to use French, which most people more or less speak already and which at the same time serves as a unifying factor in countries where several languages are used. Now, if the objective is to procure a basic education for all, knowing from the outset that the majority will not reach higher education, it is far better for lessons to be given in the local languages. This is unfortunately disputed, the main argument being the cost of this type of education. Personally, I am not convinced that this is a valid objection.

De Ketele: Yes, it is a major problem. The question has been raised at all the meetings I have attended in recent years. Some people in UNESCO say that it is essential to carry out more detailed research, since there are no landmarks by which a position can be defined. It seems to me that the situations are very different from one country to another. Take the example of Tunisia and Morocco. On the one hand there is the mother tongue and on the other standard Arabic, which is the language of education; then, French, even from a certain point, English. Some children have to cope with three or four different languages: the language of the family, sometimes another local language, the language of education, and possibly a second language of education. I think research shows that parents far prefer their children to be educated in one language - at feast at a certain level - such as French or English, for several reasons. Firstly, because there are more international languages. Secondly because, if one language were chosen, why opt for one language in one place, another language in another. In countries like the ones in West Africa, the ethnic groups do not correspond at all to the country borders, which would lead to enormous problems with local languages in certain regions. In Zaire, there are four major language families. If one of them were to be chosen, there would be a huge outcry. So education needs to be given on the basis of the regions. But the regions are not inhabited by any one ethnic group so it still creates an enormous number of problems.

· Wouldn't setting up regional institutions be a way of reducing the costs of education while keeping up the standards?

De Ketele: What is surprising is that there is a positive unwillingness to set up regional, rather than national, university institutions. A university like Dakar could quite feasibly train doctors while Abidjan trained engineers. It would be perfectly possible to create university centres in each country, but on a partial basis. There could be exchanges between countries so that it wouldn't cost too much, while still aspiring to have high-quality education. At the moment, though, it is clear that each government is very anxious to have its own institution and hold onto its independence. The same problem crops up with regard to school textbooks: Confemen made funds available to devise a school textbook for the whole of West Africa but very little came of it. Why? Because some Ministers vetoed it: 'We want to have our own programme'. It is always like that. There is a kind of jealousy which comes up whenever you is try to get something going in common.

· Is there a proper match between education and employment in the developing countries?

De Ketele: I would say that, for the time being, there are large numbers of countries where there is no correlation at all between education and employment prospects. The outlook for jobs is disastrously poor at present, to such an extent that many people even wonder whether it is still worth sending children to school. Even in far more developed countries, such as Morocco, many young people are utterly demotivated: what is the point of going to university or to secondary school? Whatever they do, the only prospect is unemployment. Another factor is that in many countries, education is very formal and totally out of step with the true needs of the countries. In some countries, there is now a tendency to create new types of qualifications alongside the traditional courses, which are in great difficulty. Applied masters' degrees, for example, or training courses which focus strongly on immediate entry into a profession. This happens especially in Morocco, where a series of special diplomas has been set up at the university in parallel with the traditional courses.

Chf: I believe that from the point of view quite simply of methods, no attempt is being made any longer to make sure there is some correlation between education, training and employment. In other words, this approach of planning and long-term programming has not produced good results because it is extremely difficult to forecast the situation on the job market in five or ten years' time or even longer. Hence the idea of flexibility and getting the economic operators involved in drawing up the curricula, the idea in fact of bringing together education and the training of operators. The signs are that even the World Bank is following this line, going for cooperation and synergy between the education and training system and the economic system, mainly the private-sector operators. What I should like to emphasise is that the latest research into the link between macroeconomics and the internal and external efficiency of the education and training system clearly show that the macroeconomic environment is of crucial importance to the external and internal efficiency of the system. In fact, the recommendation is to improve the macroeconomic environment as a matter of priority, as there is not much point in trying to improve the efficiency of the education system independently of the macroeconomic environment. On the other hand, and this obviously still needs to be proved, by improving the incentive regulatory environment and economic policy itself, the education system would tend to improve by itself, whether in terms of internal or of external efficiency. So I think recent thinking on the subject would be that priority should be given to improving the general environment. Let us take the example of the training system in Tunisia. To start with, it was extremely costly, based on a planned economy and focusing on subsidised training centres. No one gave any thought to what this training would cost. A great deal was invested in very expensive centres. Now, with the liberalisation of the economic system, with the rationalisation of that environment, the reduction in subsidies to the centres, they are having to sell their products, look for partners and cooperate with the private sector. And that brings the training system closer to the job market.

· What effects are structural adjustment programmes having on education?

De Ketele: In the survey which I had to draw up for the 1 5th anniversary of the Agence de Cooption Culturelle et Technique (ACCT), I worked through nearly 3000 pages of research, some of it published by the World Bank or the UNDP, which demonstrate very clearly that structural adjustment policies have had massive direct and indirect social effects, especially on education. I believe that this is now beyond dispute. Incidentally, the World Bank has relented very slightly by saying that loans need to be channeled more towards the social field. Within the Bank, some experts are very self-critical about the policy they have been pursuing.

Chf: The impact of these programmes is obvious. At the beginning of the 1980s, the sectors which suffered most from adjustment programmes were the social ones, where it was relatively easy to make savings. If you look at the percentage of a country's national budget devoted to education, adjustment has very clearly caused it to fall. I nevertheless think that SAPs have contributed to an awareness of the need to rationalise that sector, which unfortunately has not been very effficient: there has been a great deal of waste, large numbers of pupils repeating school years, many school-leavers not finding jobs, and so on. In short, the system does not meet the needs. So action needs to be taken and I believe that adjustment programmes have helped make countries aware of that. I believe that a certain amount of reform has already started in the social sectors, especially in education. Nowadays, priority is being given to the education sector. I believe that the World Bank in particular is trying to convince national authorities to assign greater importance in budgetary terms to the social sectors. The attempt is being made in adjustment programmes to increase the proportion going to basic education. I think that there has been success in most countries in changing the structure of expenditure although not enough. The situation remains unsatisfactory, but the policy is clearly defined. It needs to be stressed that adjustment programmes help to enhance the efficiency of the system, whether internal or external.

· What is the outlook for education in the developing countries 7

De Ketele: To answer that question, there are at least four points of anchorage which need to be worked on and which leave us a great deal of room for hope.

The first priority must be education for girls. Over about 15 years, the impact can be clearly seen in terms of higher school enrolment, nutrition, health, and so on. I believe that the main hope for the developing countries lies in women, so the standard of education for girls needs to be raised. This must not be confined to disparate women's education projects. It is too late for that. Girls must be targeted before anyone else.

The second point of anchorage, which seems to me to be extremely important, is to start from practical schemes which are working in the countries concerned and to give them financial support, provided that the aid is delivered through secure channels and the money does actually reach the people on the spot, which is not always necessarily the case at present. Hence, possibly, the need to find ways of operating through reliable NGOs which send the money where it is needed. I think that the strength of Asian countries is to make money go twice as far, the weakness of African countries is to make it go a tenth as far. We therefore need to find other channels to make sure the finance is used to maximum effect by the people working on the spot.

Thirdly, new methods of organisation are emerging in the present depression, such as educational institutions in which school communities are forming without relying on the state any longer. These communities not only provide teaching, they also deal with the various day-today problems of all the staff, teachers, pupils, parents, etc. So, for example, you sometimes see farms springing up around the school whose purpose is to feed the school community. I invest a great deal of hope in these kinds of structures, which come into being by force of circumstances, and this is a model which should be given more support.

Finally, my fourth hope is the ingenuity you find in the informal sector. More reliance should be placed on it, more financial support given to it. We should capitalise on the enormous skills that sector possesses and possibly help it develop its skills.

Chf: I should like to return to the question of social planning, for in the end the question of participation by the people also fits into whatever development model a country chooses. I think that, although community development and popular involvement need to be encouraged, this must not mean that the government can shake off all responsibility in the education sector. It is relatively easy to recover costs in the field of basic education by charging for it, but it is far more complicated to do it in the case of higher education, which costs a great deal more and where the students have a certain amount of power. So I accept this idea of popular involvement, but I equally have the impression that governments take advantage of it to disengage themselves completely by saying that it is up to the people to look after themselves. Now if we want social planning, if we want to provide education for all, government has to play its part. The problem so far has been that it was acting on its own, whereas the private sector and the people also had an important role to play. But there's no need to go from one extreme to the other either, and the education and training sector should get priority when a government is allocating its budget. There is no point in having staff without resources for them to work with, which is unfortunately frequently the case. To be more positive, I would stress that SAPs are starting to give slightly more resources back to the teaching staff and this is often due to the lenders, the EU in particular, which invest directly in the sectors most affected, such as education, health and so on. In Cd'Ivoire, for example, there is a joint programme between the EU and the World Bank for optimisation of the use of human resources, in which the EU acts in the health sector and the World Bank in the education sector. This is nevertheless being done on the basis of the same model, using the same performance matrices, which makes it possible to target the funds and ensure that the resources are given to the structures concerned. As far as vocational training is concerned, it is clear that, previously, people who had taken the courses cost more than those who had received training in the informal sector, and they were therefore less competitive. There was also a rigidity which was not found in the informal sector, where the qualifications are lower but there are greater chances of finding a job because demands are not pitched so high regarding wages, conditions of employment, etc. By opting to develop these countries on the basis of state interventionism, cumbersome structures and inflexible regulations were put in place, and it is now found that this does not work. They should therefore be replaced by something far more flexible, even if it entails sacrificing certain social aspects, I am sorry to say. It is obviously far more attractive to say that we have a guaranteed minimum wage, but when there is not enough work for everyone, someone has to accept a lower wage, which is what happens incidentally in the informal sector. But surveys prove that even though the starting wage in the informal sector is lower, the hopes of keeping it are far higher than what can be expected in the formal sector and in the public sector. So there is a great deal of work to be done here to convince pupils and students that the formal and public sectors are not necessarily the only outlets open to them once they have been through the educational system and vocational training. Another important aspect concerns the aspirations parents have for their children. They have always been encouraged to have unrealistic ambitions: they generally wanted their children to become ministers and the children themselves wanted to become ministers or civil servants. There is nothing wrong in a child wanting to become a technician or a mechanic! Although in theory things are supposed to have changed, in practice the system still gives precedence to general training and the formal sector. As far as aspirations are concerned, I think some work needs to be done.

De Ketele: In his doctoral thesis, one of my students explains this phenomenon of channelling people into the civil service, with the sole outlet being a job as a civil servant, and with skills linked merely to the qualification. This in fact leads to under-utilisation of the skills of all those who have been through the educational system, the only aspiration being to get a qualification and the ultimate achievement being to become a minister. Why? Because in the culture of these countries, being a minister means you can get rich very quickly and when you get rich, you have an obligation to feed your family and to help the people close to you. It is important to be able to say: 'I am the person who feeds the family, who built the village dispensary,' or whatever. It is firmly rooted in people's attitudes. I do not see how we, the foreign experts, can help them devise a social plan which really tallies with the socio-cultural realities of these countries. A country like Tunisia has been able to develop a model specific to it, which enables it to take advantage of cooperation, whilst retaining its identity. But in sub-Saharan Africa, I cannot think of a single country which has been able to devise a social plan which is not simply an imported plan.

Chf: This dimension of cultural adjustment, which is known as' internalisation of the process', deserves emphasis and should be more widely applied. When we start analysing structural adjustment, we realise that it is essential for developing countries to internalise the process, but that is still just a slogan. A great many things are still being imposed by the outside world and there is a certain distrust of proposals coming from within countries themselves. I say this very sincerely, because the countries are not short of ideas, but often, as foreign experts, we are rather distrustful. If, for example, you take education in the Koranic schools, there is solid evidence, based on investigations carried out by the World Bank, that a child who has had an education in a Koranic school has a greater chance of succeeding later in life and of earning a higher income, than someone who has not had that schooling.

It is also true that someone who has been through state schooling has even more chance, because the level is higher. But when you ask lenders to finance these Koranic schools, you are immediately seen as an advocate of fundamentalism or a reactionary. Yet it's just a school like any other, one which has been tried and tested, which is better suited to the needs, with a structure which is simple (the pupils sit on the ground) and mobile (in every caravan there is someone who attends to the children), and so on.

It would be possible to support and improve these schools by incorporating science teaching into them, as well as learning the Koran, literature and history. Unfortunately, there is no support for this kind of initiative, even when the existing system could easily be improved, as opposed to opting for a completely different system. As Jean-Marie De Ketele stressed in his four points, we have to start from existing, practical schemes and improve them, which unfortunately is not being done. Whenever new models have been imported, they have failed because they have not been internalised from the outset. I think that this internalisation, this thinking arising from within, is very important and that in the developing countries there are enough human resources capable of defining a model, but they need to be stirred up and encouraged. Interview conducted by

Virginie Van Haeverbeke and Christian Platteau