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From worker-brc-news@lists.tao.ca Thu Dec 7 07:26:09 2000
Date: Wed, 6 Dec 2000 21:50:05 -0500
From: Todd Tucker <tnt@econjustice.net>
Reply-To: caffentz@usm.maine.edu, gcaffentz@aol.com
Subject: [BRC-NEWS] The World Bank versus the World
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The World Bank's Impacts on Education: The World Bank versus the World

By C. George Caffentzis <gcaffentz@aol.com>, 1 December 2000

The World Bank, founded along with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 1944, began as a reconstruction and development bank in the immediate post-WWII years. Its role was largely devoted to financing big civil engineering projects—dams, highways, electric grids, etc.—for almost thirty years. But the debt crisis of the early 1980s gave the World Bank the power to engage in social engineering on a grand scale in heavily indebted countries of the Americas, Africa and Asia. The World Bank gave this policy a chiropractic name, structural adjustment, and one of its targets was to commodify education. Consequently, we now have a bank dictating education policy throughout what was the former colonial world and repressing one of the primary social demands of the planet: greater access to education on all levels.

SAPs in Education

Since the early 1980s, dozens of indebted countries were granted structural adjustment loans (which often merely paid the interest on other loans) on the condition that, among other draconian measures, the national governments totally restructure their education systems by:

(a) reducing state expenditures on education, especially in tertiary institutions;

(b) charging tuition fees throughout all levels of the educational system, from primary schools to universities;

(c) promoting a reduction of departments in tertiary institutions (and in some cases completely closing colleges and universities) and emphasizing regional centers of excellence.

This led to a deep contradiction. The World Bank's official ideology has been that knowledge and education is the most important element in economic development. However, its structural adjustment programs (SAPs) are designed in a way that lower educational entitlements and force students from working class families (who cannot afford the tuition fees) out of the education system.

The Results of SAPs

World Bank officials continually repress this contradiction and feign surprise when they review their SAPs' dramatically negative consequences for educational systems throughout the Third World, most especially for Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. For with the end of colonialism in the 1950s, there was a tremendous increase in educational attainment and access in Asia, Africa and the Americas. Education systems arose literally from nothing on the basis of the work and enthusiasm of the anti-colonial movement. But the World Bank's (and IMF's) structural adjustment regime halted and even reversed this progress in the former colonial countries.

The gap between educational opportunities for young people in those areas versus those in high income (often colonizing) countries widened dramatically again in the 1980s and 1990s. For example, according to recent UNESCO statistics, the percentage of young people in high income countries going on to tertiary education between 1980 and 1995 increased from 35% to 57% while the level of investment per student increased by 10% during that period. But in low and middle income (mostly colonized) countries, which were most affected by structural adjustment between 1980 and 1995, the expenditure per student on the tertiary level fell by nearly 50% while enrollment on that level has largely stagnated in most middle income countries as well in the low income countries of Latin America, South Asia, Europe and Central Asia.

The most upsetting result of structural adjustment, however, has been its impact on primary school enrollment and investment. The World Bank justified its SAPs in education by arguing that Third World countries should reduce their investment in tertiary level institutions in order to increase their investment in primary schooling. But this has not happened in many of the most vulnerable areas of the world. For example, between 1980 and 1995 expenditure per primary school student fell in Sub-Saharan Africa by 20%, in East Asia and the Pacific by 25% and in Latin America by 2%. Indeed, in one region in this period, Sub-Saharan Africa, the actual enrollment in primary school fell by about 4%.

The Anti-SAP Student Movement

A new anti-SAP student movement throughout Africa, Asia and the Americas has organized thousands of demonstrations and strikes since the mid-1980s demanding the end of policies making education a commodity out of reach of the children of the working class. This movement (reminiscent of the anti-colonial student movement) launched itself in the face of massive and direct police repression (whose tools are never begrudged by the World Bank to indebted governments). In Africa, literally hundreds of students have been killed in anti-SAP demonstrations in Nigeria, Mobuto's Zaire, Uganda, Kenya, and South Africa. In the Americas, the students in Mexico, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Argentine have carried out some of the largest (involving hundreds of thousands of students) and longest (lasting for almost a year) student strikes in history to protest SAPs.

The young people who spearheaded the anti-World Bank/IMF demonstrations in Washington DC in April 2000 were simply the latest expression of a new movement of students and youth around the planet who have spoken for themselves and have definitively concluded with their bodies and their lives that the World Bank's education policies must be reversed.