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Date: Wed, 24 Jul 1996 22:53:10 -0500
Subject: File: "DATABASE OUTPUT"

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>>> Item number 7290, dated 95/03/28 12:45:52 -- ALL
Date: Tue, 28 Mar 1995 12:45:52 CDT
Reply-To: Rich Winkel <rich@pencil.math.missouri.edu>
Sender: Activists Mailing List <ACTIV-L@MIZZOU1.MISSOURI.EDU>
From: Rich Winkel <rich@pencil.math.missouri.edu>
Organization: PACH
Subject: NACLA: World Bank Education Policy

/** nacla.report: 261.0 **/ ** Topic: World Bank Education Policy by Adriana Puiggros: May/June ** ** Written 11:58 AM Jun 19, 1996 by nacla in cdp:nacla.report **

World Bank Education Policy: Market Liberalism Meets Ideological Conservatism

By Adriana Puiggros, NACLA Report on the Americas, May/June 1996

Adriana Puiggros is a professor at the University of Buenos Aires, and is a representative of the Confederation of Educational Workers of the Argentine Republic (CTERA).

The theme of the Fifth Ibero-American Summit, held in the Argentine resort of Bariloche last October, was "Education and Development." The 22 heads of state who were present at the gathering painted an imaginary portrait of progress and good pedagogical intentions towards the excluded majorities. They reflected on the need to improve the quality and effectiveness of education, and to make primary schooling universally available. The whole event had a strangely surreal air. At the same time that the presidents were extolling the importance of education, most of their administrations were chopping away at their public education systems.

The region's governments are taking their cue from the World Bank, which has been in the vanguard in defining social policy in the neoliberal era. The Bank recommends drastically reducing public investment in education through privatizing and breaking up school systems, and nullifying teachers' contracts. Such a restructuring of the educational system is part of a larger effort to wipe out the remnants of the region's so-called "paternalistic" states.

The Bank's educational policy has an exclusively economic logic. It is based on a short-term cost-benefit analysis. As a researcher from the Fundacion Mediterranea, a think tank affiliated with Argentina's Minister of Economics Domingo Cavallo, put it recently, "What we try to measure is how well the training provided by each school fits the needs of production and the labor market."1 The World Bank advocates reducing all investment in education that does not supply direct income or cannot be recouped right away. Only educational spending that is immediately profitable is considered justifiable. Disciplines like anthropology and cultural studies, for example, are considered irrelevant.

This concept of "profitability" needs to be scrutinized. In the 1960s and 1970s, economists tried hard to come up with a formula for measuring the value which education contributes to labor, and education's role in the rate of return on investment. They never found a mathematical formula that worked, much less anything capable of becoming the basis for a universally applicable model. The reason for that failure is rooted in the fact that the logic of economic discourse is different from the logic of pedagogic discourse. To educate, you have to be looking toward the future and believe in a better world. Better worlds, however, aren't profitable in the short term.

The World Bank's current educational policy is the reverse of the traditional liberal thinking that had characterized U.S. educational policy with respect to Latin America since the end of the Second World War. Liberalism and "development theory" encouraged investment in public education so that Latin America's citizens would become productive participants in the institutions of capitalism. U.S. policymakers viewed public education in Latin America as a key component of the social peace which was needed to guarantee the security of U.S. investments in the region.

Today, the bottom line is most important. The Bank's educational policy is part and parcel of a larger neoliberal economic program whose overarching goal is to reduce state spending so that governments are able to continue making payments on their foreign debt.

Latin America's public school systems have developed quite unevenly over the past century. The quality and availability of public education varies considerably between different regions and countries, and also within each country. Because of the concentration of poverty in the countryside and the concentration of economic and political power in the urban centers, public school systems have traditionally been highly centralized with a top-down pyramidal structure. School curricula generated by central government offices rarely reflected the diversity and vitality of popular cultures.2

The World Bank has taken up these real concerns, underlining the traditional educational systems' bureaucracy, excessive centralization, poor quality, and uneven development. In terms of solutions, the Bank rightly recognizes that "it's impossible to come up with universal formulas, since the steps to be taken must be adapted to the situation of each country." No single model of a school system can be universally applicable in a region as socially and culturally diverse as Latin America. Yet the Bank adds that there is "a group of general policies that could be useful basic guides for all countries."3 In the end, the World Bank has a single prescription for all countries.

One of the principal recommendations of the World Bank's educational policy is that governments focus on improving primary education. To achieve this goal, the Bank does not recommend increasing public spending on education; rather, it proposes diverting money that used to go toward financing high schools and universities in order to expand access to primary schooling. The Bank recognizes that its plan will meet with fierce opposition from the many people who will be hurt by this redistribution of scarce funds. So for marketing purposes, the Bank makes highly dubious use of terms like "equity."

Its arguments are simple and direct. "Although public spending on primary education generally benefits the poor," one Bank report claims, "total public spending on education in low- and middle-income countries often favors the affluent."4 The same argument in favor of a focus on primary schooling is also made on the grounds of economic efficiency. "The high rates of return estimated for basic education in most developing countries," says the same report, "strongly suggest that investments to improve enrollments and retention in basic education should generally have the highest priority."5 There is no question that some groups are more in need of education than others, and compensatory programs must exist. But the word "equity" has been manipulated to cover up the attempt to eliminate free public schooling beyond the primary level. The Bank's rhetoric about the need to distribute free services more equitably deflates when we take into account that these services are administered at the whim of corrupt functionaries as part of broader structural- adjustment programs that impoverish the population as a whole.

That is precisely what happened during Argentina's National Constituent Assembly in 1994, when the administration of Carlos Menem defended its neoliberal reform of the constitutional provisions for education on the grounds that it wanted to distribute free educational services more equitably. In practice, the reform restricted guaranteed access to free education to the primary level. The student movement is currently fighting the government's attempt to impose university tuition fees in the wake of the reform. Where these fees have been imposed, large sectors of Argentina's impoverished middle class have been pushed out of the post-secondary educational system.

It is open to question whether primary education really is a priority of the World Bank. First of all, shifting funds from one level to another won't do the job. You can't broaden access to primary education unless you have enough teachers trained to teach primary school. You can't train these teachers in isolation, without raising the educational and professional levels of the entire society. Far from acknowledging the need for more teachers, the Bank recommends cutting back the number of primary school teachers as well as government-funded teacher-training and education programs.

Universal access to primary education will only be achieved if more money is invested in educating rural, indigenous and poor urban children, as well as adults who never attended school. Such programs, however, would raise the average cost per student, which is contradictory to the goals of structural adjustment.6 Since neoliberal governments are loath to spend a penny more on education, educational services for the poor get reduced to a few small-scale efforts such as the educational components in Argentina's Social Plan and Mexico's Solidarity Program. Both of these social-investment funds were designed in concert with structural-adjustment programs. They reach very few people, but generate good publicity for the government.

Aside from redistributing educational funds, the World Bank also calls for the privatization of the school system under the guise of decentralization and modernization. In Peru, the national government is handing elementary schools over to local jurisdictions as part of its larger efforts to shrink the purview of the state. Following the Bank's advice, President Alberto Fujimori passed new laws which regulate the transfer of control of schools from the national government to Community Boards of Education that have been set up in each municipality. These boards have legal standing as private entities. Only some of them receive state financing to cover part or all of their monthly expenses. The new laws also allow the state to transfer school facilities to teachers, parents and religious institutions among others.7

Decentralization of primary school systems without accompanying state financial support is producing greater inequality in educational services. While a handful of provinces and municipalities may be able to assume this new economic burden, other localities simply will not be able to sustain an elementary school system on their own. The Bank recommends eliminating poorly functioning schools altogether, which will make the system even more elitist. As schools are passed from hand to hand, the transfer process results in further closings and the deterioration of school infrastructure.

Making matters worse, neoliberal governments have started handing schools over to local governments and private interests at a time of economic catastrophe. The World Bank agreed to provide loans to several countries to cover the administrative expenses of the transfer itself. But loans-- which are always limited and temporary--will not make up the shortfall in educational spending that already existed and has simply been passed from the national government to municipalities.

The Bank favors running education on the model of the free market under that premise that competition will stimulate better-quality schooling. According to neoliberal pedagogical theory, parents and students can "freely" choose among the different options offered in the educational marketplace: they can foot their children's tuition fees if they have the money, they can go into debt, or they can give up altogether on educating their children.

Nicaragua offers a preview of what this new educational marketplace will look like. In a letter dated October 8, 1992, the Nicaraguan finance minister promised the president of the World Bank "to continue promoting the private provision of educational services at the primary and secondary levels" and "to remove restrictions on licenses and tuition charges."8 Nicaragua's public high schools now have obligatory tuition payments, and the elementary schools have "voluntary" ones. Schools charge rent on required textbooks. They have to raise funds to pay for their own water, electricity and telephone. Subsidies for hot lunches and transportation for students and teachers have been eliminated. The Nicaraguan teachers' union has also criticized the closing of rural schools, and the handing over of school buildings to private interests.9

The push for privatization reflects the Bank's belief that national governments should not have to provide permanent support for education. The Bank does not take into account, however, the relative weakness of the private sector in Latin America. Private groups are not able or willing to take on the task of providing primary education to millions of children. Such an initiative would entail paying the salaries of thousands of teachers as well as providing proper equipment to the schools. Not even the Catholic Church, which has traditionally been the largest supplier of private education, could take on more than a small portion of the total number of students in need of an education.

As governments in countries such as Mexico, Argentina, Colombia and Chile began to decentralize their school systems in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a private educational market did grow at first. It soon, however, began to flounder. Business lost interest in investing in education, as shrinking real wages caused the pool of potential private school pupils to diminish.10 In 1995, for example, one hundred private schools closed in Buenos Aires alone. This year, the demand for public elementary education in Argentina has mushroomed as many middle-class parents are no longer able to afford private-school tuition fees. Quite a few children will likely be left without schools to attend, or be stuck in over-crowded classrooms.11

For decentralization to flourish, there have to be social groupings able to take advantage of the new opportunities and responsibilities. Latin American civil society, which is weak to begin with, has been hit hard by the recent economic crisis. The Bank argues that "decentralization of education and support to community and private schools will generate additional resources for education from families and other local sources."12 Since regional economies are bankrupt, people cannot pay higher local taxes or make the direct contributions needed to keep these transferred schools afloat. Nor do people struggling to make ends meet have the time or energy to run schools.

The debate about whether Latin America's school systems should be decentralized or centralized is not a new one. In fact, that discussion, which has never been definitively resolved, began at the end of the nineteenth century. Not surprisingly, it is intimately linked to the issue of nation- building. Despite all their problems, public school systems are the most important public arena in which a unified national culture can be constructed and passed from generation to generation.

Since the independence era, Latin American democrats have linked decentralization with participation. They envision unified national school systems which are nonetheless sensitive to local demands and proposals. They argue that members of local school boards should be democratically elected. Finally, they believe responsibility for financing education rests primarily on governments, though state resources can be complemented by private contributions. They favor state-financed education because it guarantees the continuity of educational programs, is much more stable than private support, and has universal reach.

Decentralization is not good in and of itself, or under any circumstances. It needs to occur as part of broader development initiatives that have widespread popular support. To be effective, decentralization should take place during moments of regional economic growth when money as well as responsibility can be passed to the local level. The public should also play a role in shaping the process. As one Bank report declares, "If secondary education is to be decentralized, all parties agree that it should be done with prior consultation between the parties involved...."13 Nevertheless, in practice, the World Bank has allowed countries to carry out decentralization without consulting the people affected.

Neoliberal economists insist that their reforms will increase the efficiency and quality of education.14 The indicators they use, however, are often far removed from issues of pedagogical practice.15 For example, economists measure the efficiency of a school's staff by comparing the hours worked to the number of teachers on salary. For secondary, university and technical education, efficiency is measured by the number of graduates who find jobs. Following this logic, Argentina's Minister of Economics Domingo Cavallo blamed the country's 20% unemployment rate on the poor quality of the educational system.

Whatever the criteria used--whether economic indicators, test scores, or people's right to education--Latin America's school systems score poorly. In the 1990s--the era of neoliberalism--educational levels across the region have declined. Illiteracy is making a comeback in countries such as Argentina and Uruguay whose literacy rates were traditionally as high as those of developed countries. The Argentine government will not release complete statistics, but several sources suggest that illiteracy is now 14% among Argentines over 15 years old compared with 7.4% in 1970, and 6.1% in 1980. The drop-out rate in primary school currently averages 35% nationwide, although it approaches 70% in certain provinces. Thirty-five percent of the population over age 15 never finished elementary school, and nearly 20% of all secondary school students had to repeat their grade level in 1995.16

National exam results in many countries have declined significantly since the application of neoliberal policies. In Costa Rica, studies show that since structural-adjustment measures were implemented in the 1980s, the scholastic achievement has fallen in primary and secondary schools, and more students are failing grades in high school. Between 1988 and 1990, over 40% of students flunked national exams in math, 13% flunked Spanish, 19% social studies, and 17% foreign languages and science.17

In order to improve those results, but never straying from the neoliberal mindset, the Bank is encouraging countries to establish common mandatory basic curricula in all public and private schools, as well as standard programs to evaluate teacher and student performance. With these instruments, the neoliberal model is complete: the state pulls out of education entirely and the market takes its place; after relaxing economic controls, ideological controls are strengthened. Market liberalism meets ideological conservatism.

Professors' activities have become subject to rigid discipline. Compensation is now often tied to particular performance indicators. For example, in Mexico, half of researchers' salaries is paid according to efficiency indexes. These indexes force them to interrupt their research in order to pursue topics which will produce immediately applicable results that will provide universities with additional income. Teaching is discouraged as well since it is given less point value than research. Merit pay often amounts to two or three times the base salary of university professors. In Argentina, the monthly base salary of a full professor with 20 years seniority is US$1,500. The professor can receive another $1,000 in incentive pay depending on how his or her work fits within the norms of efficiency. This kind of rigid control over professors' time and activities has led to disinterest, apathy and deterioration in the quality of their work.18

The poor test scores have also been used as an excuse to cut back on the number of teachers and their working conditions. Salaries remain the biggest chunk of education budgets even though teachers have always been underpaid. Primary school teachers in Latin America earn between $100 and $400 a month in countries where the minimum wage is between $80 and $120. In nearly all countries, teachers earn only about as much as unskilled workers. Neoliberal economists do not address this problem because fair wages for teachers would require permanent increases in school budgets. Instead, the Bank recommends paring down teachers' already measly salaries. In Costa Rica, for example, salaries have been cut back, and teacher training has deteriorated significantly.19

In Argentina, a national evaluation survey was carried out in 1994, five years after Carlos Menem took office and began to institute sweeping neoliberal reforms. Elementary school students scored an average of 5.50 out of 10. The publication of these results in the media provoked a national scandal. Menem denied that his educational policies were to blame. Instead he pointed the finger at teachers. Taking advantage of the uproar, he curried public support for more "flexibility" in teachers' contracts--which has translated into fewer posts, less job security, and deteriorating salaries and working conditions.20

The large teachers' unions have also come under attack. These unions have been fundamental players in the struggle to maintain unity in public educational systems. For example, the National Education Workers Union (SNTE) in Mexico, despite its links to the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), has been an important bulwark for defending the Mexican educational system. Teachers' unions have also played a broader political role in many Latin American countries. The National Association of Salvadoran Educators (ANDES) was one of the sources of activists for the Farabundo Marti Liberation Front (FMLN). The Confederation of Educational Workers of the Argentine Republic (CTERA) leads the unions opposed to the Menem government. And the teachers' union in Brazil is one of the main unions affiliated with the Workers Party (PT).

The type of decentralization that has been carried out under the tutelage of the World Bank has dispersed teachers' demands, eliminated collective bargaining agreements, and de- linked union activism and politics. Teachers' unions have always worked in defense of democratic educational principles and national public education systems. Today, they have moved to the forefront of opposition to the educational reforms tailored by the World Bank because they believe the very survival of the teaching profession and the public education system are at stake.

"Education Reform Advocated by Teachers"

By Adriana Puiggro

Educators International and the Confederation of American Educators--the two organizations to which the majority of teachers in the Western world belong--met on October 14-16, 1995 in Buenos Aires. The meeting, which was hosted by the Confederation of Educational Workers of the Argentine Republic (CTERA), was held to coincide with the Ibero- American Summit in Bariloche. The teachers' objective was to voice their concern about the crushing problems they face and the uncertain future of education in the region.

They issued a declaration that criticizes the short- sightedness of neoliberal educational reforms, and declares that education should be considered a strategic investment in the future. The document emphasizes that only the long-term policies of democratic governments, hammered out with broad- based civic participation, will guarantee quality education. The teachers also called for overcoming the false contradiction between public education and modernization. They did so by affirming the four educational principles that underlie democratic modernization: education should be non- sectarian, free, obligatory and integrating. These principles, which have not been sufficiently adhered to by modern educational systems, are now under attack by neoliberal policymakers.

According to the document, teachers want an educational system which:

  • is governed and managed with the participation of teachers, and not left entirely in the hands of bureaucrats and politicians
  • guarantees fair salaries and ongoing professional training
  • answers the demands of all sectors of the population and broadens economic investment
  • is multicultural and does not discriminate against minorities
  • keeps study plans up to date, and regularly revises the curricula
  • responds to the infrastructural needs of public schools.

The teachers agreed that these educational reforms will not be possible without the participation of the unions and associations that represent educational workers. They demanded that collective bargaining be respected and that their unions be given a role in the discussion of educational policies. They criticized the coercive measures that have been used to repress union activity, and governmental interference intended to weaken and atomize the union movement.