About "good practice" in international co-operation in education

Gurbuz Calimar

Rosa María Torres
(document in process)

¿What would be good practice in "international cooperation" or "development aid" for education in countries in the South?

Just as "improving the quality of education" has become insufficient, showing the need for a radical shift and for renewed paradigms for education and learning, "improving the quality of international co-operation" and "improving aid effectiveness" is no longer enough. Major changes are needed to make financial "aid" and technical "assistance" really such and beneficial in the short, medium and long term for the countries they are supposedly addressed to.

Currently, "aid effectiveness" and its identified problems are defined as follows:

"Aid effectiveness is about ensuring maximum impact of development aid to improve lives, cut poverty and help achieve the Millennium Development Goals."
"At the beginning of the 21st century it became clear that aid was not delivering the expected results. Inadequate methods and differences in donor approaches made aid less effective. Action was needed to boost impact."
In: Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, Korea, 29 Nov-1 Dec 2011


▸  Review "countries"
International agencies traditionally think of countries as divided in government and civil society.
When they say they work with "countries" they often mean government entities and officials. When they say they work with "civil society" or Civil Society Organizations (OSCs) they usually mean Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). However, in most countries NGOs represent a small portion of civil society, a portion that is highly dependent on international funding and increasingly dependent on government funding (thus making it necessary to redefine the N of Non-). Grassroots organizations and social movements constitute the core of civil society, representing major social segments such as indigenous groups and nationalities, youth, women, peasants, workers or the unemployed, teachers, etc. In many countries, social movements are key social and political actors with national scope and representation.

▸  Review "development"  
The idea behind "development co-operation" is that countries in the South are "poor" - in need of "poverty alleviation strategies" - and "underdeveloped" or "less developed" -  in the process of "developing" in the same direction of developed countries. This route to development, and the very concept of development, are today under question all over the world and stressed by the global crisis of capitalism (see for example degrowth). Alternatives to development are also being proposed in several countries in the South, challenging conventional development cooperation and aid as we know them.

▸  Accept diversity and act accordingly
So-called "developing countries" ("the South") are highly heterogeneous even within each region: Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean. Each country is unique in its own way, beyond economic categories (low/middle/high income) or even more complex indicators such as the Human Development Index and others. They are different in dimensions that are not easy to quantify or classify: history, languages, cultures, traditions, values, citizenship, democracy, education and learning practices, etc. While diversity is increasingly acknowledged in rhetoric, international agencies favor one-size-fits-all policies and policy recommendations for the South. Failure with so many education reform attempts shows the urgency for radical rethinking and doing in this regard. Countries, just as learners, need customized interventions. There is no one size fitting all. There are no universally valid "success stories" waiting to be replicated elsewhere. There is not "what works" and "what doesn't work" in general.
Single sets of education goals with the same deadlines for all - such as Education for All (EFA) or the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) - end up in the usual sense of failure for some and easy accomplishment for others.


Rights approach
Education is a human right -- the right to free and quality education for all, children, youth and adults. International agencies must thus enhance a rights approach to education, adopting the four As -
availability, accessibilty, adaptability and acceptability - as criteria to ensure such right as well as to identify and develop "good practices" in the fields of education, training and learning.

▸  Wide understanding of education and Lifelong Learning as framework
Agencies must review traditional ideas on education and embrace new knowledge and developments in this and in related fields. It is time for holistic and cross-sectoral approaches, looking beyond school education, beyond access (to schools, to computers, etc.), and beyond Ministries of Education as the obvious and only actors at the country level. It is time to really place learning at the center, beyond tests and testing, and beyond schooling, and to adopt Lifelong Learning (LLL) as a principle and a holistic framework from early childhood (and even before birth) to the elderly. LLL is not reduced to adults, neither does it call for the creation of new, separate sections or departments or new, separate education goals.

▸  Systemic vision
Dealing with education and with educational change requires abandoning
narrow sectoral and piecemeal approaches, and adopting a systemic vision: (a) of education, including all levels, modalities and all types of learning, in and out of school; and (b) of society, understanding that education policies cannot be dealt with in isolation, without taking into account the economy, and broad social and cultural issues, which determine to a great extent the teaching and learning conditions and expectations of the population.


▸  Co-operation among agencies themselves 
Agencies must co-operate, rather than compete, among themselves, if they want to effectively co-operate with countries. Co-operating means, among others, looking for common understandings on issues and concepts, sharing a common statistical base, harmonizing evaluation and reporting criteria and mechanisms, etc. This would alleviate terminological and conceptual confusion in the field, avoid usual overlapping of agendas and duplication of efforts, reduce waste, and save lots of time and resources. Co-operation requires will to dialogue and to coordinate, identifying specific strengths and weaknesses so that they complement each other and ensure synergy. The term "international community" still needs to become a reality. 

▸  Acknowledge and assume their own learning needs
If they are to provide technical advice, international agencies have the responsibility to permanently upgrade their own professional competencies, as well as the knowledge related to the countries where they work. Good technical assistance and advice require people who
see themselves as lifelong learners, open to new realities, humble and ready to listen, dialogue and rectify whenever necessary.

▸  Review the ‘event culture’
International co-operation is usually associated with abundant travel and with events (each with its own report and follow-up process). It is essential to reduce both - events and travel  - looking for more effective and less costly strategies, and taking full advantage of modern technologies, in order to cut costs and ensure efficiency and good use of scarce financial resources.

▸  Redefine publication and dissemination strategies
Agencies routinely produce heavy and fancy national and international reports. Most of the international ones are published in English, sometimes with translations to other languages that are made available with big delay. Few people understand and use such reports for meaningful research or action purposes. It is thus important that agencies review their production and dissemination strategies, making sure they come up with relevant new information and knowledge, easy to access and use by policy-makers, researchers, specialists, journalists, etc. Evaluating the real use and impact of such reports is also essential, without assuming that distribution is an indicator per se.

▸  Support South-South and South-North cooperation 
Not only the term "aid" but also the broader term "co-operation" are conceived as unidirectional: the North doing something for the South. The usual wording of "recipient countries" and "donor countries" makes this transparent. Although South-South co-operation gains ground, it is often also mediated and even coordinated by international agencies themselves. South-North co-operation remains mostly inconceivable. However, the North genuinely interested in the advancement of the South needs not only to learn together with, but also from, the South. 

▸  Work so as to become unnecessary 
Countries' "ownership" - the much repeated phrase "putting countries on the driver's seat" - has been long advocated but little implemented. It is time to do it, abandoning traditional top-down approaches and strategies of international agencies vis a vis "developing countries". Working towards ownership implies respecting and honoring countries' needs and priorities, eliminating conditionalities and untying "aid", giving top attention to the development and use of national capacities and national research rather than continuously importing/imposing them from abroad. The South needs to develop a generation of cadre that manages both relevant international knowledge and country-specific knowledge so as to be able to understand and deal with the interconnectedness between the local and the global. We need competent professionals equipped not only with knowledge but also with empathy, critical thinking, holistic perspectives and systemic understandings of education, learning, community and human development.

The best international co-operation is, ultimately, that which works to benefit countries and not agencies' own interests and agendas, and which deliberately works to become unnecessary. International co-operation and aid have been ineffective so far especially in that they have rather contributed to perpetuate technical and financial dependency as well as external debt.

To learn more

The Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness and the Accra Agenda for Action (2005)
Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, Korea, 29 Nov-1 Dec 2011
Aid Effectivesness (Wikipedia)
Eurobarometer Special Surveys: Making a difference in the world: Europeans and the future of development aid, EB76.1, Nov. 2011
Demystifying Aid, by Yash Tandon
The Indicator Tree - a visualisation of the right to education indicators

Related texts by RosaMaría Torres
▸ International initiatives for education ▸ Iniciativas internacionales para la educación
Lifelong Learning in the South: Critical Issues and Opportunities for Adult Education, Sida Studies 11, Sida, Stockholm, 2004.
The 4 As as criteria to identify "good practices" in education  
Lifelong Learning: moving beyond Education for All
On Innovation and Education
Knowldedge-based international aid: Do we want it? Do we need it?
▸ The green, the blue, the red and the pink schools

Lifelong Learning for the North, Primary Education for the South?  
Children's right to basic education
Over two decades of 'Education for All' ▸ Más de dos décadas de 'Educación para Todos'
The World Bank and its mistaken education policiesEl Banco Mundial y sus errores de política educativa

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