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November 05, 2002
UNESCO versus education

Bloggers everywhere are saying hurrah for Brian's EDUCATION Blog. Can't stop them. Brian from Samizdata. Not just Brian anybody. Brian Me. So I'd better give all these people who are flocking here in their tens something to read or at least know that they could have read, before I go to bed. So how about this fascinating piece of prose?

Paris, November 4 - Two and a half years after pledging to achieve education for all by 2015, more than 70 countries - on present trends - will not make it. This is the stern warning from the 2002 Education for All Global Monitoring Report which will be launched at a press conference organized by UNESCO in London on November 13.

I really should care about this. But honestly, where's the surprise? It makes you long to turn a satirist loose, to write about how UNESCO is doing its best to stamp out education worldwide, but the problem is still persisting, or some such. And it has to be some kind of law that anything promising things by the year 2015 is self-identified as nonsense.

The report will be presented by the eminent British education and development expert, Prof. Christopher Colclough, who is also its Director.

And I'm sure I ought to know who Professor Colclough is. Anyone? The name does sound vaguely familiar.

This second Global Monitoring Report clearly shows which countries are falling behind, or even going backwards, and examines why this is happening. It also presents some startling conclusions on the question of financing education for all. At the World Education Forum (Dakar, Senegal, 2000), participants, and particularly the major donor nations and agencies, vowed that no country seriously committed to education would be thwarted by a lack of resources. But, two years later, who has paid up? And are the national and international funds devoted to EFA sufficient?

So. Some "countries" have promised to give lots of money to some people not under their control, and now they aren't coming across with it. This is supposed to be startling.

"Countries" don't promise things, or for that matter fall behind or go backwards. "Donor nations" ditto. People promise things and these promises should only be taken seriously when the person doing the promising has complete control over what he is promising to do and is a person with a track record of delivering on such promises.

Governments, no matter how individually trustworthy the individuals who make them up may happen to be, are by their nature not organisations which can be relied upon. Politicians will screw you. They'll promise to hand over gobs of money to you. They'll promise you that they're going to be oh-so-committed to spending that money in the proper way, if someone else is giving it to them. But if you confuse these proclamations with facts about the future, well, you are due for some further education.

My blogging friends call what I'm now doing "Fisking", after a journalist called Fisk whom they all hate. I remember this process from my posh prep school as being called "comprehension". We would have to go through some ghastly lump of prose, sentence my sentence, and make as much sense of it as we could. Hideous memories are flooding back.

Published annually, the report is prepared by an independent international team based at UNESCO in Paris (France) as part of the follow-up to the Dakar Forum. It is funded jointly by UNESCO and multilateral and bilateral agencies, and benefits from the advice of an international editorial board.

And so this proclamation ends. It's so dull it seems to want to be ignored. For twenty minutes I could think of nothing further to say in response. But I knew I would have to think of something, if only to ensure that I at least managed to have the last word on my own blog.

Eventually I did squeeze a conclusion out of myself, and it is this, and that wanting-to-be-ignored vibe was the clue.

The temptation is to say that the Colcloughs of this world, all Colcloughing away year after year, are just total idiots, doing no good to anyone of any sort whatsoever, but comforting thought also doing no harm. I wish I could believe this, but I don't. This international fusspotocracy of conferencers and pledgers of achievement and multilateralists and bilateralists and beneficiaries of each other's international editorial advice is already doing actual harm and it threatens to do a whole lot more in the years to come. A failed promise is not the sort of promise that these people are going to allow to just fade away. No. They'll nag and nag away, and eventually they will be sloshing money around the Third World with such abandon that education itself will be seriously damaged, in much the same way that "aid" damages all the other things it is sprayed over. In other words, and this is my key point here, just ignoring this stuff won't make it go away.

For people like me the damage is already being done. This kind of verbiage already occupies mental space in educational heads everywhere, that ought to be occupied by quite different and much more accurate ideas about how education in particular and things in general are actually done successfully. When I go fishing for what's been happening in "education" today, this guff is not what ought to rise, dripping, out of the canal. But it did.

On the other hand, if you work for UNESCO or you were at this Dakar Forum or if you think that UNESCO reports like this can make an actual beneficial difference to the world, then push where it says "Comments" and do your worst.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:50 AM
Category: Politics

Right, now I want you all to write a precis of this blog in no more than a hundred words.

OK, ok, I'll go back and read it again, I think I might want to comment something but I'm not sure what, yet...

Comment by: Alice Bachini on November 5, 2002 12:19 PM
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