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Part 1 | Education Policies and Development: Issues in the Debate

International Education and Development: Histories, Parallels, Crossroads

Éducation internationale et développement : histoires, parallèles, croisements
Educación y desarrollo internacional: historias, analogías, encrucijadas
Gilles Carbonnier, Michel Carton and Kenneth King


Education has been a priority sector when considering foreign aid allocationsince the 1970s. The stated objective has been to ensure universal access to basic education, with a more recent emphasis on quality and outcomes. Aware that these goals will not be met universally, the major actors involved in the post-2015 debate are turning back to the concept of learning. In this chapter, we briefly review major scholarly work and strategic papers that have shaped the discourse and policies of international development organisations and national actors over the past four decades. We discuss how the central notions of skills, learning, and both formal and non-formal education have evolved in conjunction with ideological shifts. We examine the tensions between public and private education as well as between individualised and standardised delivery modes. We further look at (big) data and online education promises. To conclude, we question the current focus of major stakeholders on post-2015, post-EFA agendas. As several articles in this special issue underscore, national policies and local practices are largely driven by persistent political economy dynamics while the influence of ‘the global agenda’ tends to remain confined to the international cooperation community itself.

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Editors' notes

Paperback reference : Carbonnier, Gilles, Michel Carton and Kenneth King (2014) "International Education and Development: Histories, Parallels, Crossroads" in Education, Learning, Training : Critical Issues for Development, International Development Policy series No.5, Geneva: Graduate Institute Publications, Boston: Brill-Nijhoff, pp. 3–26 – Order your copy on Brill-Nijhoff’s website

Authors' notes

In this chapter, the term ‘education’ is understood in the broader sense of education and training.

Full text

1. Introduction

1The donor community has expressed a consistent concern for education since the establishment of the Development Assistance Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD/DAC) some fifty years ago. As a sector, education has received one of the highest share of official development assistance over the past four decades. It received a larger share than health, ‘conflict, peace and security’, and, in most years, than agriculture as well (see Figure 1.1). Interestingly, this is not the case for private development assistance: a recent study by the Brookings Institution highlights the fact that corporate giving to global health is sixteen times higher than its support to education (Winthrop et al., 2013).

Figure 1.1 — Official development assistance, all DAC donors, for a selection of sectors (1971–2012 — in million USD constant 2011)

Figure 1.1 — Official development assistance, all DAC donors, for a selection of sectors (1971–2012 — in million USD constant 2011)

Source: OECD–DAC, CRS database (2014).

2The major bilateral donors in the education sector have been Germany, France, and the United Kingdom, followed by Japan and the United States. Among multilateral agencies, the largest donors include the Bretton Woods Institutions, the European Union, and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) given its special mandate in support of Palestinian refugees (see Figure 1.2).

Figure 1.2 — Top bilateral and multilateral aid donors to education, 2011 (in million USD)

Figure 1.2 — Top bilateral and multilateral aid donors to education, 2011 (in million USD)

Source:OECD–DAC, CRS database (2013).

3Despite this apparent priority given to education, the 2015 targets and goals for education respectively set, following 2000, in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the Education for All (EFA) World Forum, will not be met (UNESCO, 2014). Many children, therefore, still do not enjoy access to free and compulsory primary education, an objective that was already established in the UN Declaration of Human Rights in December 1948.1 In several countries, adult illiteracy remains far too high. Achieving these basic education goals will require much greater commitment, including increased budgetary means and more qualified teachers.

  • 2 Global Education & Skills Forum (15-17 March 2014, Dubai), Press release: 20.20.20 Business Backs E (...)

4The provision of private education and vocational training has been on the rise. Several initiatives aim at strengthening public-private partnerships in the education sector, not least the UN Secretary General’s Global Education First Initiative. A campaign entitled Business Backs Education — launched in partnership with UNESCO and the Global Business Coalition for Education — challenges the private sector to allocate 20 per cent of its philanthropic giving to education initiatives by 2020 with a focus on countries and groups most in need.2 Yet, the precise role and remit of states versus those of non-state actors in the education sector remain a major bone of contention within academic and policy circles (Macpherson et al., 2014).

  • 3 Measure of how many years of education a child would receive during a life time if the school enrol (...)

5In relative terms, total public expenditure on education averages between 3.4 and 6 per cent of gross domestic product when looking at different regions around the globe (Figure 1.3). In absolute terms, the amount of money allocated per child in primary school varies enormously from one region to another, and school life expectancy rates3 remain much lower in Africa compared to other regions (Figure 1.4). Poverty and inequality have a dire impact on educational attainments.

Figure 1.3 — Public expenditure on education and money spent per pupil, 2011 (in percentage of total public expenditures and in USD)

Figure 1.3 — Public expenditure on education and money spent per pupil, 2011 (in percentage of total public expenditures and in USD)

Note: Total public expenditure on education as a percentage of total government expenditure and public expenditure on primary education per pupil (unit cost) at purchasing power parity (PPP) in constant 2010 USD.

Source: UNESCO, statistical tables, Education For All Global Monitoring Report, 2013/2014.


Figure 1.4 — School life expectancy (school year ending 2011)

Figure 1.4 — School life expectancy (school year ending 2011)

Note: Expected number of years of formal schooling from primary to tertiary education; school year ending 2011.

Source: UNESCO, statistical tables, Education For All Global Monitoring Report, 2013/2014.


Figure 1.5 — Youth illiteracy (projections 2015)

Figure 1.5 — Youth illiteracy (projections 2015)

Note: Youth (15–24 years) illiterates, in thousands, and proportion of girls (projections 2015).

Source: UNESCO, statistical tables, Education for All Global Monitoring Report, 2013/2014.

8Against this background, this chapter connects two parallel histories: that of international education and that of development. These two fields have often evolved in separate silos. But those of us who have sought to contribute to both fields believe in the value of cross-fertilization. We discuss how the meaning of key concepts in the education world has evolved, and we review the persistent tension between two opposing but complementary visions of education. We highlight parallels between policy debates raging in the 1960-80s and contemporary post-2015 discussions revolving around data, evidence, impact, and value for money. To conclude, we argue that addressing the needs of the 1.25 billion youths and adults excluded from education requires much more than mere adaptation in education discourse and grand strategies.

2. Co-evolution of international education and development: research, policies, buzzwords

9The expansion of both international education studies and of development studies dates back to the 1950s. The Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) was founded in the United States in 1956 with the aim to ‘foster cross-cultural understanding and societal development through the international and multidisciplinary study of educational ideas, systems, and practices’. The Comparative Education Society of Europe (CESE) was established five years later in London. Interestingly, the very title of those two organizations includes comparative education, a discipline that had developed in parts of Europe in the 19th century already (see Jullien de Paris, 1817) following the rise of nation states. Education systems were confined within national borders with a recurrent debate between proponents of universalism versus those of particularism.

  • 4  The International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), however, goes b (...)

10As of the 1960s and 1970s, the focus of international education studies was extended beyond its Western origins to developing countries, based on an enhanced theoretical corpus embedded in comparative studies addressing cross-cultural settings in general, and developing countries in particular. In the Cold War’s aftermath, this intensified with the extension of cross-national comparisons of school systems and learning achievements, and the comparative study of assessment methods.4 This, in turn, gave rise to regional and international rankings often based on implicit value judgments about national education systems and the politico-economic systems underpinning them.

11In the decolonisation context, development studies emerged as an interdisciplinary field of its own and has developed in Europe since the early 1950s. The International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) was established in 1952 in The Hague, followed by the African Institute in Geneva in 1961 (rapidly transformed into the Institute for Development Studies), and the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) at Sussex University five years later. There were very few counterpart organizations in the US.

12From the outset in the 1950s and 1960s, there have been tensions between rights-based and market-based approaches, or between (neo-) liberal policies and state-driven interventions. As Draxler and Burnett discuss in the next two chapters respectively, there has long been a vivid debate between the proponents of a rights-based vision of education as a public good and the proponents of an instrumental approach whereby education should above all be geared towards responding to labour market demand and contributing to economic development. Education buzzwords have echoed the dominant development discourse over the past five decades. The focus on modernization and economic growth in development theories has been paralleled by an emphasis on human capital accumulation; basic needs by basic formal and non-formal education; market liberalisation by private funding of post-basic education and vocational training; endogenous development by community education; structural adjustment by public divestment from higher education; the knowledge economy by science and technology education; inclusive and equitable growth by education and training for the marginalised.

13More recently, the notion of capabilities has gained much traction. In an attempt to strengthen the interplay between education and human development, Sen proposed that educators, like ‘developers’, seek to conceive of new policies and tools that no longer take economic growth and human capital as sole references. In this issue, McGrath and Powell explore the value of the capability approach when it comes to the evaluation of vocational education and training, with a case study on South Africa. The authors suggest that the capability approach offers a critical conduit for emphasising what individuals and institutions value and seek to achieve when evaluating programmes, while it also allows economic objectives to be retained in the equation and for the role of evaluation in improving delivery and achievements.

3. Forty years later: have we come full circle?

  • 5  See DFID’s Learning For All (DFID, 2010) and Education Position Paper: Improving Learning, Expandi (...)

14In parallel to the buzzwords cited above, the meanings of key concepts have kept evolving over the past forty years, be it ‘learning’, ‘non-formal education and training’, or ‘skills’. The discussion regarding learning has not progressed much, as reflected in the post-2015 literature’s claims that there is now a ‘learning crisis’. This is in spite of the existence of repeated declarations and action frameworks on Education for All (EFA) and on learning needs since the World Conference on Education for All in Jomtien, Thailand, in March 1990 (WCEFA, 1990; King and Palmer, 2013). The fact that ‘learning for all’ has recently appeared in bilateral and multilateral agencies’ key strategy papers on education actually bears witness to the actual lack of effective learning or to very poor learning outcomes.5 That is why the 2020 education strategy of the World Bank has been entitled Learning for All rather than Education for All, putting the emphasis back on educational quality and achievement (World Bank, 2011).

15But, at the same time, lifelong learning — a concept dating back to the 1970s that addresses all ages via different institutions and modalities — is now more narrowly understood as learning primarily in the school sphere. Very little attention is being paid to the 1.25 billion young people and adults who have received little or no schooling or training whatsoever and remain outside the formal labour market. In this issue, Ahmed looks at precisely this point by questioning the very notions of lifelong learning and learning societies and exploring to what extent community-learning centres can serve as institutions for adult and lifelong learning, contrasting the case of Bangladesh with those of China and India. The rediscovery of ‘learning’ can be seen as a narrowing of focus from the world of ‘education’ as a holistic and social process as well as institution, to a preoccupation with what ‘learning’ has contributed to individual achievement at the end of the educational process.

16The discovery in the early 1970s, by the research and policy communities, of existing informal and non-formal learning (which became almost anti-school in some ways) paralleled the excitement regarding the ‘discovery’ of the informal economic sector by Hart in Ghana in 1971, and its widespread dissemination by the World Employment Programme’s mission reports of the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Sri Lanka (ILO, 1971) and Kenya (ILO, 1972). In both schooling and employment, we witnessed in the 1970s something of a retreat from the formal sectors towards a focus on basic learning and basic work (rather than salaried jobs). In contrast, the post-2015 discourse now emphasises quality in primary and lower secondary education along with decent employment.

17The literature on non-formal education (NFE), a term that encompassed the diversity of structured learning outside the formal school, proliferated rapidly in the 1970s, and included the World Bank’s seminal Education Sector Working Paper (World Bank, 1974). The plot of the academic discourse was written in the North while its object was the South, just like post-2015 proposals today. In the end, it did not materially alter or improve the status and position of adult, non-formal or community education in the South.

18The discovery of a whole world of non-formal and informal learning beyond the confines of the formal school system took place just at the moment Illich published Deschooling Society (1971) and Reimer’s School is Dead (1971). Such explorations of different alternatives to the framing of the formal school with its examination rituals were soon reinforced by Dore’s writings about The Diploma Disease (1976). Arguably, China’s Cultural Revolution, removing university entrance examinations, had encouraged some of these trends. But they were also present in the ILO World Employment Programme’s mission reports mentioned above. The latter even talked about examinations being the ‘root cause of the disease affecting the present functioning of the schools’ (ILO, 1972, 244). It is interesting to reflect on the way that the 1970s saw the role of examinations questioned, while the post-2015 discussions regarding access versus quality have actually put assessment, learning outcomes, and examinations right back into the centre of the education agenda, reflecting a strong desire to favour evidence-driven policies based on simple, measurable indicators.

19A similar case could be made for ‘skills’, a term associated over the last 50 years with changing assumptions about development and the role of technology. Vocational schools and training systems were borrowed from industrialised countries on the assumption that they could play a fundamental role in the modernisation of developing countries. This may have worked out successfully in a number of East and South East Asian as well as in some Latin American countries, in association with compulsory primary and secondary education and in conjunction with industrialisation policies. But in many other countries the conditions for successful ‘modern’ skills development were simply not present. Echoing the discovery of the informal sector by the ILO in the early 1970s, traditional apprenticeships and on-the-job training were considered alternative, complementary means for providing minimum vocational skills to apparently unemployed young people in Sub-Saharan Africa (see Carton, 1980). Forty years down the line, youth unemployment ranks even higher as a priority and the emphasis has shifted from a supply-driven, institution-based approach to skills delivery towards a demand-driven approach in tune with job market requirements.

20In this issue, the chapter by Brugger and Lizzaraga calls for caution regarding such an approach. The authors show how, in the case of Bolivia – a mineral-dependent developing country – the mining sector consistently favoured the production of an unskilled, cheap labour force, which did not contribute to anticipating demand for higher skills and led to a relative neglect of vocational training. Private education and so-called demand-driven skills programmes are far from offering an adequate substitute to a proper public vocational training system. Jacinto and de Farelli also examine tertiary technical education, but with case studies on Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico. Their comparative research underscores the importance of perceptions, prestige, and employer behaviour, which vary greatly from one country to another as a result of specific institutional and policy environment factors.

4. Finding a balance between human rights and instrumental approaches?

21During the whole period under review, the design of education, training, and development policies has fluctuated with the evolving positions of individual states, the international aid community, business, and civil society. Oversimplifying, education has been envisaged along a continuum ranging from a human right to be enjoyed by everyone irrespective of the cost and the return on investment on one extreme, to a tool aimed at responding to market demand in support of economic growth on the other extreme. Likewise for the development continuum, education would serve economic growth as the sole objective pursed at one extreme or pursue the sole advancement of the social dimension of human development at the other.

Figure 1.6 — The education and development continuums

Figure 1.6 — The education and development continuums

Source: authors.

22The reality, of course, lies somewhere between those extremes. This is reflected in the different approaches of UNESCO, ILO and the World Bank in this respect: while UNESCO envisages a model based on the nation-state in which education is promoted and protected as a human right, the ILO position is shaped by its tripartite governance. The World Bank tends to look at every public policy area with a prime concern for economic return on investment (see Figure 1.6). In the post-2015 context, the pendulum seems to swing towards an instrumental approach to education and a highly productivist vision of vocational training. This reflects the preferences of a majority of the public and private actors that are setting the new educational norms, starting with the OECD and the World Bank. Young people themselves tend to pay increased attention to skills for life and for work, with a greater appetite for short-term vocational courses tailored to fit shifting demand on job markets.

23Despite a global post-2015 discourse geared towards education in general (including the right to education), the Education for All movement — spearheaded for the past fourteen years mainly by UNESCO — suffers from low visibility. In parallel, the Global Partnership for Education (GPE),6 a successor to the Fast Track Initiative, is developing vigorously, as is UNICEF influence in the education field. This reflects the rise of what is called the global governance of education involving a variety of international public and private stakeholders. This movement started in the mid-1990s with OECD recommendations insisting on consensus building, peer review and pressure (Vinokur, 2005). In spite of being much less influential than the GPE and the OECD, the Global Campaign for Education, an international civil society global education lobby group now based in South Africa,7 has contributed to making education more present than would otherwise be expected in the post-2015 debates, while their national affiliates have seized the opportunity to push education further up regional and national political agendas.

5. Standardisation vs. individualisation

  • 8 The Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) is the largest NGO in the country (and in the wor (...)

24Approaches to education tend to be ever more tailored in response to individual demand rather than institutional supply, whether public or private. This shift can be attributed to the poor performance of education access policies and the low quality of basic learning outcomes in many school systems (see UNESCO, 2014). Criticism of the formal school is not new, and its portrayal as a Taylorist education industry dates back a few decades (e.g. Illich, 1971). Forty years later, such criticism originates as much from the business sphere that encourages information and communication technology (ICT) as from education NGOs’ leaders in the South (e.g. BRAC founder, Hazlan Abed)8 who tend to favour an education system guided primarily by civil society. If these two actors differ in the responses they advance, they both criticise the supply-driven approach of today’s schools that does not address the individual learning requirements and creativity of pupils (see also Ahmed in this issue).

25There is a tension between this call for individualisation and a strong movement towards universal outcome measurement systems such as the Learning Metrics (LMTF, 2013a; 2013b).  This proposes some universal basic and soft skills for young people up to 18 years of age, or other learning outcomes measurement through international rankings supposed to reflect differentials in learning quality across countries (e.g. PISA/OECD). Individualisation and standardisation are simultaneously at work following a technocratic and apolitical trend, which some education experts and policymakers deem unhelpful to efforts to increase learning quality and better use of acquired skills.

6. Public-private education: an adequate mix?

26The role of non-state actors in education differs widely for level of education, country, and tradition. The rise of private education has drawn a lot of attention with regard to so-called low-cost private schools, in particular in South Asia and parts of Sub-Saharan Africa (Macpherson et al., 2014; Burnett, Chapter 2 in this issue). In developing Asia, students attending public primary and secondary schools routinely use private, ‘shadow’ schooling systems after formal school hours and at weekends (Bray, 2007). This causes anxieties in the post-2015 context since many of the goals being advanced by UN agencies, civil society organizations, and think tanks emphasise the crucial responsibility of the state in providing quality basic education for all. Yet the central role of the state in educational provision is far from universal, particularly in the field of early childhood education. And in the world of skills development, there is a remarkable diversity of providers as examined in depth in several articles in the second part of this special issue, focusing on the role of diverse stakeholders in shaping education and development policies. Furthermore, some of the most admired systems of vocational training involve strong public-private partnerships where employers work with dedicated, publicly provided training schools as well as with workforce representatives. Equally, the massive systems of so-called traditional apprenticeships are essentially operating within the micro, small, and medium-sized private enterprise sector, in both rural and urban areas.

27There has been concern about the commodification and liberalisation of higher education and technical training in the context of the World Trade Organization (WTO) General Agreement on Trade in Services; a phenomenon again facilitated by the development of ICTs and the individualisation of educational processes (Verger and Robertson, 2012). This is illustrated, for example, by the rapid development of franchised, private, professional training institutions and programmes (including e-learning) in the South. Such training tends to place greater emphasis on the employability and short-term productivity of individuals than on the role of training for the social integration of both individuals and marginalised groups.

28Another dimension of the increasing role of non-state actors is that, while NGOs were invited to the 1990 Jomtien World Conference on Education for All as members of national delegations for the first time, the post-2015 debates see many of the well-known international NGOs promoting their own position papers. The same is true of European and North American think tanks (King and Palmer, 2013). The Brookings Institution’s Center for Universal Education has for instance partnered with the UNESCO Institute of Statistics to develop a whole framework for thinking about education post-2015 including associated metrics and indicators (LMTF, 2013a; 2013b). The involvement of NGOs in post-2015 discussions may arguably be directly related to their perception that the final shape of the post-2015 agenda will have implications for their own future funding opportunities.

7. The ICT and (big) data revolutions: more access and quality for all?

29The dizzying acceleration of ICT diffusion for independent learning, a cause and consequence of the cross-border nature of education systems and of the ‘services’ they offer on the market, has led to increased mobility of individuals, businesses, and resources.

30A prime example of this is the emergence of MOOCs (massive open online courses), which are ‘massive’ in the sense that they are primarily available to a potentially huge number of individual consumers who possess the necessary hardware and decide to take a course online; this is very different from the earlier ‘mass’ literacy campaigns of the 1960s that sought widespread social and individual impact that continues to be felt today in countries such as Cuba and Vietnam. Debates are going on in the Global South as MOOCs can be viewed as a game changer for the younger generation or can be resented as a new form of technological and cultural dependency (for the case of Sri Lanka see Liyanagunawardena et al., 2013).

31The article by Escher, Noukakis, and Aebischer (Chapter 10 in this issue) provides an original account of ongoing endeavours to establish partnerships between a technological institute of higher education in the North and partners in developing countries in general, and in francophone Africa in particular. The authors note that MOOCs have taken the world of higher education by storm with the spread of tablets and smartphones, of Internet broadband penetration, and the new generation of digital natives that sees millions of students following MOOCs. This offers novel insights into the vast potential opportunities and the specific obstacles associated with North–South partnerships aimed at the delivery of MOOCs.

  • 9  See Ferrera (2013); Van Rijmenam (2013); Warner (2013); Fletcher (2013); and Tim Harford — ‘Big da (...)

32In tertiary education, the use of ‘big data’ generated by the diffusion of virtual learning platforms allows the prediction of students’ learning problems by producing algorithms similar to those used by Internet providers to anticipate ‘customer needs’.9 In the USA, some people have contrasted the high change potential of big data with MOOCs: big data, not MOOCs, ‘will give institutions the predictive tools they need to improve learning outcomes for individual students’ (Guthrie, 2013). These two examples show that it is worth considering to what extent a partially free distribution of knowledge and information can compensate for a lack of sufficient investment in educational institutions in the South. The ICT revolution raises numerous questions regarding the future role of education policies and institutions and the role of teachers themselves (see UNESCO, 2014; devoted to Teaching and Learning), while it opens up new strands on learning theories alongside progress in neurosciences (see Piety, 2013).

8. From discourse to data and evidence in international cooperation: by who and for whom?

33Examining the evolution of international development cooperation, and aid policies and practices in particular, provides another perspective on formal and non-formal education and vocational training. In the annex at the end of the chapter, we provide a timeline listing the major milestones in international educational research and training over the past five decades bearing witness to the production by the international aid community of many of the elements of discourse that have become common parlance in the post-2015 debates. The inter-agency commission involving UNICEF, the World Bank, UNESCO, and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) was behind the Education for All (EFA) and Meeting Basic Learning Needs discourses that emerged from the Jomtien World Conference on Education for All in 1990. The same inter-agency group convened the World Forum on Education for All in Dakar in April 2000, from which the six Dakar EFA Goals emerged. Meanwhile the OECD/DAC produced international development targets in 1996 (OECD–DAC, 1996), which soon turned into the Millennium Development Goals. The same actors maintain the lead in framing the post-2015 agenda. In fact, many of the 88 so-called ‘national’ consultations on post-2015 have actually been led or facilitated by the UNDP.

34What has changed is a growing concern for evidence-based policy, encouraged by the rapid dissemination of scientific experimental methods for evaluating the impact of education policies and aid programmes (Banerjee and Duflo, 2011), ranging all the way from the big question of whether education policy should be supply- or demand-driven to the impact of specific conditional cash transfer programmes. It is also arguably the search for evidence of the impact of EFA goals and of the MDGs that has put learning outcomes back onto the agenda of the post-2015 goals and targets (King and Palmer, 2013). This is reflected in the very detailed reporting of the aid-supported EFA Global Monitoring Reports, as well as the Results for Learning Reports of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). The requirement for evidence-based policy has spread widely and rapidly, and in some countries even independently of aid. In many developing countries, much of the evaluation work is now mundane and routinised with regular examination of enrolments, completions, and dropouts, and students’ transition into the job market, including into formal or informal work. But there are other approaches (McGrath and Powell, Chapter 7 in this issue).

35Yet a number of more demanding questions remain unanswered. We do not know enough about the hundreds of millions of adult illiterates nor about the 250 million young people who are either un-schooled or de-schooled. This requires urgent attention. Education systems, and universities in particular, in many developing countries have suffered from the negative impact of structural adjustment programmes. The dramatic weakness of tertiary education in many aid-dependent countries has also been in part attributed to the aid community’s constant focus on basic needs and basic education since the World Conference on Education for All (WCEFA). As shown by Efionayi and Piguet in this issue, African students, for example, increasingly migrate to Western countries in order to pursue their university education. This may reflect their analysis of the quality of higher education in their own countries.

36The international aid community’s emphasis on evidence, results, impact, evaluation, and value for money has translated into a lively market for short-term consultancy rather than increasing research capacities in African universities. The recent launch of the Building Evidence on Education (BE2) group (UKCDS, UK Aid, ESRC, WB, and USAID), with its GBP 20 million research budget, will have to be carefully scrutinised in order to evaluate the proportions of consultancy studies and more autonomous research in its portfolio.  

37Skills development has also shifted from being a donor priority in the 1960-80s to being neglected, along with higher education, from the 1990s until very recently. With the financial crisis in 2008, and its impact on youth unemployment in particular, there has been renewed interest in technical and vocational education and training worldwide, including on the part of aid agencies, based on a claimed link to growth and jobs (NORRAG, 2013).

9. Post-2015 priorities and paradoxes

38It should be acknowledged that schooling is not only part of the solution, but has too often also been part of the problem. Quality schooling is a prerequisite if the post-2015 education agenda is to ensure that the millions of children, young people, and adults who have still not benefited from effective literacy and numeracy more than 20 years after Jomtien do so in the near future. The poorest and most marginalised are not profiting from schools, either because of poor quality or fees, or both. Developing countries themselves have to adapt their education systems and curricula accordingly, mobilising the resources necessary to address challenges. Foreign aid cannot do much more than assist on the margins, but can do so more forcefully in those countries that are most aid-dependent.

  • 10  For a discussion of the education financing gap in relation to the different post-2015 options, se (...)

39Mobilising the resources necessary to address these educational challenges cannot be taken for granted. There is an annual financing gap of USD 26 billion for providing coverage of just three of the Dakar 2000 Goals (early childhood, primary education, and adult literacy) for just 46 low- and lower-middle-income countries. This can only be met by dedicated, increased, domestic financing supported by resolute political commitment and civil society involvement.10 This is not to say that donors should not continue to aspire to, and be held accountable for, providing the required resources in the form of Official Development Assistance (ODA) transfers. But it underlines the primary responsibility of each and every state, increasingly with other stakeholders such as business, to ensure that no child, however poor, is left behind.

40As discussed earlier, UN agencies and the World Bank have driven the international education agenda since the 1970s. How far has this agenda actually trickled down in ministries of education and labour? To what extent has this impacted on education and training policies and practices in low-income and lower-middle-income countries? Burnett convincingly argues that the greatest MDG and EFA impact has been on influencing donor policies (Burnett, 2012, 5). Manning’s MDG review suggests that while the time-bound MDGs did have an impact on international development discourse, and selectively on donor governments, they only had a modest impact on developing countries (Manning, 2009, 39). The chapter by Brugger and Lizarraga in this issue bears witness to the fact that education policies and practices in the South are driven by domestic political dynamics including political pressure from education and other lobby groups such as parents, teachers, teachers’ unions, and examination boards. Education ministries obviously cannot focus on EFA alone but must respond to the very powerful domestic pressures to expand secondary and tertiary education. There are very much weaker lobbies arguing for the expansion of adult literacy and community learning.

41The influence of traditional donors on the changing global discourse regarding international education and training, and in particular on the priorities of international NGOs based in the North, has actually been much less pronounced in Latin America and Asia than it has in Sub-Saharan Africa. Emerging economies have bolstered South–South cooperation as an alternative option associated with the rise of non-DAC donors (Carbonnier, 2012; NORRAG, 2010). Interestingly, this group of countries, from China to India, and from the Gulf States to Brazil, seems much less preoccupied with the discussions around the post-2015 development agenda. In some ways, they focus much more on the higher and technical education levels, and advance claims regarding mutual benefit instead of aid. Several of these so-called emerging donors have developed their own discourse and established concrete targets for educational aid. So, for example, thousands of scholarships, short-term training, and experts for Africa are offered by both India and China. In his chapter in this issue King analyses China’s investment in human resource development in Africa with a focus on higher education. He identifies key differences between China’s approach and that of DAC donors and interrogates the distance between China’s discourse and the reality of practice in the field.

10. Conclusion

42This chapter provides a brief historical perspective on the education and development nexus, focusing on the last five decades. It analyses the evolving notions of — and approaches to — schooling, non-formal education, literacy, and skills development. The diversity of education systems and approaches is examined in light of the range of stakeholders involved, looking in particular at the roles of the state, business, civil society, and international aid organisations. The chapter discusses the politics of the development–education nexus along two axes, whereby the balance has shifted towards a functional or instrumental understanding of education and training, as also reflected in the emerging global education governance architecture.

  • 11  'The vocational school fallacy in development planning' was first presented at a conference on Edu (...)

43Fifty years ago, Philip Foster wrote about the ‘vocational school fallacy’ applied to the case of Ghana (Foster, 1965), showing the absurdity of assuming that curriculum change could alter the labour market.11 A new version of the fallacy might be written 50 years later, perhaps termed the ‘learning outcomes fallacy’, to point up the dangers of the preoccupation with assessment and evaluation that is associated with the so-called ‘learning crisis’.

  • 12  See Avalos (1986) for a moving ethnographic account of this challenge.

44There is a need to look behind the numbers, whether provided in Global Monitoring Reports (GMRs), or made available by the rapid expansion of MOOCs and the so-called big data revolution. When striving to integrate those who have so far remained excluded, we should better grasp how teachers are critically essential to the challenge of ‘teaching children of the poor’ (NORRAG, 2014).12 In addition, when it comes to adult education and lifelong learning, there is a need to consider both traditional and ICT literacy, numeracy, skills, and learning through the eyes of those adults who did not have access to school and those who have decided to enter schools and training centres at a later stage. Increasing vertical and horizontal inequalities have obviously affected, and will continue to affect, the conditions under which learning and teaching develop. In this context, we still have to learn how to evaluate learning, whether in schools or in further education and training, in a way that puts learning and teaching – that is to say, students and teachers – at the very centre of our concerns.

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1  Art. 26 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, on 14 May 2014).

2 Global Education & Skills Forum (15-17 March 2014, Dubai), Press release: 20.20.20 Business Backs Education, on 14 April 2014).

3 Measure of how many years of education a child would receive during a life time if the school enrolment rates stay the same as today.

4  The International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), however, goes back to the late 1950s, and its first twelve-country study was carried out in 1960. This was followed by the First International Mathematics Study in 196367 (see, accessed on 15 April 2014).

5  See DFID’s Learning For All (DFID, 2010) and Education Position Paper: Improving Learning, Expanding Opportunities (DFID, 2013); USAID’s Opportunity Through Learning (USAID, 2011); and the World Bank’s Learning For All (World Bank, 2011).

6  The GPE develops education strategies and programmes, shares innovative solutions, finances EFA, and monitors educational results. It covers primary and secondary schooling. The partners are representatives of governments, donors, international organisations, civil society organisations/NGOs, and the private sector. The GPE is present in 60 developing countries. It has mobilised USD 3.6 billion during the last ten years.

7 on 29 March 2014).

8 The Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) is the largest NGO in the country (and in the world) and is heavily involved in different types of education and training activities.

9  See Ferrera (2013); Van Rijmenam (2013); Warner (2013); Fletcher (2013); and Tim Harford — ‘Big data: are we making a big mistake?FT Magazine, 28 March 2014, (accessed on14 April 2014) for some opposing views about big data in the US.

10  For a discussion of the education financing gap in relation to the different post-2015 options, see King (2013).   

11  'The vocational school fallacy in development planning' was first presented at a conference on Education and Economic Development in Chicago in 1963,and then published in the conference proceedings in 1965in Anderson and Bowman (1965). See also King and Martin (2000).

12  See Avalos (1986) for a moving ethnographic account of this challenge.

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List of illustrations

Title Figure 1.1 — Official development assistance, all DAC donors, for a selection of sectors (1971–2012 — in million USD constant 2011)
Caption Source: OECD–DAC, CRS database (2014).
File image/png, 66k
Title Figure 1.2 — Top bilateral and multilateral aid donors to education, 2011 (in million USD)
Credits Source:OECD–DAC, CRS database (2013).
File image/png, 38k
Title Figure 1.3 — Public expenditure on education and money spent per pupil, 2011 (in percentage of total public expenditures and in USD)
Caption Note: Total public expenditure on education as a percentage of total government expenditure and public expenditure on primary education per pupil (unit cost) at purchasing power parity (PPP) in constant 2010 USD.
Credits Source: UNESCO, statistical tables, Education For All Global Monitoring Report, 2013/2014.
File image/png, 197k
Title Figure 1.4 — School life expectancy (school year ending 2011)
Caption Note: Expected number of years of formal schooling from primary to tertiary education; school year ending 2011.
Credits Source: UNESCO, statistical tables, Education For All Global Monitoring Report, 2013/2014.
File image/png, 179k
Title Figure 1.5 — Youth illiteracy (projections 2015)
Caption Note: Youth (15–24 years) illiterates, in thousands, and proportion of girls (projections 2015).
Credits Source: UNESCO, statistical tables, Education for All Global Monitoring Report, 2013/2014.
File image/png, 183k
Title Figure 1.6 — The education and development continuums
Credits Source: authors.
File image/png, 148k
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Cite this article

Electronic reference

Gilles Carbonnier, Michel Carton and Kenneth King, “International Education and Development: Histories, Parallels, Crossroads”International Development Policy | Revue internationale de politique de développement [Online], 5 | 2014, Online since 18 November 2014, connection on 08 May 2021. URL:; DOI:

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About the authors

Gilles Carbonnier

is Professor, Development Economics, at The Graduate Institute, Geneva; Editor in Chief, International Development Policy; and President, Centre for Education and Research in Humanitarian Action. His research focuses on international development cooperation, energy and extractive resources governance, and humanitarianism, conflict, and disaster.

By this author

Michel Carton

holds a PhD in Education from Geneva University. He is currently Executive Director of NORRAG where his research focuses on skills development policies in Western/Southern Africa and South East Asia. He was Deputy Director of The Graduate Institute until retiring in 2010.

Kenneth King

is Emeritus Professor at the School of Education and School of Social and Political Studies, University of Edinburgh. His research interests focus on the politics and history of international education and skills development and aid policy, and most recently Chinese education assistance to Africa.

By this author

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