"An Educational Decoupling….Advancing Problems"

Geographic Disparities

According to Herman Kruijer and Education International, in a survey of educational progress in Sub Saharan Africa (2010), although there has been progress with the EFA Goals and the MDG Goals, the biggest challenge lies with inequality in educational attainment within nations. 

"Disparities within the countries based on wealth, gender, race, language or ethnic group hinders progress towards Universal Primary Education. In Burkina Faso, Chad, Ethiopia, Mali and Niger, children from the richest 20% are from three to about four times more likely to attend school than children from the poorest quintile."  (19) 

Thus, we see an educational decoupling that mirrors the socio-economic decoupling of these nations. What is not explained in the report is where, geographically, these richest 20% of children are located. More than likely, in my humble estimation, they are in the national capital, commercial capital, or at the very least regional capitals of these nations. Subsequently, we witness the "dual-track" development of the poorest nations; tiny geographic slices of these countries witnessing a boom, advancements in living conditions, access to material wealth and goods, while the vast majority of citizens outside of the major economic and political hubs are living lives of complete material stagnation, regardless of the economic policies dreamed up in the bubble capital zones. 

The general growth in educational enrollment has also resulted in large class sizes becoming the norm in most areas of these nations, urban and rural. Inclusivity has brought with it increased downward pressures on educational quality, already severely deficient beforehand. 

Contract Teachers

It is noted in the study that the employment of contract, or unqualified teachers, during the structural adjustment programs of the 1980's and 90's "…damaged the quality of education." Why then are contract teachers seen as the great panacea for educational quality in 2012? Has history not repeated itself before? 

According to the authors, we face a severe dilemma. "In SSA, 1.6 million additional teachers will be needed by 2015." There is a severe shortage of qualified teachers, and I will assert, even those teachers who are "qualified" are failing most students in the region. What passes as legitimate qualification and training of most teachers in the poorest nations is a a far cry from acceptable; in fact, this is an issue struggled with even in the richest nations: how to attract the best and brightest into the field, give them the tools they need to be progressive educators, with the  relatively favorable salary conditions needed to make this happen. Thus, although economic conditions must be analyzed from a relative perspective in nations, fairness in compensation must be coupled with the challenge of actual teacher training in the global south. Contract teachers are seen as the quick fix, the panacea by the new generation of educational economists, comfortably ensconced in capital cities. Teachers are almost always politically organized, and thus, present a political issue for governments as well. It has been cited that, "…poorly educated teachers reduce poorly educated students (23)," and that they are disproportionately placed in rural areas, further undermining educational parity in these nations, and thus, crippling rural human development. As the authors state, although contract teachers allow for more teachers to be brought into the system at a faster rate than traditional structures, "Higher enrollments do not themselves amount to Education for All."  

The question is not bypassing the structures and systems in place; the question must be, how do we incentivize teachers to do a better job, and how do we guarantee them better training under the actual working conditions that they will face, including a renewed emphasis on In Service Training and Pedagogical Support for Existing Teachers, a critically missing link in these educational systems. 

Decentralization and Privatization

The study notes the promise of decentralization, the stated bringing…"decision-making closer to the people, to make educational systems more accountable and responsive to the needs of each community (21). However, as with most decentralized systems, the success is entirely dependent on the local human capital, which is often severely deficient outside of the "bubbles of power," as well as being subservient to the power demands coming from these "bubbles." Decentralized systems are often, as stated previously in various research articles, more prone to local elite capture, and if this occurs, the quality of the elite capture and the human capabilities of the local elites to administer in at least a basically functioning manner is severely diminished. 

Additionally, actual, meaningful decentralization, that which decentralizes that core functions of schooling, such as control over curriculum, is rarely matched by incentive structures which promote change over maintenance of the failed status quo. 

In the realm of fiscal decentralization, in which is most commonly employed by cash-strapped central governments implementing externally-driven change, the weakest and most marginalized are the victims, unable to contribute their newly cited shares in the fiscal pie. Thus, as is the case with privatization of schooling systems, a few fortunate students win, and most continue to lose. The authors note, "Privatization  entails a real danger of widening inequalities because it allows the public education system to enter a downward spiral of poor quality. Being dependent on the public provision of education, the poorest people suffer most." 

Again, history has witnessed the effects of moving from public systems, however failed and diminished, to privatized systems, during the structural adjustment periods of the 1980's and 90's. The result was devastating for the poorest and historically marginalized. Why do we assume that twenty years later, the results would be any different? Privatization must be fairly balanced with the strengthening of existing governmental schooling systems; bypassing current systems is a model for continued failure for the vast majority of students and parents.