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Colección: La Educación
Número: (115) II
Año: 1993

19. Dennis A. RONDINELLI, Johns MIDDLETON and Adriaan M. VERSPOOR. Planning Education Reforms in Developing Countries. Durham: Duke University Press, 1990, vii, 182 p., bibliography, index. Cloth: $39.50.

Henry M. LEVIN and Marlaine E. LOCKHEED (Eds.) Effective Schools in Developing Countries. London: Falmer Press, 1993, xiv, 429 p., illustrations, tables, notes, bibliography, index. Cloth: $39.95.

Expansion of enrollment and maintenance of inequality among children from different social origins are well-known trends of the education sector in the last decades, both in developing and developed countries. Nevertheless, the failure of the education system to help create a more equitable society or to provide children with the minimum skills to cope with the requirements of modern life is much more dramatic in poor countries.

Frustration cannot be explained solely on the basis of inadequate funding: after all, expanding enrollments, repetition, and dropout rates followed increased dedication from local governments and international agencies in pursuing universal basic education, building human resources, and in some measure, equalizing opportunities. On the contrary, the failure is great precisely because it rests on good intentions, hard work, international aid, and billions of dollars. The central purpose of Planning Education Reforms in Developing Countries and Effective Schools in Developing Countries is to explain, at least in part, why this is so, and why this trend need not continue.

These books originated from The World Bank and are concerned with new approaches for carrying out successful education projects in poor countries. The authors of Planning Education Reforms approach management obstacles and management solutions in an organizational manner. The authors of Effective Schools highlight some successful educational experiences in Third World countries and how to learn from them, and suggest ways in which they may be applied to other countries or situations.

Rondinelli, Middleton, and Verspoor quote as main barriers to the implementation of education reforms: (1) the excessive complexity of goals, often unrelated between themselves; (2) the excessive dependence of its results on factors that are not predictable, such as the health and nutrition status of children and their cognitive development; (3) the adoption of a management strategy unable to deal with the processes that introduce and institutionalize change; and (4) the failure to take into account how changes would be implemented in the concrete school level and how to invest in their requisites, such as (i) strong principal’s leadership and autonomy; (ii) strong instructional leadership; (iii) teaching and staff stability and staff development programs; (iv) well-organized curricula; (v) programs to gain support from parents and district; and (vi) effective use of time for academic purposes.

In sum, projects of education reform demand that bureaucratic and organizational difficulties be foreseen and that coping mechanisms be anticipated without abandoning academic goals. In the authors’ view, contingency analysis meets this end, especially because it departs from the recognition that innovative programs cannot be planned with too much detail and becuase it provides instruments to deal with the specifics of concrete situations and environmental instability. As they suggest, contingency analysis is a good way of planning mainly because it requires that management prerequisites and organizational imperatives be settled first.

Effective Schools in Developing Countries is a collection of ten articles. In the first article, which introduces and answers the main questions of the book, the authors, in a persuasive manner, establish that the idea of effectiveness of schools in developed countries cannot automatically be transferred to those which are less developed. Lockheed and Levin argue that although the availability of material resources is not an important factor in differentiating between effective and ineffective schools in developed countries, it is crucial in poor countries, where material needs as chairs, desks, books, and blackboards have not yet been provided.

So what exactly is an effective school in a developing country? In order to answer this question, some recent educational experiences are examined in the book—most from an optimistic point of view. They show that, especially in cases in which school clientele and communities are taken into account, effectiveness in education can be reached. This is the case of: Thailand’s educational reform and its program of functional adult literacy; the educational experience of rural reform in the Setti Zone in Nepal; the Escuela Nueva program for rural children in Colombia; the CIEPs in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a mainly urban experience; the Gonankelle School in Sri Lanka; and the high enrollment rates achieved by primary education reform in Burundi.  

Considering these singular experiences, the editors conclude that an effective school in an impoverished nation is one which includes: (a) instructional material; (b) learning time; (c) student involvement in learning practices; (d) community involvement; (e) school responsibility and accountability for the success or failure of students; (f) principal leadership; and (g) organizational and curricula flexibility.

In many ways, these two books contribute to the present-day debate on education. Education is crucial to poor countries, not only because of its potential effect on human dignity and social equity, but also because in present conditions, economic growth and competition require well-qualified human resources trained to accept and promote change while at the same time changing themselves.

Bureaucratic instability and political unaccountability are well-known, burden-preventing decisions to be made and should be enforced in developing countries. Contingency analysis looks for a method to deal with this burden without surrendering to it. Developing countries are not a landscape of failure and despair; they have been home to some effective educational experiences which, if analyzed and understood, can be replicated. This is a task which has already begun.

Maria Valéria Junho Pena