Mostrando entradas con la etiqueta poverty. Mostrar todas las entradas
Mostrando entradas con la etiqueta poverty. Mostrar todas las entradas

¿21st century education?

 Texto en español: ¿Cuál educación del siglo 21?

Everyone talks about 'Education for the 21st Century' or 'Education in the 21st Century':

- 21st century knowledge
- 21st century skills
- 21st century students
- 21st century educators
- 21st century schools
- 21st century classrooms

Strictly speaking, however, there is no 'Education in the 21st Century'.

The century is just beginning

We can hardly visualize one or two decades ahead. The world could not anticipate, and prepare for, the 2020 deadly global pandemia. Who can tell what the planet, human life and education will be like in 2050? Nobody can anticipate what can happen in 100 years, and in this century in particular, characterized as one of big uncertainties, rapid changes, major crises and catastrophes.

What 21st century?

- About 1 in 4 people live in multidimensional poverty or are vulnerable to it.
- More than 40% of the global population does not have any social protection.
- 840 million people live without electricity.

- Over one thousand million people has no drinking water and 2 in 5 people have no facilities for hand-washing. 
- 43% of schools worldwide have no facilities to wash hands with water and soap (UNICEF, 2019)
- 6.5 billion people – 85.5% of the global population – don’t have access to reliable broadband internet.
Source: UN/UNDP 2020

The 21st century is not the same for everyone. Millions of people do not enjoy the benefits of modernity and comfort, do not have running water, toilets, electricity, decent work and housing, reading and writing, good education opportunities, basic services and basic citizenship rights.

Inequalities - within each country, between countries, between the global North and the global South - become structural: extreme poverty and extreme wealth, hyper-consumption and misery, overinformation for some and zero information for others, the illiterate and the overqualified, the connected and the disconnected.

Home-based virtual education, recommended by UNESCO and others while schools are closed because of the covit-19 pandemia and the confinement, remains out of reach for half of the world's population who lack access to the Internet.

Evidently, life in the 21st century is very different for those living with less than 1 or 2 dollars a day (those living in extreme poverty) and for those participating fully in the Information Society, the Knowledge Society, the Digital Society.

What education?

There is no education in singular, as a universal fact and as a homogeneous experience. There are educations, in plural, diverse in nature, purposes and qualities, because realities, cultures, ideologies, aspirations and needs of concrete social groups are highly diverse. And because education is not confined to the education system; there is education in the family, in the community, at the workplace, through the media, participation, social service, etc.

Education and learning needs and experiences are shaped by specific economic, social and cultural contexts and conditions. Community and family education models shaped historically by indigenous populations, many of which continue to operate in many countries worldwide, have different logics and epistemologies.

There are no one-size-fits-all education formulas for all.

Education in the 21st century? 

Education in the 21st century is diverse, placed historically in this century and geographically in each specific context, and does not necessarily correspond to the '21st century' vision coming from the 'developed world'.

Millions of children and youth have never seen a computer and don't know what can be found behind a screen. Millions of children and youth don't know where food comes from, how to grow a potato, a lemmon, a tomato. Different types of ignorance.

21st century skills? 

World Economic Forum, The Future of Jobs, 2016

Skills needed are different or have different priorities for different people in different places, cultures and circumstances. Lists of "21st century skills" circulated by international organizations are generally conceived and proposed from the North, for eminently urban realities. Childre, young people and adults living in poverty, need and develop skills than enable them to survive in very difficult circumstances, help and take care of their families, learn and share in their communities. The 'top 10 21st century skills' circulated worldwide in 2016 by the World Economic Forum and adopted by millions of people in the North and in the South, have little to do with the skills real people need in 2020 to deal with the global covid-19 pandemia.

Related texts in this blog (English)
» Basic Learning Needs: Different Frameworks

Reaching the Unreached: Non-Formal Approaches and Universal Primary Education

Rosa María Torres
and Manzoor Ahmed

Photos: BRAC, Bangladesh

Photo: CONAFE indigenous school, Mexico

This text is part of a dossier prepared by Manzoor Ahmed and myself in 1993, while both of us worked at UNICEF/HQ Programme Division in New York. The dossier was one of many UNICEF/ Education Cluster contributions to the policy-making process following the World Conference on Education for All - EFA (Jomtien-Thailand, 1990). The dossier included this conceptual text and a selection of twelve innovative primary education programmes from all over the world. Some of them are now over forty years old, such as BRAC in Bangladesh, Cursos Comunitarios - CONAFE in Mexico or Escuela Nueva in Colombia (BRAC and Escuela Nueva won recent WISE Awards). The term "non-formal" - adopted mainly from the South Asian experience - refers to the innovative, flexible and alternative nature of these programmes.
There was no Internet back in 1993. The dossier was printed and distributed by mail to all UNICEF offices. Two decades later, many of the ideas contained here remain valid. Many things have changed in the world, for good and for bad, and opportunities for education and for lifelong learning have widened, but many of the key educational problems addressed by the six EFA goals are still unsolved. Universal Primary Education - UPE (EFA Goal 2) remains a major challenge - not only universal access and retention but, most importantly, universal learning.
In 1990, at the launch of the global Education for All initiative (World Conference on Education for All, Jomtien), according to UNESCO there were 106 million children out of school. The year 2000 was established as the deadline for achieving UPE. In 2000 (World Education Forum, Dakar), the promise was postponed until 2015. However, in 2013 (data from 2001-2012):

- "More than 57 million children continue to be denied the right to primary education, almost half of whom will never enter a classroom."
- "Progress in reducing the number of children out of school has come to a virtual standstill just as international aid to basic education falls for the first time since 2002." (EFA Global Monitoring Report/UNESCO-UIS, Policy Paper 09, June 2013).
- Nigeria, Pakistan, Ethiopia, India, the Philippines, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Niger, Yemen, and Mali are the 10 countries with the largest number of out of school children.
- About 25% of children who enroll in school drop out before completing primary education.
- 120 million of those who complete four years of primary education are not able to read, write, and calculate.
“We are at a critical juncture. The world must move beyond helping children enter school to also ensure that they actually learn the basics when they are there. Our twin challenge is to get every child in school by understanding and acting on the multiple causes of exclusion, and to ensure they learn with qualified teachers in healthy and safe environments. Now is not the time for aid donors to back out. Quite the reverse: to reach these children and our ambition to end the learning crisis, donors must renew their commitments so that no child is left out of school due to lack of resources, as they pledged at the turn of this century.” Irina Bokova, UNESCO’s Director General, June 2013.

The proximity of the 2015 deadline - both for Education for All (EFA) and for the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) - has revived old concerns, discussions and ideas with a long history. Governments and international agencies have weak institutional memories; documents that are not on the web are invisible today. These are some of the reasons why we resuscitate this text and make it available in digital format, as a contribution to current reflections and analyses on primary schooling, educational innovation and education reform worldwide. 
Reaching the Unreached:
Non-Formal Approaches and Universal Primary Education

Dossier Prepared for the Second EFA Forum by UNICEF,  New York, 1993
This paper is the product of a collaborative effort. A draft prepared at UNICEF by Rosa-María Torres and Manzoor Ahmed was circulated to the international EFA Forum Steering Committee and others. Comments received were taken into account in preparing a longer draft that was reviewed in a meeting held at UNICEF headquarters in New York on 7-8 June 1993. The meeting was attended Olivier Berthoud, Anil Bordia, Frank Dall, Lavinia Gasperini, Aklilu Habte, Khadija Haq, Aster Haregot, Anthony Hewett, Uyeng Luong, Frank Method, Nyi Nyi, Heli Perrett, Ana Maria Quiroz, Elsie Rockwell, Kate Torkington, Daniel Wagner and Fred Wood. All these contributions are acknowledged gratefully.

The term Non-Formal Education (NFE) denotes here an approach to education rather than an educational domain or sub-system. Such approach introduces greater flexibility with respect to formal education: a decentralised structure, more democratic management and relationships,  adapting programmes to specific contexts and people (families, learners, educators), learner-centred pedagogies and content, creative ways of mobilising and using education­al resources, community ownership and participation in planning and management. Non-Formal Primary Education, as it is called in South East Asia, refers thus to non-conventional school programmes that "deformalise" schools in a number of aspects. In order to reach the unreached - the hardest to reach, the poorest, the most vulnerable and distant, those trapped in conflict situations - flexibility is essential. Rigid and homogeneous school patterns, imposed to all, have not and will not serve the purpose.

"Non-formal" approaches can be applied to all modes and levels of education - including initial, primary, secondary and tertiary education, as well as adult education, and vocational training.  Given the paramount importance of universal primary education (UPE) -- UPE being recognized as the core and the cutting edge of 'basic education for all' within EFA efforts -- this paper concentrates on NFE's potential for achieving UPE.


The main delivery system to ensure children's basic education outside the family is the school. Primary education must be universal, meet the basic learning needs of children, and take into account the culture, needs and expectations of families and of the community. Non-conventional, alternative programmes can help meet such basic learning needs, even in highly disadvantageous situations, if they are given the necessary conditions to facilitate children's access, wellbeing and learning.

Achieving universal primary education has been an explicit aim for most countries since the early 1960s. However, UPE was understood in terms of enrollment, regardless of retention, completion, and actual learning. This model, centered on a linear and homogeneous expansion of the regular school system, overlooked the different contexts and needs of the population, the actual teach­ing/learning conditions and processes, and ultimately, the learning results. Access and enrollment, infrastructure and central administration consumed most efforts and budgets destined for education, to the detriment of the quality of teaching/learning conditions and results. Non‑enrollment, repetition, dropout and low learning achievement are still major challenges, particularly for 'developing countries' and for the most disadvan­taged groups of society.

Although progress in the last three decades has raised net enrollment rate in developing countries from around 50 per cent of the primary school age-group to over 80 per cent, there are still at least 130 million eligible children who are not enrolled in primary schools. And of those who enroll, at least one-third, do not complete the primary cycle because of a combination of poverty and other socio-cultural disadvantages of children and their families, and the poor quality of the education offered. These figures hide profound disparities, such as those between rural and urban areas, between and within countries, and between boys and girls.

"Education for All" launched and approved in Jomtien (1990) re-defined UPE beyond enrollment or numbers of years of schooling; UPE must ensure "meeting basic learning needs" and "alternative programmes" must ensure:

(a)  quality,
(b)  linkages with the regular school system ("the components should constitute an integrated system, complementary and mutually reinforcing"), and
(c)  adequate support.

(a)  Quality: Quality is a major concern in all forms and levels of education. In particular, quality remains a key issue within the NFE field, historically marked by low academic status and weak political and social recognition. The most effective way to gain legitimacy, indispensable to success, is by demonstrating results. Achieving equal results as those of the school system -- often claimed as a proof of success-- is important but not enough if we consider the low learning outcomes of the school system and the ongoing efforts to improve them.

(b)  Linkages with the regular school system: The battle for UPE requires convergent -- although diversified -- efforts, integrated within a unified system. Not only is the school system the most widespread educational institution worldwide, but it also defines and influences social perceptions and expectations about educa­tion in general. Associating NFE with "out-of-school" education has contributed to its marginalisation. Rather than developing two parallel systems, it is necessary to create linkages and coordination between school and out-of-school, formal and non-formal, based on complementarity, mutual exchange and mobility between them. NFE approaches have much to contribute to the renovation and the "deformalisation" of the school system as well as to the creation of non-conventional programmes complementary to regular schools to serve the difficult-to-reach groups. 

(c)  Adequate support: NFE has been traditionally viewed as a cheap compensatory alternative to the school system, operating with untrained, underpaid and voluntary personnel, with low budgets and precarious management. NFE primary education programmes are required to achieve the same or more than the mainstream school system under more difficult circumstances -- serving the most disadvantaged populations, most heterogeneous groups, in hard-to-reach zones - with fewer resources. If NFE is to improve its quality and play an effective role as a national UPE strategy, it will require greater resources and support at all levels of the educational and administrative hierarchy. Govern­ment policy and decision-makers must assume a lead role in promoting diversified educational approaches, in mobilizing and sustaining a favourable climate of opinion towards them, and in guarantee­ing the conditions (political, financial, legal, techni­cal, and managerial) required for success.


There are today, in broad terms, three main strands of organizational and institutional arrangements in primary education: a) the formal school system, b) traditional indigenous education systems and institutions and c) non-conventional programmes generally labelled as NFE programmes. The three are present in all regions, although operating under very specific realities, with different emphases, approaches and strategies. All three require major changes and improvement.

a.  Innovations within the formal school system

The need to reform and revitalise the formal school system is evident all over the world. Counterbalancing the growing tide of criticism and skepticism about schools and public education, identify­ing and disseminating "success stories" ("good practices", "effective schools") have become a major thrust both nationally and interna­tionally. Programmes such as Colombia's Escuela Nueva, Chile's Programa de las 900 Escuelas, Mexico's Cursos Comunitarios, Zimbabwe's Educational Reform and the "Community School" approach revived in several African and Asian countries, show that change is possible and taking place within school walls in state-run public education systems. Many of these reforms have been inspired or become acceptable and possible as a result of the legitimacy of change and innovation spawned by NFE practices and research. Since formal primary schools serve the large majority of children, the greatest potential for NFE's contribution to universal primary education lies in its possibilities to trigger change and innovation in the public school system.

b.  Traditional indigenous education institutions

Traditional indigenous institutions, primarily stemming from the religious tradition predating European colonialism, are widespread in 'developing countries' and can be found in many countries under different denominations (Buddhist temple schools in several Asian countries, African bush schools in Liberia, Islamic schools in Asian and African countries, Church Schools in Ethiopia, etc). Many of them are elaborate systems that have been maintained outside the standard school system, have not been incorpo­rated in educational diagnoses and statistics, and have been overlooked by policy makers and researchers. Some provide an alternative to modern schooling, including a whole range of levels and modalities that play an equivalent role to the conventional "ladder" from pre-school to middle and even special­ized education. Some of them have been undergoing changes and introducing innovations in an effort to adapt to changing times and to "modernization". This is particularly true of the Islamic or Koranic school system, prevalent in over 40 countries and a large school population numbering in tens of millions of children.

Today, with ongoing educational reforms and a sense of urgency promoted by EFA, there is an increasing interest - particularly in Africa and Asia - in studying, documenting and revitalizing these traditional indigenous education alternatives, incorporating them within UPE efforts, and nourishing them with new curriculum and pedagogical methods, some of which are derived from NFE  approaches. 

c.  Non-formal primary education programmes

Primary education programmes categorically labeled as "non-formal" have been emerging since the early 1970s, with a marked increase during the 1980s, particularly in South Asia, the region with the highest percentage of out-of-school children in the age group 6-11.  (Bangladesh's BRAC Non-formal Primary Education is one of the best known programmes of this type). These programmes are still incipient in Africa and rather unfamiliar in Latin America and the Caribbean, where the term "non-formal" continues to be associated with adult education and out-of-school activities.

Non-formal primary education is aimed at out-of-school children/ youth, covering both the non-enrolled and the drop-out; most programmes operate in the rural areas; some are specifically designed to deal with gender disparity through a range of measures including gender-segregated programmes; some are addressed to very specific groups such as working children/youth, abandoned or street children, refugees, nomads, etc;  many derive methodology from adult education programmes, and some have maintained that link and even developed an integrated child/adult education framework; and some have attempted systematically to establish links with other development activities such as community development projects, women's groups, recreation and reading centers, etc.

These programmes present a great variety in terms of magnitude and scope, management, modes of delivery, curriculum, teaching approaches, and relation­ship with the school system. Some common features of the more effective non-formal primary education programmes can be identified:

Organization of the programme: annual calendar, daily schedule and number of total yearly hours determined by local circumstances, including part-time and spare-time schedules as well as multiple-shift arrangements. Emphasis on utilizing shorter hours more effectively.  Local and community involvement in planning, management and budget with accountability to community and parents.

  Teachers: Para-professionals and community members, including part-time and volunteer staff for all or most of the teaching personnel. Flexible formal education requirements, short pre-service orientation/training; reliance on on-the-job learning and supervision for maintaining teaching quality and teachers' motivation.

Learners: Flexible age requirements and no pre-requisites, although usually "affirmative action" approach in favour of the disadvantaged is followed.

Curriculum and teaching-learning methods: Curriculum and learning materials are adapted to local needs through simplification, shortening, condensing or re-structuring the curriculum. Flexible evaluation, promotion and certification criteria and procedures. Pragmatic mix of a variety of approaches and methods: self-learning, group and individual work, peer-tutoring, ability and interest grouping; self-paced learning; multigrade classes and arrangements.

Physical facilities: Any convenient physical facility (including private homes or even open spaces), multiple use of building, no capital investment for building within the primary education budget.

Types and degrees of linkages with the formal school system vary considerably from one programme to another, as well as the understanding and operationalization of the issue of "equivalence", depending on the role seen for NFE in the total UPE effort.  Many programmes run parallel to the regular school system and have no connection with it. A number of them seek equivalence either with the complete primary cycle or with some initial grades -- usually the first three or four grades. Some have lateral entries to the school system at several points. A few have a much wider and more complex relationship with the formal system, collaborating with it in areas such as teacher training, planning, learning materials, etc. Others operate in a compensatory role, as school reinforcement, providing poor and deprived children a substitute for elitist private tutoring (e.g. the Explicaçâo - "Explana­tion Schools" - in Guinea-Bissau and other countries). Establishing a modus operandi for links between the regular primary system and the non-formal programmes is critical for realizing the full potential of NFE for universal primary education.


Experiences have accumulated and lessons have been learned over the past decades to help avoid common mistakes, anticipate common problems, and limit the search for strategies, approaches and measures that have proven useful in different circumstances. Major requisites for effective application of NFE approaches in UPE can be identified from the wide vista of practice and experience in all regions of the world.

1.  A unified comprehensive system for UPE.  NFE and diversified approaches to primary education need to be seen as components of a unified system.  Major non-conventional and non-formal primary education initiatives must be a key component of the total UPE strategy to reach all those not reached by the regular system. This unified approach requires:

(a) decentralized local structures of planning, management and monitoring of the UPE strategy in geographical units small enough to allow meaningful involvement of communities; and

(b) a partnership for basic education and UPE at community and other levels among government, private sector, community organizations, parents, teachers and local government.

An unplanned voluntary sector expansion of NFE programmes, in a general climate of heavy criticism of public education and a government withdrawal, is not the answer.  Governments have to assume a strong and pivotal role in UPE in establishing general policies and indicators, guaranteeing basic inputs, compensating for regional imbalances, creating the conditions for local actions, and providing professional support for making a unified system with diverse approaches function effectively. 

2.  A supportive climate of opinion.  The greatest obstacle to adoption and effective application of NFE approaches is lack of understanding and appreciation of their potential both among national policy-makers and in the entrenched educational establishment. NFE has been traditionally conceived as "second rate" education, a low-cost compensatory alternative to the regular school system intended for the poor and for marginal populations. An effective way to counteract the perceived low status of NFE is to demonstrate its effectiveness, by carrying out well-conceived projects, assessing these and other relevant experiences, and disseminating the results.  Government policy and decision-makers must assume a lead role, especially in defending and promoting diversified educational approaches.

3.  A support structure for planning and implementation
.  Several factors are of crucial importance for success in NFE within UPE:

(a)  Organisational, administrative and management issues are often underestimated in the NFE field. The idea persists that NFE is, by nature, a non-systematic, non-structured type of education. NFE primary education programmes cannot succeed without a decentralised local structure for planning, management and monitoring in a small enough unit for effective community and parental participation in the local UPE effort. This local structure needs to have adequate authority and support by higher levels of the educational planning and administration hierarchy.  NFE cannot play its role fully as long as it is planned and managed in isolation from mainstream primary education.

(b)  The curriculum, pedagogy and learning materials are often neglected as key components of the educational process and as specialised areas. NFE approaches can help rethink conventional ways of addressing problems related to curriculum and content -- overburdening with too many academic subjects, use of a non-local language as medium of instruction, fragmentation of the curriculum and lack of practical relevance, which prompt children to drop-out and defeat the main purpose of primary education. Some successful programmes have simplified the curriculum, organized relevant learning materials, related content to the life and experience of learners, and adapted it to the specific needs and possibilities of teachers. Regional and even local adaptations to centrally produced materials that foresee the need and include built-in mechanisms for such adaptations have proven effective in programmes such as Escuela Nueva in Colombia.

(c)  Capacity-building and training of personnel in planning, administration, pedagogy, curriculum, supervision and evaluation at different levels are another neglected area. Teacher training in NFE approaches becomes all the more crucial considering the limited formal education and lack of pedagogic preparation of the usual para-professional and community teachers. A short initial training complemented by frequent refreshers and close supervision has proven successful in many programmes. Multigrade methodologies require specialized training targeted at the specific components and requirements of multigrade teaching (group learning, peer-tutoring, self-paced learning, self-instructional materials). At the same time, desirable levels of competence should be set realistically so that too high standards do not become an obstacle to expanding or replicating the programme and serving those deprived of any primary education opportunity.

4.  Adequate resources  NFE has been traditionally viewed as a cheap alternative to the formal school system. It is expected to accomplish the "mission impossible" with few resources and support.  Often, the very concept of "cost-effectiveness" is misunderstood: a programme may be cost-effective but not necessarily inexpensive, while a low-cost programme may turn out to be an ineffective investment. It is clearly necessary to pay attention to costs, benefits and resource mobilization for both formal and other complementary primary education programmes with a perspective of attaining the universalisation goal. NFE is not the remedy for chronic under-financing of primary education.  NFE approaches, however, offer the opportunity for developing a more efficient pattern of resource allocation, that de-emphasises capital costs and concedes greater importance to factors that are critical to the teaching-learning process and results, such as capacity building, learning materials, and monitoring.

5.  Strong community and parental involvement  Community and parental involvement are crucial not only for the necessary ownership of the programme but also for the indispensable accountability at local and community levels, both of which are crucial to sustainability. "Participation" is an ambiguous term and often understood in a restrictive sense -- provision of materials and labour force.  One essential condition is to create and cede authority to local planning and management structures that lead to community ownership of the programme.  Participation involves all phases of the programme, from design to evaluation.

6.  Assessment of learning achievement  Developing appropriate assessment methodologies and tools implies coming to an agreement on, or a definition of, basic learning needs in terms of literacy, numeracy, and basic life knowledge and skills. This also implies a clear understanding and assessment of implementing conditions and better use of information for planning, management and monitoring at local and higher levels. BRAC's Assessment of Basic  Competencies (ABC) -- a simple and rapid assessment method to assess reading, writing, arithmetic and essential life knowledge and skills -- is a pioneering attempt applicable to both formal and non-formal components of UPE.

7.  Taking advantage of modern and traditional media  Communication media are fundamental allies of UPE: (a) as complementary teaching and learning tools for everyone; (b) as a means for continuous teacher professional development and solidarity, and (c) as channels for advocacy, information, citizenship building and shaping public opinion. Better use of media and technologies for educational purposes requires developing technical capacities and critical thinking.

8.  Expansion and replication of innovations  The lack of plans and mechanisms for scaling up of programmes is a major issue in NFE approaches, especially the ones managed by NGOs. "Pilot projects" (often confused with "small projects") have become a matter of controversy as a result of many failed experiences. The opposite danger is of massive programmes that are implemented without previous experimentation or hurried scaling-up of emerging small-scale experiences. A balanced approach that recognizes ample lessons from experience in NFE as well as in other social development programmes must be adopted. More important, however, is the need to initiate and design programmes from the very beginning with an eye to expansion and replication, if we consider that in many countries UPE cannot be achieved without large-scale efforts.

9.  Addressing gender disparity  Studies conducted all over the world have consistently documented some of the main constraints in girls' and women's access to education, and the need for specific strategies to address them. Such strategies include, among others, the location of schools closer to homes or communities; promoting the recruitment of female teachers; reducing hidden costs to parents; developing relevant curricula; increasing community participation; promoting localiza­tion and decentralization; encouraging advocacy and social mobiliza­tion; designing systems that accommodate the needs of female students; and supporting multiple delivery systems that involve multi-media approaches. All of these constitute features commonly attributed to NFE approaches. If properly put into practice (at least a combination of several of them), NFE can make a specific contribution to greater gender equity. One concrete experience is that of BRAC in Bangladesh, where over 70 per cent of children enrolled in schools are girls.

10.  Continuing educational opportunities beyond primary education  Primary education cannot be viewed as a terminal and the only educational opportunity for the vast majority of the world's population. Invariably, expansion of primary education has led to an increasing demand for more education. Expanding, improving and diversifying post-primary educational opportunities are thus also challenges for both the regular school system and NFE programmes. Basic education, as defined by the World Conference on Education for All, must satisfy basic learning needs of children, youth and adults. In as much as one of these basic needs is building the foundation for lifelong learning, continuing post-primary education, also flexible and adapted to learners' specific needs and conditions, cannot be lost sight of in planning for UPE and NFE strategies.

Related texts in this blog
International Initiatives for EducationIniciativas internacionales para la educación

On Learning Anytime, Anywhere

Jaume Piensa

Rosa María Torres
"Learning Anytime, Anywhere"
session held at the World Summit on Innovation in Education (WISE 2011)
Doha, Qatar, 1-3 Nov. 2011

The format adopted for the debates required no presentations by the speakers but individual questions posed by the Chair of the session and questions coming from the audience and through Twitter. This format favors flexibility and dynamism, but it also limits a more contextualized and holistic understanding of the speakers' viewpoints and backgrounds.

The text below is a reconstruction of my intervention.

Four people participated in this #WISED34 debate:

▸ Graham Brown-Martin, Chair (Learning Without Frontiers, UK) @GrahamBM
▸ François Taddei (Centre for Research and Interdisciplinarity at Paris Descartes University, France) @FrancoisTaddei
▸ Rosa-María Torres del Castillo (Fronesis, Ecuador) @rosamariatorres
▸ Ruth Wallace (Centre for Social Partnerships in Lifelong Learning, Charles Darwin University, Northern Territory, Australia) @RuthwallaceNT

What is Lifelong Learning (LLL)

Most people continue to associate LLL with adult education or to use it as equivalent to lifelong education or continuing education. The term, however, is selfdescriptive and should provide no room for confusion: Lifelong Learning means learning throughout life, "from cradle to grave." This is a fact of life in the first place: learning is a continuum, lifelong and lifewide. Adopting LLL as a principle for policy formulation implies introducing major changes to the conventional education and training paradigms.

Awareness on LLL challenges the school-centered mentality. It looks beyond the school system and acknowledges the other learning systems where we learn throughout life: home, community, media, play, work, arts, sports, social participation, the Internet and the virtual world, etc.

LLL also challenges the traditional focus on education and on teaching. Learning is the main concern, in and out of school. The main failure of the school system is precisely that there is lots of teaching but little learning taking place.

▸ Rosa María Torres, Lifelong Learning in the South: Critical Issues and Opportunities for Adult Education, Sida Studies 11, Sida, Stockholm, 2004.

What do international agencies understand as LLL? 

Most of the agencies that use this term continue to associate LLL with adults and adult education, rather than with a life-cycle perspective.

In OECD countries, and specifically in Europe, LLL emerged as an education and training strategy to ensure the necessary "human resources" for economic development.

Beyond definitions and glossaries, it is important to look at the content of policies and programmes labelled LLL. In the case of the European Commission, for example, in spite of the rhetoric on informal learning, four out of the five benchmarks established in the LLL Programme 2000-2010 (see below) were related to formal education, from early childhood to higher education. "The decreasing levels of low-achieving 15-year olds in reading and falling levels of adult participation in learning are among the largest concerns."

The goals were not met, as acknowledged by the
evaluation released in Sep. 2011. Not only "developing" countries (the global South) but also "developed" ones (the global North) have problems to accomplish agreed education and learning agendas.

European Union: Lifelong Learning benchmarks for 2010

1. EU average rate of early school leavers to be no more than 10%;
2. Total number of graduates in mathematics, science and technology in the EU to increase by at least 15% (achieved in 2004), with a decreased gender imbalance in these fields;
3. At least 85% of 22-year-olds to have completed upper secondary education;
4. Percentage of 15-year-olds who are low-achieving in reading to have decreased by at least 20% compared to the year 2000;
5. Average participation in lifelong learning to be at least 12.5% of the adult working age population (age group of 25–64 year).

European Commission: Interim Evaluation of the Lifelong Learning Programme (Sep.18, 2011)
European Report on the Future of Learning by Tony Bates (Nov. 11, 2011)

Poverty, creativity and innovation 

There is lots of talk about innovation, creativity and problem-solving as qualities and skills of the 21st century. Currently, innovation in education tends to be strongly associated with modern technologies -- as if there was no innovation before the emergence of ICTs! Visions of innovation are rather futuristic and sophisticated, requiring specialists, experts, etc.

However, the most creative and innovative people in the world are the poor. They are born problem-solvers. Otherwise, they would not be able to survive. Surprisingly, we do not see this mentioned. If we want to learn about innovation and creativity, we should get out there, observe and live with the poor for a while.

The challenge is how to make schools and other learning institutions places where the poor can enhance - rather than inhibit - their innovativeness, creativity and problem-solving skills and expand them to other domains beyond survival and daily life.

▸ Rosa María Torres, On Innovation and Education

Testing does not necessarily reflect learning

ests and testing are not necessarily the best ways to capture learning. Additionally, standardized tests deny diversity, assume the classical "one-size-fits-all" approach.

(Programme for International Student Assessment) tests, proposed by OECD and for OECD countries, do not match the realities, needs and aspirations of most young people in the South. Often, these and other tests tell us what our children and youth don´t know rather than what they know and are able to do.

"Developing countries" are very diverse and face very different realities than "developed countries", also heterogeneous. If PISA tests were prepared in non-OECD countries, reflecting our cultures and realities, how would 15-year-olds in OECD  countries do in such tests? Underprivileged children and youth develop strong survival skills - essential for life and increasingly important in today's world - that wealthy children and youth often do not need to develop, at least at an early age.

The "global banking education model"

Paulo Freire characterized the conventional school system as "banking education": learners who are considered to know nothing and teachers who think they know everything, and who deposit knowledge in their heads like checks in a bank.

That banking education model has now become global, among others thanks to the expansion of ICTs. Global teachers located in the North and eager learners located in the South, mere consumers of information and knowledge produced elsewhere and whose only knowledge credited is "local wisdom".

Since it decided to become a "Knowledge Bank", the World Bank acts as a global teacher offering ready-to-use knowledge and strategies for "development". All we have to do in the South is get trained and assimilate that information.

The global banking model is such because it reproduces the traditional teaching model at a global scale - the world as a global classroom is a usual metaphor - but also because it is incarnated by a bank and its international partners.

▸ Rosa María Torres, About "good practice" in international co-operation in education

Neuroscience and pro-age education and learning

Over the past years, neuroscience is contributing key new knowledge on topics we had only vague ideas of. A better understanding on how the brain works, at different ages and in different circumstances, shows the need to review many conventional stereotypes on education and learning.

Now we are confirming that all ages are good to learn, and that each age has its own cognitive possibilities and limitations.

Within a LLL framework, and based on ongoing results from neuroscience research, I am developing the concept of "pro-age education and learning": let us allow each person - children, young people, adults, the elderly - to learn according to their age, rather than fighting against their age.

Unfortunately, neuroscience research and results are not reaching the population at large, not even teacher education institutions, policy makers, journalists, etc. 

Rosa María Torres, Child learning and adult learning revisited 

The Basarwa in Botswana

I would like to tell you a story from Botswana. While working there with the Ministry of Education, back in the 1990s, I heard about an indigenous group called the Basarwa. They were well known because they rejected schooling. I got interested in understanding why. The explanation was simple: the Basarwa have seen or heard that schools punish children. In their culture, children's punishment does not exist. Adults relate to children through dialogue, not through fear. Parents love, take care and respect their children. Basarwa parents may be unschooled, but they are wise.

Rosa María Torres, Children of the Basarwa Niños Basarwa

Related texts
Rosa María Torres, Over two decades of 'Education for All' ▸ Más de dos décadas de 'Educación para Todos'

Knowldedge-based international aid: Do we want it? Do we need it?


This article approaches "knowledge-based aid" in vogue within the international aid community from some specific perspectives: (a) a view "from the South", that is, from countries traditionally considered repositories and beneficiaries of such aid, typically facilitated by "the North" through International Aid Agencies; (b) a critical perspective, thus acknowledging that there is an uncritical South -- and a critical North; (c) a regional focus on Latin America; (d) a focus on education (reform) as a specific field to analyze some of the assumptions and practical consequences of such "knowledge-based aid", particularly over the past decade; and (e) a focus on the World Bank (WB) as a paradigmatic agency, given its leading role in shaping North/South cooperation and in promoting "knowledge-based aid", specifically for (school) education reform. The "WE" used in the title of this article refers to the South in general, and to the Latin American region in particular. 
The increased global concentration of economic and symbolic power (information and knowledge) and of the means and resources to access, synthesize and disseminate such information and knowledge is supported by an instrumental ideology about all these issues (development, knowledge, information, education, learning). In this context, and without fundamental changes in North-South relationships and cooperation patterns, as well as in knowledge and learning paradigms, there is little hope that the announced knowledge society and lifelong learning will bring the expected "learning revolution" and a more equitable distribution of knowledge. 
On the contrary, we are experiencing a major epochal paradox: never before have there been so much information and knowledge available, so varied and powerful means to democratize them, and so much emphasis on the importance of knowledge, education and learning, but never before has the banking education model been so alive and widespread at a global scale: education understood as a one-way transfer of information and knowledge, and learning understood as the passive digestion of such transfer. Many enthusiastic global promoters of knowledge societies, networking and lifelong learning dream today with a world converted into a giant classroom with a few powerful global teachers, and millions of assimilators of information and knowledge packages via the Internet. 
In an era characterized by change, uncertainty and unpredictability, knowledge-disseminators and technology-promoters appear to have just too many certainties about the present and about the future. Recommendations and solutions are at hand and become global - "global development knowledge", "global education reform". "Global" here means in fact [for] "the South", "the developing world", "the low- and middle-income countries", "client countries," "the poor." "What works" and "what doesn't work" are offered as clear-cut black and white alternatives, without the obvious questions that should follow: what works -- where, when, for what, with whom, for whom, under what circumstances? Knowledge-based aid rhetoric insists on avoiding the discussion of issues such as power and vested interests, not only within governments but also within civil society and within and among Agencies themselves.
What development? What knowledge? What kind of aid? Who is "countries"?

There is nothing new about "knowledge-based aid". Knowing, and transferring knowledge to "developing countries" under the form of technical assistance has been the raison d' être of International Agencies. It may be new, however, from a bank perspective, since banks are supposed to provide money, not ideas. 
WB's decision - in 1996 - to become a "Knowledge Bank" made explicit the evolution of its role over the past few years into an institution that provides both expert advice and loans - in that order of importance, as stated explicitly by the WB. This new role includes lending no longer as the most important role, but technical assistance, knowledge production and knowledge sharing; expanding clients and partners beyond governments, also incorporating organizations of civil society (OCS); and aggressive support to, and use of, modern information and communication technologies (ICTs) as a critical tool for putting such strategies in place.
In WB's terms: there is something called "development knowledge", which is available at the WB/Knowledge Bank, has been (and continues to be) compiled and synthesized by the WB, and needs to be "disseminated" (with the assistance of ICTs) or transferred through "capacity building" not only to "developing countries" - from government officials and decision-makers all the way down to OCS and school agents - but also to other Agencies. The Global Education Reform Website and the Global Education Reform course offered by the WB to a wide range of learners (Ministries, OCS, Agencies, etc.) are some of the tools put in place for the global transfer of education reform knowledge to education reformers at various levels in the whole planet.
"Knowledge-based aid" is fundamentally "North/ South asymmetry-based aid": donor/ recipient, developed/ non-developed, knowledge/ignorance (or wisdom), teach/learn, think/act, recommend/follow, design/implement. The North views itself essentially as a knowledge provider, and views the South as a knowledge consumer. The North thinks, knows, disseminates, diagnoses, plans, strategizes, does and validates research (including that done in, or referred to, the South), provides advice, models, lessons learned, and even lists of desired profiles (i.e. effective schools, effective teachers); the South does not know, learns, receives, applies, implements. The North produces, synthesizes and disseminates knowledge; the South produces data and information. The North produces global policy recommendations to be translated, by the South, into National Plans of Action. "Global knowledge" versus "local wisdom." "Think globally, act locally." 
For international cooperation purposes, "countries" have typically been thought of as governments. Cooperating with governments has been assumed as equivalent to cooperating with countries and with the people in those countries, thus avoiding critical questions related to the representativeness of concrete governments in terms of public and national interest. Also, Agencies' widened perception of "countries", incorporating the notion of civil society, has remained narrow, simplistic and NGO-centered, ignoring the various actors interacting in real civil societies: political parties, social movements, the academic community, workers' unions, grassroots organizations, mass media, private enterprise, the churches, etc. It is only in recent times that the term Organizations of Civil Society (OCS) has been incorporated. As a result, many key political, social and economic sectors and actors in the South - especially those unrelated to government and NGO circuits- have remained alienated from the resources, mechanisms, information and discussion surrounding international cooperation in their own countries. 
We will discuss here some assumptions and consequences of the "knowledge-based aid" concept in action, as per WB's and other Agencies' involvement in (school) education reform in the South, and in Latin America in particular.
▸ Are we (the South) striving for and heading towards "development"?
"Development" (in the sense of progress) seemed desirable and achievable in the 1970s and 1980s. In the 1990s and early 2000s, the term development has virtually disappeared from political and academic discourse, from social debate and from social expectations in the South -- very much so in the case of Latin America. Development discourse and goals have been substituted by "poverty alleviation", "debt relief", "combating unemployment", "improving the quality of education", etc. The overall spirit is that of "reversing decline" rather than that of "ensuring development". In the education field this is reflected in minimalist goals that do not go beyond augmenting (enrolment, instruction time) or reducing (illiteracy, drop-out, repetition) rates, aiming at "preventing school failure" or "improving academic achievement" (among the poor) rather than at "ensuring school success" or "ensuring lifelong and meaningful learning" for all.
Realities and analyses show that globalization is not moving in the direction of a more equitable world and that economic growth is no guarantee for human (even for economic) development. "Alleviating poverty" has become a condition for, much more than a result of, the very possibility of getting access to education and learning by the majority of the world population. And yet, Agencies continue to speak of "development" and "developing countries", of basic education as a strategy to alleviate poverty, and of economic growth leading to economic and social development.
The very meaning of development, as well as the means and strategies to get there, are by no means consensual and remain an issue of debate and controversy not only in the North and in the South but also among and within Agencies themselves.
▸ Is there is something called "development knowledge"? 
How much does "development" depend on knowledge? What is the knowledge required to make "development" happen in "non-developed" contexts? Is there such a thing as "development knowledge" in general? Is it available, waiting to be "disseminated" or transferred through "capacity building"? Who possesses and who should possess such knowledge in order for development to occur? Is it a problem of dissemination and capacity building? 
Most of these questions are already answers, or unraised questions, within the international cooperation community. Agencies, just as schoolteachers, must know -- or act as if they knew -- because this is their role and their business. And just like bad teachers who have poor expectations of their students and think for them, Agencies have in mind clients that are avid for ready-made diagnoses, recipes, transportable and easily replicable "success stories".
Conventional international aid has operated under one central assumption: the South has the problems, and the North has the solutions (for such problems in the South). If the solution proposed does not work, a new solution will be proposed, and countries will be held accountable for the failure. And again, just like the conventional school system that homogenizes students to facilitate its role and to ensure the prescription of universal curricula and rules, Agencies prefer to think of "developing countries" as a distinctive but uniform world, homogenized by poverty and by a number of problems that are well-known (by Agencies and countries in the North) and that differ at most in their magnitudes.
Paradoxically, the very concept of ownership is framed within an accepted asymmetrical relationship (nobody thinks of ownership as an issue associated to the North). Thus, ownership - "having countries in the driver's seat" - appears as a promise, as a donation, conceded and monitored by Agencies. Or, more bluntly, as a matter of "countries having a sense of ownership for the initiative." (UNESCO 2000)
No wonder donor-driven, top-down, one-size-fits-all policies have resulted in repeated and costly failures. If we are to judge the direction and quality of future changes in international aid by the lessons Education for All (EFA) partners say they learned during the 1990s, we should not expect meaningful changes in the 15-year EFA extension agreed upon at the Dakar World Education Forum (2000). Changes acknowledged by Agencies, in the context of increasing pressure by the South for Agency responsibility and accountability, are not visible yet. On the contrary, many such problems - i.e. lack of coordination and enhanced competitiveness among Agencies and specifically among EFA partners - may have worsened. On the other hand, as many have started to alert, the new solutions aimed at amending previous problems (i.e. the "sector-wide approach", which attempts to correct the damage done by the extensive Agency-promoted "project" culture) may initiate a new wave of improvised solutions, without really affecting the core of the problems, including those of conventional aid culture. Just as ineffective teacher training results in teachers incorporating new terms but not necessarily embracing new concepts and changing their practices, Agencies have fully incorporated politically correct jargon such as participation, consultation, transparency, accountability, empowerment and ownership and haven given them their own meaning and functional use. 
▸ Is ["good"] knowledge only to be found in the North?
Both related assumptions must be put into question: that the North produces good quality and universally accepted knowledge -- in general, about itself and about the South - and that the South does not. In fact, both the North and the South have good and bad schools and universities, produce good and bad quality research and knowledge, and have competent and incompetent professionals in all fields. The difference is that the North has far better conditions than the South to develop research and to enhance professional competencies and work conditions, and that the North socializes its professionals with a "run the world" mentality where "knowing" what is best for the South may appear as an in-built professional competency. However, when one looks at the tremendous North/ South asymmetry, one wonders whether the North is making the best use possible of its comparative advantages. One also wonders how much more and better the South could do if we would have similar national and international conditions in place. 
Knowledge produced in the South is disqualified or ignored altogether. The education field is a good example of this. Those reading about education only in publications produced in the North, and specifically those produced by Agencies (which is the case of many education specialists in the North and of millions of students in universities around the world), probably come to the conclusion that there is no research, no intellectual life and no debate on education going on outside North America and Europe, and that most of it - if not all of it - happens to be written in English. (Torres 1996). And yet, the South has a vast research and intellectual production, much of it of similar or better quality standards than that produced in the North, but much of it is invisible to the North. Arrogance and prejudice are important explicative factors as well as linguistic limitations. Here, the asymmetry and the comparative advantage may operate the other way round: while researchers and intellectuals in the South are often multilingual or at least bilingual readers, and can thus have access to a wider variety of literature and views, many researchers in the North are monolingual (specially native English-speakers) and thus have limited access to the intellectual production available worldwide. However, this does not prevent them from speaking for the entire world and for "developing world" in particular, even when they access only to North-produced syntheses of South-produced research.
Linguistic limitations should not be a valid reason if the production of scientific knowledge is at stake and, moreover, is such intellectual production claims international validity and aims at interpreting and influencing realities in the South. Minimum scientific rigor would demand to acknowledge the limitations and scope of such reviews based on limited sources. Being professional and aiming at serious professional roles at international level today requires not only multidisciplinary but multilingual teams.
▸ Is "good" knowledge expert knowledge?
The "knowledge-based rhetoric" reinforces the expert and the technocratic culture ("the symbolic analyst"). National and international experts have multiplied and the term has been abused to a point where anybody can be called such or believe he/she is one. The expansion and costs of the international consultancy industry have been analyzed and documented by various studies and for the various regions. The situation is particularly critical in the case of Africa, as highlighted in UNDP's Human Development Reports. 
The perverse consequences of the expert and consultant drive in the South are enormous. The expert culture reinforces technocratic and elitist approaches, social participation and consultation as mere concessions to democracy rather than as objective needs for effective policy design and action. It cultivates the separation between thinkers and doers, reformers and implementers, both at the national and global scale. It reaffirms the tradition to locate problems on the implementation side, never on the side of those who diagnose, plan and formulate policies. 
Effective and sustainable policies and reforms require not only (good, relevant) expert knowledge, but also the (explicit and implicit, scientific or not) knowledge and will of all those concerned. Policy in practice - i.e. educational reform not resulting in effective educational change- shows the perennial insufficiency of expert knowledge and the indispensable need for consultation, participation and ownership - whether it is governments, institutions, groups or individuals- not only for implementation but as a condition for good policy design.
We have reached a point where, more than expert knowledge, common sense can make the difference between good and bad policy making, between good and bad program design. 
▸ Is "expert" knowledge good knowledge? 
"Experts" make - and have made many -- expert and costly mistakes. WB experts have been behind the cyclical mistakes admitted by the WB in WB-assisted education policies and projects over the past decades, notably: the strong emphasis placed on infrastructure in the 1960s and 1970s; the priority given to primary education in the 1990s and the rates of return argument behind such priority; the abandonment of higher education (admitted as a major mistake by J. Wolfensohn himself during the official launching ceremony of the Higher Education Report on March 1, 2000 in Washington); and the "project approach" (now being amended with the SWAP - "sector-wide approach"). All these mistakes, and their long-term consequences, were based on expert WB knowledge and paid by countries in the South in both monetary as well as political and social terms. 
The faulty grounds of WB research in the education field has been highlighted and documented by many researchers in the South and in the North, and by WB people themselves. Problems mentioned include overgeneralization, oversimplification, lack of comparability of many studies that are anyhow compared, poor theoretical and methodological frameworks, lack of conceptual rigor, mechanical translation of research results into policy-making, and, more generally, use and abuse of research (and of comparative international research in particular) and of evaluation to legitimize recommended policies, funded projects and selected success stories. 
And yet, good or bad, this is the research that sustains technical advice provided to client countries in the South (and to other Agencies). And the one that is now attributed global validity that is made available through a global web portal and offered to decision makers in face-to-face intensive seminars. 
The opaque relationship between knowledge validation and (Agency) power is a critical, un-mentioned, factor. Many of the ideas and trends that become dominant do so not necessarily because of their merit or proven efficacy to explain or transform realities, but because of the (ideological, political, financial) power that is behind them.
▸ Are information, communication, knowledge, education and learning the same?
In the age of "knowledge" and "learning", scientific research on learning -- from the most varied fields: Biology, Psychology, Linguistics, Anthropology, Sociology, Pedagogy, History -- has begun to show its highly complex nature, mechanisms and processes. And yet, we assist to a tremendous canalization of these notions, particularly by Agencies and by many international and national advocates of the "learning revolution.

, knowledge, education, training, learning are easily confused and often used indistinctively. Ignoring current scientific knowledge available on these issues, and in the best tradition of the banking school education model, knowledge and learning continue to be trivialized as a matter of access (to school before, to the computer and the Internet today) and/or dissemination (of information, of knowledge, of lessons learned, of models to be replicated).

There are reasons to believe such trivialization and confusion are not just the result of ignorance but of deliberate blurring. Anyone aware of such distinctions might conclude that the " knowledge bank" may be more appropriately called a "data bank " or an "information bank" , and would reflect on many assertions that tend to be taken for granted. Consider the following:

  • Information can be disseminated but knowledge must be built. 
  • Information dissemination does not necessarily result in knowledge or in learning. 
  • Education (and schooling) does not necessarily result in learning.
  • Learning exceeds education and education exceeds school education.
  • Information dissemination does not imply or include learning.
  • Having access to the Internet is no guarantee of being informed, much less of learning.
  • While lifelong education is something that no society or person could afford, lifelong learning is a fact of life and can be enhanced by various means. 
  • ICTs and distance education are much more effective for information than for knowledge and learning purposes.
  • Good distance education requires face-to-face interaction. 
The knowledge society many people have in mind is close to an information society. The lifelong learning many are advocating is e-learning and big business, with everyone buying devices and connected to the Internet. For others, lifelong learning entails the burial of the school system and of formal education, and the multiplication of non-formal and/or informal learning opportunities and arrangements. 
Unless North and South engage in serious analysis, research and debate on all these issues and their implications for a global "knowledge and learning society", the "learning revolution" may be a new false alarm, an illusion created by the technological revolution, or a revolution only for a few, with many victims and wider gaps, controlled by central powers and benefiting strong economic interests. 
▸ Is there a positive relationship between (expert) knowledge and (effective) decision-making? 
The weak linkages between information/ knowledge and public policy design/ decision-making are an old and well-known problem in both the North and the South. However, the "knowledge-based aid" rhetoric appears to take such relationship between (expert) knowledge and (effective) decision-making for granted, as well as between their respective assumed agents - Agencies, on one hand, and countries (now governments and civil societies) on the other. The whos, whats, what fors, wheres and hows of such knowledge and knowledge transfer are not put into question. 
The WB claims that the gap between knowledge and decision-making is getting smaller in client countries - where we would be seeing "more effective policy making". However, the EFA decade assessment showed very clearly that education policies conducted in the 1990s did not accomplish the goals. In the case of Latin America, "quality improvement" in school education is not visible, at least not in the domain that matters and that was supposedly targeted: learning. It is accepted that these reform processes did not "reach the school", did not improve teacher performance and morale, and did not modify conventional pedagogical practices in the classroom. Even some of our publicized "success stories" have deteriorated -- such as Escuela Nueva in Colombia or the 900 Schools Program in Chile -- when looked closer at the school level (Carlson 2000; Torres 2000a; Avalos 2001). A closer, more analytical look at the micro levels and dynamics might reveal the same of many other "success stories" and "best practices" hastily labeled as such and enthusiastically disseminated by Agencies all over the world. 
On the other hand, the "Cuban success story" has been hard-to-digest and little publicised. The evaluation of learning achievement in primary schools (language and mathematics among third and fourth graders in both public and private schools) conducted by UNESCO Regional Office (OREALC), shows Cuba's absolute superiority over all other countries studied. (See Latin American Laboratory for Assessment of the Quality of Education -LLECE). Cuba faces a very difficult economic situation, and it is the only country in the region that has no loans for its education system and reform, and has not followed WB education reform recommendations. 
While some attribute the failure of reform processes conducted in Latin America to lack of attention to research results and policy recommendations, many others - included the author of this piece - believe that part of the problem was too much attention to such recommendations (the educational reform recipe of the 1990s) and too much reliance on national and international "expert knowledge" for policy design and decision-making, too little social and teacher participation and consultation, and too little value given to domestic research, indigenous knowledge, and common sense. 
The fact is that many countries in this region are today "reforming the reforms", reviewing previous approaches, acknowledging the limitations of top-down reforms and the importance of involving teachers in more meaningful ways as well as the need to put pedagogy and the school at the center. Growing disillusionment and loss of credibility in reform efforts has come together with a growing regional movement demanding responsibility, transparency and accountability both from governments and from Agencies. The 2001 regional meeting of Ministers of Education (Cochabamba, Bolivia, 5-7 March 2001), and the Cochabamba Declaration and Recommendation, which closed the two-decade Major Project for Education in Latin America and the Caribbean (1980-2000), put for the first time aid-related problems and issues high on the agenda.
In this respect, the experience with the Latin American Statement on Education for All (prepared on the occasion of the Dakar Forum, circulated widely, and signed to date by thousands of people in the region) represents an innovative and promising development that contradicts conventional North/South aid patterns: it is an endogenous initiative, born in Latin America, out of Latin American concerns, and conducted in Spanish and Portuguese (ownership is here a fact, not a concession); it is critical of the role of governments and Agencies vis a vis education development and reform in the region, and proposes the need for a new aid framework; it is not an NGO but a social movement, involving a wide spectrum of sectors and groups, including civil society, government and Agencies; information disseminated regularly to the list of signers is both local, regional and global; and it operates on a voluntary basis, with no international funding and thus with total intellectual and financial autonomy. (Torres 2000d)
Why would we want such aid? It has been ineffective and costly, it has increased our dependency and our foreign debt, it has not allowed us to develop our own human resources (while we have paid external consultants to learn and become experts while working in our countries); it has not allowed us to identify and develop our own ideas, research, thinking, alternatives, models. And it has not allowed us not learn along the way about both our achievements and mistakes.
Do we really need such aid? In most, if not all, countries in the South we have the knowledgeable and competent professionals we need to put in place sound education policies and reforms. Moreover, if qualified and committed, nationals (and non-nationals who end up sharing these characteristics and ideals as their own) have two important advantages over non-nationals: they know the national/ local language(s) and share local history and culture, and they love their country. Motivation, empathy, ownership, sense of identity and of pride, sense of being part of a collective- building project, are key ingredients of effective and sustainable policy making and social action. There is an important difference between living in a country and visiting it on technical missions. External consultants may leave ideas, documents and recommendations, but it is those living in the country, zone, or community who will finally do the job. Separating and differentiating the roles of those who think and recommend, and those who implement and try to follow recommendations, remains the key formula for non-ownership (or for fake ownership) and thus for failure. 

▸ A few final conclusions and recommendations
If Agencies really want to assist the South, they must be ready to accept the need for major shifts in their thinking and doing. It is not just a matter of more of the same, or of improving cooperation mechanisms and relationships. What is needed is a different kind of cooperation, operating under different assumptions and rules, to be discussed and devised together with the South, in professional dialogue. Partnership, but not for business as usual. 
What can Agencies do to assist the South?

  • Work not only addressed to the South but, most importantly, to the North Development and non- or under-development are intertwined. Development can only occur in the South if major changes are introduced in the North and in North/ South relationships. Awareness raising, critical positions and pressure within the North, with both governments and societies, for the building of a more equitable world, is the single most important contribution international Agencies and critical intellectuals and activists in the North can make to the South. In this, they are not substitutable. 
  • Acknowledge diversity and act accordingly Homogeneous understandings and approaches to the South are not admissible. Just as we, in the South, learn about the North, and are aware of the diversity that characterizes the various countries and regions in the world, we expect the North to get better acquainted with the realities and the diversity that characterize the so-called South. Universal recipes, formulas and ready-to be transplanted models offend intelligence, deny scientific knowledge and learning as a possibility, and have proven ineffective as strategies for development. 
  • Revise international cooperation assumptions based on asymmetry and unidirectionality. Deficit approaches to the South must belong to the past, once diversity is acknowledged. Knowledge production, synthesizing, sharing and dissemination have and continue to take place both in the North and in the South, and must thus be viewed as two-way avenues. There is no reason why the North, international Agencies and the WB in particular should monopolize the function of global catalysts, synthesizers and disseminators of knowledge. There is much Agencies can do to collaborate with the South in disseminating (to the North and within the South) what the South produces and does.
  • Support social watch and enhance professional dialogue with the South Social watch and participation of civil society are critical requirements of national development and of effective international cooperation for such development. This has been emphasized by Agencies themselves, so here is a common platform for partnership and alliances with "the critical South". This implies from Agencies a coherent institutional behavior (democratic, transparent, accountable, open to learn), a wider and more complex understanding of "civil society" that goes beyond the traditional NGO-centered approach, and enhanced professional dialogue and exchange with the intellectual community in the South including universities, higher education and research institutions, as well as teacher and other professional associations. 
  • Sound understandings and critical approaches to information, knowledge, education and learning Critical thinking and critical approaches to information, knowledge, education and learning are today more important than ever. Ensuring that all information and knowledge transactions -- including of course those between countries and Agencies -- incorporate such "critical" component should be part of any modern international development cooperation model and of any modern knowledge management system.
  • More questions and more learning together Agencies have too many answers and too few questions, while we in the South - and everyone else in the world - have more questions than answers. Admitting ignorance and the need to learn, and to learn how to learn, is at the very heart of a new international cooperation model. Only honesty builds confidence, and mutual confidence is fundamental for a healthy and collaborative relationship. North and South, Agencies and countries, must learn to learn together and from each other. 
  • Assist countries identify and develop their own human resources and capacities If ownership is essential for development, it is time that it is considered seriously by both countries and the international development community. The most effective way to assist the South is by making sure that such assistance is sustainable, non-directive, empathetic, invisible: assistance to help countries in the South do our own thinking, our own research and experimentation, our own networking and sharing, our own search for alternative models, our own learning by doing, in our own terms and at our own pace.  
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