Journal Issue

Hopes and Problems in World Education

International Monetary Fund. External Relations Dept.
Published Date:
June 1964
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IN THE LAST few years there has been a change of emphasis in many countries on the nature of and objectives of education. Not so long ago the greatest stress was laid on the basic human right of people to receive the benefits of education, and consequently there had been a widespread impetus in the less developed countries to broaden primary education. Recently the emphasis has changed, and it has become fashionable to pay attention to education as an element in what is called the development of human resources, and to regard it as an organic part of the whole social and economic development of a country. Educationists have begun to think in terms of economics, and economists have begun to pay special attention to education.

Already, in some universities, research has been done on the techniques of manpower surveys designed to forecast the numbers of highly educated people that a particular country is going to need, and the special skills they should possess. The relation between the cost of investment in education and the benefits to be derived from it has also been examined. But such studies are still in their infancy. What exists so far is the foundation of an art; it certainly does not approach being a science. Yet much work is being done, and the general conclusion (which cannot be supported by precise equations) is that properly planned investments in education pay great economic dividends, especially in the less developed countries.

After working for 13 years with Baring Brothers in London, Mr. Ripman was employed during and after World War II as First Secretary to the British Embassy in Washington. He is now Assistant Director in the Department of Technical Operations in the World Bank.

In education these countries face common problems, which are not of course theirs exclusively, yet which are for them especially burdensome. They include administration, the structure of educational systems, teachers and teaching policy, financing, and planning.

The Administration of Education

There is a lack of continuity in the administration of education, both in the formulation of policy and in its implementation. The average life of a Minister of Education in office in Latin America, for instance, is not much more than six months. Moreover, in a number of countries there is no well-developed civil service, and when the Minister goes, many of the top officials go with him. Obviously, no large organization of any kind could ever work efficiently in these conditions.

The degree of centralization of control poses a problem in any large organization, particularly an organization consisting of many units widely spread over a large area. This problem is particularly acute in education, where it is compounded by the fact that the Ministry of Education is seldom responsible for the whole system—higher education, for instance, may fall outside its scope. Within the field for which the Ministry is responsible it may have many partners: the Finance Ministry is an obvious example. The Ministry of Public Works is frequently responsible for school construction and maintenance. The Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Health, and the defense authorities may be concerned with certain kinds of training. In addition, outside the public education system, there may be an apprenticeship system, and private industry may give in-service training.

In some countries there is also a problem of coordinating the activities of private schools with the government system; in some African countries in particular the large majority of the schools are church or missionary schools.

The problems of administration are complicated not only by the multiplication of agencies responsible in the country itself. There are today many different kinds of agency which offer assistance in the development of education facilities. Besides the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the International Labor Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization, and other UN agencies, there are regional organizations, individual governments, and private foundations engaged in providing such help. Obviously, coordination of all these efforts is essential; yet it is often very deficient.

Another problem has to do with the construction of educational buildings, in which a great deal of money is invested. In many countries, because of the fragmentation of control, the design and construction of schools is the responsibility of local groups, and there is no central organization for research and design. Moreover, the results of the excellent research work in this field that has been carried out in the United Kingdom, in Mexico, and in some other countries, are not widely known in the less developed countries.

A final problem of administration is that there are very few people in the world, and particularly few in the less developed countries, who are qualified and experienced in the techniques of planning educational development. In many countries—indeed in most countries—there is a great need for training educational officials in modern administrative principles.

Balancing the Levels

The second group of general problems is concerned with the lack of balance among different levels of educational systems. Here, it is possible for students of world education to form views based on dispassionate study; but this is not a subject on which the world at large is able to be dispassionate. There is compelling political pressure to expand primary education as fast as possible until it becomes universal.

In many countries, the desired rate of expansion can be achieved only at the cost of watering down the quality of instruction, and at the cost of distorting the whole structure of the educational system. There are simply not enough qualified teachers to make it possible, without grave loss of efficiency, to expand primary education as fast as many countries have tried or would like. The result of such efforts is often disappointing—an increase in the number of dropouts and repeaters (pupils who have to take a course twice), and the sacrifice of quality to quantity. UNESCO has recognized this danger, and in conferences held in Latin America, in Africa, and in Asia, has stressed the importance of balancing the three levels of education—primary, secondary, and higher—and more of the developing countries are now beginning to think in this way. But the popular pressure for the expansion of primary education is such that it will be politically impossible in most countries to slow down the pace at all sharply.

At the other end of the scale, many countries regard the establishment of a university as a sign of their independence and a symbol of great prestige value. There are many agencies ready to help countries to found universities, and progress has sometimes been too fast, so that some faculties do not have enough students to fill the classes, while others are producing graduates for whom there are no jobs.

Secondary education in many countries has been at the bottom of the list, and this has had unfortunate results, since the secondary schools have to perform three essential tasks: first, to provide teachers for the primary schools; second, to prepare candidates for higher education who can man top-level positions; and third, to produce recruits for middle-level posts in administration, industry, commerce, and agriculture. Experts consider that mid-level manpower should increase from six to nine times as fast as the general labor force. It is these considerations that have led the staff of the World Bank to conclude that much of the aid to be provided for education by the Bank and its affiliate, the International Development Association (IDA), should, in the near future at any rate, properly go to the secondary level.

Teachers and Teaching Policy

Among the problems connected with teachers and teaching policy, the most striking is of course the serious shortage of teachers in every country, accentuated in many cases by the departure of those who become expatriates. There is a particularly acute shortage of teachers in scientific and technological subjects.

Many of those who are today employed as teachers, moreover, lack the necessary qualifications; for example, it was reported recently that in a large South American country, more than half the primary school teachers had received no specific teacher training at all. In some countries, the shortage is so great that people are being recruited to teach in primary schools who have themselves less than six years of elementary education.

The poor quality of teaching, and the low ratio of teachers to pupils, contribute to the swelling of the school population by repeaters. And the rate at which teachers can be trained sets an absolute limit to the pace at which an educational system may be expanded without loss of efficiency.

From all this it is clear that the provision of facilities for training new teachers, and for up-grading existing teachers, ranks high among the educational needs of most countries.

When teaching policies are considered, no country has a clean slate. Often the policies have not been designed with a view to the particular needs of the children or the country itself. Sometimes this arises because a system has been copied from another country, and sometimes because it corresponds to the needs of a social system that is out of date. Thus in countries where the concept of education as a means of developing the human resources needed for economic development has not yet taken root, universities still concentrate mainly on turning out the lawyers, the doctors, and the general arts graduates who are their traditional product.

Next there is the problem of language. Some difficulties arise from the fact that many languages are spoken within the borders of a single country, and these difficulties may be accentuated by political factors. In most of the less developed countries, higher education, and to some extent secondary education, may have to be conducted in a foreign language, partly because there are no textbooks in the local language (which may even lack the necessary vocabulary), and partly because access to the current technical literature demands knowledge of a foreign language.

A difficulty of another sort arises in rural districts. In many countries the curricula of the primary schools in such districts are not well related to the needs of the community. As a consequence, the parents do not see any practical use in the schooling their children are getting. This contributes to a very high rate of dropouts in the first two years of school. Most of these revert to illiteracy almost at once, and the money spent on what is called their education is thus completely wasted.

The Financing of Education

Some time ago, the head of the Organization of American States Task Force on Education estimated that 50-60 per cent of the money being spent in Latin American countries on education is wasted. This is appalling to contemplate, especially since education is bound to be relatively more expensive in the less developed countries than it is in other countries.

About three fourths of the current cost of education is represented by teachers’ salaries. A teacher’s salary in a developed country may be between one and a half and three times the average income per head. In the less developed countries it is proportionately much higher; in Nigeria, for instance, it is as much as seven times the average, and in Tunisia as much as ten times. There are usually locally valid reasons for this. Apart from the general shortage of teachers, and indeed of educated men in general, there is the fact that in many countries local teachers have inherited salaries and conditions of service which had been established to attract teachers from abroad. Although there are hopes that this very high cost will come down as more teachers are trained, it is clear that the present shortage will persist for a long time.

Apart from this, costs are swollen—and money is wasted—in the less developed countries by the high rates of dropouts and of repeaters; by the construction of over-elaborate and substandard buildings; and by the loss of investment incurred in sending abroad students who do not return home when their studies are finished.

The amount of money made available for education clearly sets a limit on the pace at which education can be expanded. Accordingly, it is essential to obtain the maximum possible contribution at the provincial or local level, including the enlistment of village dwellers to give labor and perhaps materials on a voluntary basis for the construction of schools and teachers’ houses.

The Planning of Education

The planning of educational development also faces a critical shortage of qualified and experienced personnel. Something is being done to fill this gap; and plans are in hand to do more. There are already regional training centers in New Delhi and Beirut; others are being established in Africa and Latin America; and an International Educational Planning Institute, under the joint sponsorship of the World Bank and UNESCO, has been established in Paris.

However, in practice, the shortage of finance and the shortage of adequately trained teachers set limits to the rate at which any educational system can be expanded without serious deficiencies in the quality of instruction. What can be done, by way of well-balanced growth, within these limits, can be shown without any difficulty to be economically justified. In practice, therefore, for some years to come the absence of fully comprehensive plans should not prevent investments in education.

In the past, the experience of the Bank and IDA has convinced us of the importance of education and training in the process of economic development, and in recent years the two institutions have begun to tackle the problems involved in financing education. IDA has now extended four credits for educational projects: for the construction of selected secondary schools in Tunisia; for the expansion of the secondary school system in Tanganyika; and for the expansion and improvement of facilities for agricultural and technical education in West and East Pakistan. Educational financing is now also recognized as a suitable field for the Bank itself, which may make its first loan for an educational project some time this summer. In the efforts which the Bank and IDA are making to help create the facilities for the spread of education they will have the cooperation of UNESCO, with which they plan jointly to explore and support new projects.

Principles of Bank and IDA Financing

To provide a framework for Bank-IDA financing a number of principles have been established. In the first place, the government of a country which wants such financing must give education a high priority in its general plans for development. The evidence that it really does so will be the proportion of its own total resources that it is laying out for education.

Secondly, the Bank and IDA are interested primarily in projects involving substantial capital investment in the construction and equipment of facilities to be devoted to educational or training purposes. They would not normally expect to finance the recurrent costs of an educational or training program. They may be prepared, however, to finance special expenditures required for a limited period of time to pay for personnel or teaching materials needed for a project which breaks new ground in the educational program.

In the third place, the Bank and IDA will not normally consider financing a project for education or training unless:

  • (i) it has a high priority and contributes to, or is part of a well-balanced and practical plan for, the development of education and training, and

  • (ii) it is carefully designed to meet the need implied by the economic and social development of the country.

A fourth general principle is that the Bank and IDA would not wish to finance the normal year-to-year growth of an educational and training system, but would rather concentrate on filling the gaps in the system; and above all, on the gaps which, if filled, would quickly aid economic growth.

The Bank and IDA will be able to consider only projects which have been properly planned, in their human, material, and financial aspects. Well-documented cost estimates will be needed. In some cases, technical assistance may be provided for the preparation of a project to be subsequently financed.

Finally, the Bank and IDA will need to be satisfied that steps are being taken to make the educational or training systems both effective and efficient. This means, for instance, that they will expect to find arrangements made for exercising a continuing planning function, efficient coordination of aid received from various sources, a proper coordination among all the national agencies responsible for various kinds of education and training, and some assurance of continuity in policy. It also means that the Bank and IDA will want to be satisfied that adequate steps are being taken to modernize educational practices and educational content, that modern school buildings are being planned, and that enough educational research is undertaken to introduce a spirit of innovation and efficiency in education and training.

These are the general principles of the financing of education by the Bank and IDA. But they have in fact passed the stage of dealing in generalities. The group of educators, economists, and architects which drew up the principles has for some time past been devoting itself to the vital practical details. The financing of education is taking the place it ought to have among everyday tasks.

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