Journal Issue

experiment and development in education

International Monetary Fund. External Relations Dept.
Published Date:
June 1972
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Jorge Bravo

Popular demand for more and more education is probably just as strong in the rich industrialized nations as in the developing countries. But to the latter the development of education is of paramount importance. The economic and social progress of the developing countries is closely knitted to their response to the urgent need of carrying through the reforms now being planned or started in many of them. New trends in education are being shaped by new needs derived from the technological progress which is pushing countries to expand or readjust their educational systems at an unprecedented pace.

As a result of rapid growth in the demand for assistance from its developing member countries, the World Bank Group’s own activities in the field of education are growing rapidly. At the same time, the policies and procedures of the Bank Group are constantly being reviewed and adjusted to serve the new trends better.

The aims in supporting educational development were clearly stated in a message to the Director General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) by the Bank Group’s President on September 8, 1971 on the occasion of International Literacy Day: “… our aims are not simply quantitative; more importantly, they are qualitative. For it is the improvement of the human condition, not the statistical abstractions, that is the object of our endeavors.”

World Bank Group lending for education started in 1963 to aid Tunisia in the execution of a project for improvement and expansion of general and technical education, teacher education, and teacher training. Since then, some 60 projects in over 40 countries have been supported by Bank loans or credits by its affiliate, the International Development Association (IDA). The Group has supplied about $450 million and the recipient countries have provided the balance to finance investments of over $750 million to expand, strengthen, and modernize education systems in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

The Bank Group expects to increase its lending considerably. Projections for the 5-year period, fiscal years 1971/72–1975/76, envisage financial support of about $800 million for some 95 projects in 60 countries.

In extending its aid, the Bank Group is bearing in mind the most striking educational phenomenon of the last quarter century: the tremendous increase in enrollment at all levels. A Bank working paper on the education sector published in 1971 stresses the importance of this feature. It points out that the forces pushing for this increase are, on the one hand, social and political demand for more education and, on the other, remarkable growth of the school-age population. A recent UN estimate said that in 1970 slightly over 40 per cent of the total population in the developing countries was under 15 years of age, compared with 27 per cent in the developed countries.

School in Medellin, Colombia

In many countries the expansion of enrollment has impaired the quality and efficiency of schools, classrooms, equipment, and teaching. Materials do not meet the most pressing needs; teacher training and experience fall short both in quality and quantity levels; and organization, planning, evaluation, and supervision are generally deficient or in some cases lacking completely.

There are heavy burdens, yet many developing countries have been able to shoulder them. To see how it has been done, a good course is to narrow the focus and look at events in a particular country.


Of the total Bank Group lending for education so far, Latin American and Caribbean countries have received 16 loans and credits for $96.25 million. The 11 borrowing countries’ investment in the execution of the Bank Group-supported projects amounts to more than twice that—the equivalent of some $200 million. When all those projects are completed—secondary schools and teacher-training facilities—the area will have 233,000 new places available and about 4,200 new teachers trained to serve the reformed or readjusted education systems.

Expansion of Secondary School Systems

Colombia, which has received two education loans, is a good example of the ways in which the World Bank may assist a member country to improve the quality of its educational system and to stimulate a change of attitudes on the part of the government and the political leaders, the educational authorities, the parents—and the students themselves.

Bank assistance to the education sector in Colombia has been aimed at improving the quality of the secondary school system, and at the same time providing places for a rapidly growing demand at that level. Enrollment in secondary schools in Colombia was about 200,000 in 1959; by 1965 it had doubled, and it doubled again to 800,000 in 1971. It is expected to reach 1 million by 1973.

School enrollment in Colombia reflects population growth. The population doubled in less than 30 years, and with the present growth rate of 3.3 per cent annually, it may double again in less than 20 years. Urban population in cities of over 20,000 has increased considerably. It has been estimated that by 1980, half of the country’s population will be living in such cities.

The two loans made by the World Bank to Colombia for education have taken into account the general population growth and the accelerated increase in urban population. The loans, of $7.6 million in 1968 and $6.5 million in 1970, are helping to finance the building of and equipment for 19 comprehensive secondary schools, 1 for each of 17 departmental (state or provincial) capitals and 2 for the capital city, Bogota. These cities together account for nearly 90 per cent of the country’s urban population.

Total cost of the 19 schools, including building and equipment, has been estimated at the equivalent of $28.2 million. The Bank loans are financing half of that amount, including foreign exchange requirements and some local currency expenditures. The Government is supplying the balance. The Government also pays for current expenditures—teachers’ salaries, maintenance, and others—out of the budget allocated to the education sector.

For most of these schools, the local municipalities or departmental governments have transferred the land to the Colombian Government, but in several instances, the land has been donated by private individuals.

When completed, the 19 schools in the two Bank-supported projects will provide 80,000 student places in two shifts. Students pay a nominal tuition fee related to the income tax paid by the head of the family. As most schools are, or will be, located in lower-middle or low-income areas, most of these fees amount to little or nothing.

An Interim Report

The World Bank has worked in close association with Colombia since 1949, when its first general economic mission visited that country. The mission’s report was the basis for Colombia’s first 10-year development plan. In the late 1950s, development of education came to the fore as one of the country’s most pressing priorities; the educational system was seen lagging behind the general advance in the economy, and a serious lack of skilled and qualified manpower was acting as a brake to the rate of growth the country needed.

In 1963–66, a UNESCO and a U. S. Agency for International Development mission, working with the Colombian Government, identified the need to modernize and change secondary education into a comprehensive system. It was at that level that the major gaps and constraints to further economic development in industry and agriculture were found. The Government, assisted by the mission, prepared a major program of educational reform. In late 1967 Colombia approached the World Bank with a request for financial assistance to carry out the first phase of the reform of the secondary education system.

The first phase of the project—which included the construction of the first 10 new secondary comprehensive schools—is now nearly completed. Several of the schools opened during the first half of 1970 and their effect is already being felt in the communities in which they are located and throughout the whole educational system in Colombia.

Popularly known by the initials of their name in Spanish—INEM (Instituto Nacionales de Education Media)—the new schools have become a force that is pushing reform both upward, in the universities, and downward, in the primary schools. Educators in Colombia now talk more and more of the “INEM system” as the light at the end of a long tunnel.

The massive, sprawling, functional buildings of INEM have become the center of an educational revolution that seeks to change not only teaching methods and the content of education, but also to influence the social environment, and to integrate itself more closely with the society of which it is part. Leaders are trying to make the educational system in Colombia an inseparable part of the whole process of national development, establishing a close coordination with all the other social and economic sectors.

The INEM schools now in operation and those under construction became the core of the reform for which World Bank assistance was requested. Educators from several countries who visited the new schools in Colombia as part of their training course at the Bank’s Economic Development Institute (EDI), agreed with an officer of the Colombian Planning Department that INEMs are an adequate mechanism for reform. The visitors considered, however, that their potentiality may not be fully utilized if the reform does not spread soon to the other levels of the educational system.

Briefly, INEMs are 6-year secondary schools with a diversified curriculum, operating under a new educational concept. Under the traditional system, nearly all upper cycle secondary education is preparation for university entrance—and all secondary schools in Colombia outside the INEM system do just that. The INEM schools offer a new structure with options in industrial, agricultural, and commercial subjects. INEMs prepare students for employment or for further technical training at preuniversity and university levels. At the same time, they offer sufficient academic education to enable students to enter postsecondary institutions or universities.

At each INEM, the first 2 years of the 6-year course are for general exploratory studies in prevocational subjects. At the end of the period, students, assisted by guidance counselors, choose more specialized courses to which they devote the next 2 years. In the last 2 years, the options become final. The student, again with assistance from guidance counselors, takes the subjects which will determine his future activities: humanities, science, metal mechanics, electricity, construction, industrial chemistry, farming and/or animal husbandry, secretarial, bookkeeping, social work, community development, or home economics. The INEMs’ aim is to offer a combination of options consistent with the needs of manpower in the area where they are located.

Diffusing Innovation

As a means of diffusing innovation, INEM is trying to spread its effects as rapidly as possible throughout the educational system. Raising teaching standards by using better qualified teachers, and by involving parents and students in the academic and administrative life of the school, INEM attempts to stimulate reform at the primary levels.

By word of mouth, children in primary schools and their parents are learning about the existence of INEM. And both look up to the large buildings as their vehicle to reach better things. A taxi driver in a city on the Colombian Atlantic Coast said to a visitor: “My 11-year old daughter is in fourth grade (primary). Since INEM opened she is studying more than ever. She wants to continue studying at INEM instead of going to work after completing her primary education, as she planned. INEM changed her attitude. She wants to prepare herself better, earn more money, and help her mother and me. I think INEMs are very good for us poor people.”

“The universities are also thinking INEM,” the head of one of the departmental INEMs reported to his colleagues from abroad who visited him in late 1971. He is proud of running one of the most successful among the first INEMs built under the World Bank-supported project. He told his visitors that university leaders in Colombia met twice during 1971 to discuss the need to reform admission requirements to put them in line with INEMs’ expected final “product”: a better, more knowledgeable student, who has already decided what he wants to be. The universities are also discussing changes in their teaching methods, prompted by the innovations introduced by INEM.

Other university principals talk at length to their colleagues and visitors of the already visible impact of INEM on the surrounding community. One principal runs a still unfinished INEM located between an industrial section and one of the city’s residential districts for low-income families. Three thousand boys and girls fill the bare-walled, sparsely furnished classrooms in two shifts. Many of them are among the very poor in the city, and children of very poor families are among the best students in the school. Parents come to talk to the principal, to the teachers, to the guidance counselors. Students often take part in these conversations, discussing their problems openly and candidly. For Colombia, this is a new concept of involvement— of school, family, and community. The community is benefiting already, only 18 months after INEMs’ opening. The school is drawing parents together, and as a result, they are becoming more interested in each other and in the places where they live. Students share the school with their parents in a way not known before: on any day you may see boys and girls guiding their father or mother through corridors and classrooms, introducing them to teachers and pointing proudly at the facilities and teaching aids they now use.

A Beginning

But the INEM schools are not enough. When all the 19 INEMs included in the two projects assisted by the Bank are completed, it will be only a beginning. The reform must go even deeper, and the facilities must continue to increase. The INEM schools themselves are under a constant process of change and adjustment. Because of the complexity of the circumstances in which they operate, many traditional traits still remain. And many resistances have yet to be overcome: among political and government leaders, among parents, and among teachers themselves.

A comprehensive evaluation of what the INEMs will be able to accomplish will have to wait another 4 years, when the children who started at first grade in 1970 graduate. Meanwhile, the schools will continue trying to fill the expectations they have created among so many. A Pakistani educator visiting the schools recently told his Colombian colleagues: “You will succeed. All the ingredients are here: your very young, very enthusiastic, very devoted teacher body; eager and willing students; understanding and cooperative parents; and the solid support of your community and your Government.”

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