21 de Enero de 2018
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Colección: Trends for a common future
Autor: Noel F. McGinn
Título: Toward International Cooperation in Education for the Integration of the Americas

Aid or Assistance from Bilateral and Multilateral Organizations

Although criticism of the “aid” process is long-standing (Paddock & Paddock, 1973; Tendler, 1975), there has been little systematic study of the impact of aid on receiving countries and their education systems. In general the analysis of aid’s impact on education is limited to a few examples or countries, and focuses more on process than eventual outcome (Buchert & King, 1995; Farrell, 1994; King, 1991; King, 1992; King, 1997; Leach, 1997; Valverde, 1995). In part this is because the international assistance agencies themselves seldom carry out (or have not published) studies of the long-term impact of their policies and practices on education.

There are, however, detailed and systematic evaluations of aid in general. Some of these studies have been sponsored by the bilateral and multilateral agencies (e.g., Cassen (1994); others have been done from the outside (Bauer, 1993; Krueger, 1993; Riddell, 1987; Stokke, 1996; Tisch & Wallace, 1994). The general conclusion from these studies is that the empirical evidence with respect to the impacts of aid on the economies, polities and cultures of receiving countries is equivocal, that is, does not permit a generalizable conclusion. Aid sometimes “works” and sometimes does not; what “works” varies from country to country, and according to the particular definition of effectiveness that is used. In some cases rapid economic growth has occurred with aid, and in other cases without, and in some cases massive amounts of aid have failed to increase economic growth rates. Aid strategies effective in one circumstance fail in others. Sometimes aid clearly contributes to some version of development, in other cases following the “recommendations” of international assistance organizations has been associated with negative outcomes for the receiving country.15

In effect, the international agencies are fallible sources of understanding of how best to respond to the problems and opportunities faced by education. This fallibility takes two major forms. First, the policy positions of the various agencies with respect to education have changed radically over time, sometimes contradicting previous recommendations. Agencies that began promoting more equitable distribution of resources through nuclearization of rural schools later shifted to recommending creation of centers of excellence. Loans and grants have been given for secondary level technical and vocational education in some periods and argued against in others. Higher education used to be the primary target for assistance but now countries are criticized for spending too much in this sector. Block lending (grants or loans for a set of projects) shifted to project lending and is now in the sector lending phase.

Second, not all improvements promoted by the agencies have been sustained over the long term. In some cases the country has not been able (or willing) to continue to finance them once assistance ended. In some cases, results failed to live up to expectations and projects were cancelled.

Fallibility is a human trait, and therefore its imputation is not in itself a harsh criticism of the international agencies. But assistance in the form of aids is not a “free good”. Loans to education in the Americas are one source of the debt burden carried by a number of countries. Concessional credits and grants that require increased spending from recurrent budgets can also increase a country’s financial difficulties.

The kinds of mistakes made by assistance agencies can be grouped as follows:

a. Errors of commission, for example, promoting loans for activities that are not necessary, which cannot be maintained, which are not consistent with national objectives. The availability of funding for only certain policies and practices defined externally suppresses indigenous solutions to problems. This suppression is most likely when the agency insists on “policy dialogue” in which technical advisors hired by the assistance agency impose their views on educational officials in the receiving country.16 Heavy-handed policy dialogue can suppress weak indigenous solutions, which in the long run are better solutions because they are contextually compatible.

b. Errors of omission, for example in failing to promote loans for activities that are essential, that are desired by the country, which can promote development.


Development agencies have been prone to make these kinds of mistakes because:

a. They conflate “best practices” to mean that certain practices are best in all circumstances. This kind of mistake derives from continued adherence to a scientific paradigm that insists on the availability and universality of exact knowledge, and the privileged position of “experts” for discovering that knowledge.17 Their organization as a bureaucracy reinforces efforts to specify rules, which if followed will work in all situations. Those with more knowledge are given authority to make final decisions (that is, without question); non-experts cannot understand; and therefore transparency in operations is not desirable.

b. For the most part the agencies have tended to act as if each were a cartel with monopoly powers. None of the agencies are accountable to those to whom they give aid, but instead justify themselves to other actors similarly distant from the site of policy application. The agencies have acted as if compelled to state grand policies and to have a position on everything. Mistakes have been ignored or denied, or interpreted as problems of implementation by the countries receiving assistance.

c. Given the imbalance of power, there have been few incentives to seek information that would disconfirm or challenge current practices. Therefore it has been difficult for the agencies to learn from mistakes, no matter where they are made. One consequence is a minimization of the importance of research on operations. There are few published studies of operations of the agencies (Ayres, 1984; Tendler, 1975); colleagues in these organizations report only a small handful of internal studies. Some of the agencies have research departments, but their work comments primarily on what the receiving countries should do, rather than how the agencies should perform.

d. The incentive structure of the agencies as bureaucracies has tended to “waste” the human capital they are able to attract in new staff. The “best and brightest” are offered attractive salaries and perquisites, but then given few opportunities to reflect on their experiences and to dialogue with non-agency colleagues. Over time, out of touch, the agencies lag behind the state of the art in education and development.18

This fallibility can have serious consequences for clients. International cooperation as aid does not go proportionately to the poorest countries, nor to the poorest regions within countries (Stokke, 1996). The assistance provided may not be that most required and therefore will not solve critical problems nor contribute to improvement of education. Assistance has a high direct cost and contributes to developing country debt. The provision of the assistance can have a high opportunity cost; it may inhibit the development of indigenous capacity to solve problems. This latter point is especially important, and will be addressed in detail later.

[INDEX] [Presentation] [Introduction] [The Evolution of International Cooperation in Education in the Americas] [Cooperation After Nationalism] [International Cooperation as Supranationalism] [Cooperation for International Development] [Resistance to Aid] [Cooperation as Collaboration within Latin America] [Cooperation as Structural Adjustment] [The Current Situation of Education in the Americas] [Current Status of Education] [Summary] [Current Forms of International Cooperation] [Aid as a Form of International Cooperation] [Varieties of Aid] [Uniformization as a Consequence of Aid] [Aid or Assistance from Bilateral and Multilateral Organizations] [Cooperation by Transnational Corporations] [Aid and Assistance from NGOs] [Aid by Philanthropic Foundations] [Aid Mediated through Educational Institutions] [International Cooperation in the Form of Collaboration] [Examples of Collaboration in Higher Education] [Obstacles to International Collaboration in Higher Education] [Examples of Collaboration Between Non-governmental Organizations] [Other Instances of Collaboration] [Summary] [Globalization and International Cooperation] [The New Industrial Paradigm] [Implications of the New Industrial Paradigm for Education] [The New Development Model] [An Outline of a New Paradigm for Education] [Alternative Approaches to International Cooperation in Education] [An Example of Regional Collaboration to Develop a New Paradigm] [Notes] [References]