Previous Post: What are the Barriers to Providing Universal Education? (Education and Development 2/2)
Many of the education systems in developing countries are modelled on those of the west – in that they have primary, secondary and tertiary sectors, they emphasise primary academic subjects such as English, Maths, Science and History and they have external systems of exams which award qualifications to those who pass them. The idea that a Western style of education is appropriate to developing countries is supported by Functionalists/ Modernisation Theorists and generally criticised by Dependency Theorists and People Centred Development Theorists.
Functionalist thinkers (Functionalism is the foundation of Modernisation Theory) argue that Western education systems perform vital functions in advanced industrial societies. These functions include (a) taking over the function of secondary socialisation from parents (b) equipping all children for work through teaching a diverse range of academic and vocational subjects, (c ) sifting out the most able students through a series of examinations so that these can go on to get the best jobs and (d) providing a sense of belonging (solidarity) and National Identity. Functionalists thinkers such as Emile Durkheim and Talcott Parsons saw national education systems with their top-down national curriculums and examinations as being essential in advanced societies.
It follows that Modernisation Theorists in the 1950s also saw the establishment of education systems as one way in which traditional values could be broken down. If children in developing countries are in school then they can be taught to read and write (which their parents couldn’t have done in the 1950s given the near 100% illiteracy rate at the time), and the brightest can be filtered out through examinations to play a role in developing the country as leaders of government and industry.
According to modernisation theory, school curriculums should be designed with the help of western experts and curriculums and timetables modelled on those of Western education systems – with academic subjects such as English, Maths and History forming core subjects in the curriculums of many developing countries.
However, there are a number of criticisms of the Modernisation Approach to education.
Dependency theorists have pointed out that most people in developing countries do not benefit from western style education. According to DT, education was used in many colonies as a tool of control by occupying countries such as Britain, France and Belgium. The way this worked was to select one quiescent minority ethnic group and provide their children with sufficient education to govern the country on behalf of the colonial power. This divisive legacy continued after colonies gained their independence, with school systems in developing countries proving an extremely sub-standard of education to the majority while a tiny elite at the top could afford to send their children to be educated in private schools, going on to attend universities in the USA and Europe, and then returning to run the country as heads of government and industry to maintain a system which only really benefits the elite, while the majority remain in poverty.
One potential solution to the exclusion faced by the majority of children from education in the developing world comes in the form of Non Governmental Organisations such as Action Aid, who are best known for their Sponsor a Child Campaign, in which any individual in the west can pay £20/ month (or thereabouts) which can fund a child through education. One example of a homegrown version of this charity is the Parikrma Humanity Foundation which essentially ignores the daunting numbers of uneducated children and just focuses on educating one child at a time from the slums of India, to a relatively high level, so that they can escape their poverty for good.
People Centred Development theorists criticise Modernisation Theory because of the fact that Western style curriculums are not appropriate to many people in developing countries. In short, the situations many people in poor countries find themselves in mean they would benefit more from a non-academic education, and more over one that is not explicitly designed to smash apart their traditional societies. According to PCD if people from the west want to help with education in developing countries, they should find out what people in developing countries want and then work with them to meet their educational needs. One excellent example of this is the Barefoot education movement which teaches women and men, many of whom are illiterate, in North West India to become solar engineers and doctors in their own villages, drawing as far as possible on their traditional knowledge. There is one condition people must meet in order to become teachers in this school – they must not have a degree.
It might also be the case that modern technology today means that Western Education systems are simply not required in developing countries. Bill Gates (Head of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the largest Philanthropic charitable organisation in the world which controls over $30 billion of assets, and has a similar amount pledged by wealthy individuals) – who (again unsurprisingly) believes that developing online education courses will change the face of global education in the next 15 years because they can be accessed by anyone with a smartphone. One of the leaders in the development of online courses is the Khan Academy- whose strapline is ‘You can learn anything… for free.
An interesting experiment which suggests this might just work is Sugata Mitra’s ‘hole in wall experiment’ in which he simply put computers in a hole in a wall in various slums and villages around India and just left them there – children picked up how to surf the internet in a matter of days, and even learned some rudimentary English along the way. Mitra’s theory is that children can teach themselves when they work in groups, and his intention is to develop cloud based educational material which will enable children to teach themselves a whole range of subjects.
One problem with leaving education to People Centred Development Approaches or leaving it to children to educate themselves on the internet is that this will probably leave children in poorer developing countries lagging behind in terms of the skills and qualifications required to compete for the best paying jobs in the international job market. In comparison to developing countries, developed countries spend a fortune on their education systems and children spend considerably longer in education, and there is an undeniable link between the successful education systems in South East Asia and the hours invested in education by South East Asian children in countries such as China, South Korea and Singapore and the rapid growth of these economies over the past decades. The problem with this approach is that its success may well be related to the culture of the region which emphasises the importance of individual effort in order to achieve through education.