Worlds of Education

Credits: IM/Erik Törner
Credits: IM/Erik Törner

#WDR2018 Reality Check #21: "The educational “anti-policy” financed by the World Bank in El Salvador", by Israel Montano

published 3 April 2018 updated 12 February 2019
written by:

The recommendations of the World Development Report (WDR) 2018 show that the World Bank has not learned from its mistakes and continues to offer poor advice regarding education policies. In El Salvador, as in other countries, rather than forming part of the solution, the World Bank is in many ways responsible for the supposed learning crisis. Yet, the WDR fails to analyse the role played by the World Bank’s imposed educational agenda, an agenda that does not respond to the priorities of national governments regarding what is necessary to guarantee the fundamental right to free, socially referenced, public quality education for all children. In El Salvador, the World Bank policies have had a seriously negative impact. This blog explains why.

Between 1991 and 2018, the World Bank made loans of $331m to finance education reforms. Most of these reforms had common aims: to establish a minimum curriculum based on competencies; evaluate teachers and students; distribute funds according to performance and to continue the implementation of parallel educational management structures outside the control of the Ministry of Education. The World Bank continues to implement policies that weaken the right to education and the capacity of the State to guarantee it. That is, the Bank finances an educational “anti-policy”.

Following almost two decades of war, El Salvador signed peace agreements in 1992. The signing of these accords created opportunities for communities to re-establish their social fabric, for the most neglected sectors of the population to enter into political life and for the State to be be present where, owing to the war, it had been absent for so many years, or rather, where it had exerted violence over the population for so many years. However, it was the neoliberal policies that did so much damage to the country: currently 41% of families live below the poverty line and are subjected to the violence of the maras(gangs). 36% of girls, boys and adolescents in the country live without their father or mother, or both. This may be due to their parents migrating to the USA, violent death at the hands of the maras, or abandonment.  Therefore, the children we teachers have in our care do not always have a safe, protective family environment; they live in conditions of poverty and are frequently exposed to various forms of violence.

For us teachers, the first important blow to education struck by the World Bank was the Education with Community Participation (EDUCO) programme. Started in 1991, this programme consisted of giving money to parents in the communities to organize themselves in Community Associations for Education (ACE) and, together with some school directors, to form School Administration Boardsand take charge of primary education. By the end of the programme, they were also administering a number of secondary education businesses.

The excuse for launching EDUCO was that after the war, any process promoted by central government would require a long time to organise. The ACEs and the School Administration Boards then had thelegal capacity to hire teachers and decide what type of services and materials would be used in their communities.

The ACEs and the administration boards received the resources from the Ministry of Education (MINED) in large quantities. It was these groups of fathers and mothers who, without any technical or educational training, were directly responsible for the teachers in rural areas. The handling of the money was not transparent in the case of some community representatives who, moreover, took decisions regarding the educational process with no pedagogical or didactic criteria. Teachers were subject to a hiring system based on whim, servility and political cronyism. Schools were set up in whatever houses or rooms the community had and nobody obliged them to invest in adequate infrastructures with the necessary conditions for sports and games, for laboratories, libraries or school canteens.

According to the World Bank itself, of the almost $59m that were distributed in the communities, 44% was financed by the Bank, 51% by the Salvadorian government, 5% by USAID and 0.2% by UNICEF. A total of $26m came from the Social Sector Rehabilitation Project, which was a loan from the World Bank in 1991. This money could have served to improve a national educational system which guaranteed a fairer educational system, made a genuine contribution to the recovery of the social fabric, and  provided quality initial training to teachers and proper in-service training. The reality is that this money was not used to bolster education, but to establish small mafias within the communities.

For us teachers, the World Bank, through its EDUCO program, supported and financed an educational anti-policy as its implementation meant that the State and the government did not take responsibility for education. This was extremely serious because at that time, following the war, the country needed a State with a strong presence that would begin to guarantee and make effective the rights that had been denied for so many years, including the right to education.

The Bank continues to prefer inequality in 2018

As teachers, we must be concerned about an educational reform that will profoundly affect our youth. It is financed by the World Bank through the 2005 Excellence and Innovation in Secondary Education (EXITO) Project loan scheme, for an amount of $85m, and the 2011 Education Quality Improvement Project, for a further $60m. All this money is being used to push through a reform in secondary education aimed at generating two types of secondary education: one for girls and boys who have better opportunities and another for poorer youngsters.

The Bank is financing a model based on a longer school day so that girls and boys spend more hours in the centre. This format is not without its difficulties as the working conditions and infrastructure to ensure the longer day respects the rights and needs of both the pupils and the teaching staff are not being created. Furthermore, the Bank is promoting a flexible model of distance or semi-distance learning for impoverished adolescents and those from areas of greater social conflict. These models focus on providing skills in the subjects of language, arithmetic, science and, in some cases, the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to support this methodology.

This second model worries us greatly. We understand that El Salvador is a young country, with over 55% of the population under 30 years old, and 26% of young people between 15 and 24 neither studying nor working. However, the Bank's vision of generating a model of secondary education for the poor which moves it away from the education centres isolates this group and arms them with very limited skills with which to enter the labour market.

In a country such as El Salvador which is so affected by violence, education centres must offer a safe space for containment and social integration and cohesion. In addition to attending school to study mathematics and Spanish, these boys and girls come to learn the value of participation, democracy, collaborative work, the history of their country and of their region.

The World Bank continues to seek to impose an education policy on us without understanding the transforming value of education. Or perhaps it is precisely because they do understand this value that the Bank fights against education so much. It is also for this reason that we in ANDES 21 de junio value the power for transformation and equality that education can generate, and we will continue to defend it as a social right, one which cannot be shaped from the perspective of a bank and its club of consultants and "experts".

#WDR2018 Reality Check is a blog series organized by Education International.  The series brings together the voices of education experts and activists – researchers, teachers, unionists and civil society actors - from across the world in response to the 2018 World Development Report, Learning to Realize Education’s Promise. The series will form the basis of a publication in advance of the WB Spring Meetings 2018. If you would like to contribute to the series, please get in touch with Jennifer at [email protected]. All views expressed are those of the authors alone and do not represent the views of Education International.

Check out the previous post in the series by Mark Ginsburg: #WDR2018 Reality Check #20: Half-Hearted Commitment to Teacher Learning.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.