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Comparative African Experiences in Implementing Educational Policies. By John Craig. Washington: World Bank, 1990. 81 p. (World Bank Discussion Papers, Africa Technical Department Series, no. 83.) Price not given.

There are some who discern signs of a turn toward optimism about Africa south of the Sahara. Whether the turn is justified, or only wishful sightings in the uncertain light of dawn, remains to be known. But we certainly have need of hopefulness about Africa. We have had more than a decade of discouraged, despairing or scolding accounts of African troubles and failures. Much has indeed gone wrong, and the prospects of turns for the better have been uncertain. Education has not escaped these depressing assessments, despite its remarkable expansion in the years since African independence. Observers of Africa know that education has sometimes been the one sector in which plans have been over-fulfilled and that governments have had to scramble to keep up with the demands and enthusiastic voluntary efforts of the citizenry. The World Bank has been making a series of studies on how national plans are implemented, and John Craig, professor of comparative education at the University of Chicago, has written this study in their series. He has given us a dense, austerely compressed, but enlightening study of what has happened when educational plans have been launched in Sub–Saharan Africa. It is not an example of the New Optimism, but it gives sober diagnosis on what must be changed to avoid past disappointments.

African readers of this study must react with envy at how much literature Craig could put his hands on. He gives a lengthy bibliography of the studies to which he has had access in American libraries and he makes abundant references to them in arrays of footnotes (not always helpfully, as the reader who tries to find “Urwick, 1983” will discover). His study is in fact a thoughtful review of the literature to see what has been recorded of the successes and failures of African educational plans. He has found many studies, but complains that few of them “have been informed by works on policies in African countries other than the one considered” (p. 21). It seems hardly a surprising finding. Especially for studies done within the countries, locating literature on other countries must usually be chancy or impossible.

The picture Craig gives is generally familiar — of educational policies that “are not successfully implemented according to any useful interpretation of that concept” (p. 18). The cases on which this judgment is based are mostly identified by footnotes and only occasionally peek forth in the text. But it is clear that he has in mind such major efforts as Nigeria’s attempt in the late 1970s to achieve universal primary education; Nyerere’s attempt to bring Education for Self–Reliance to Tanzania; the Harambee school movement in Kenya, animation rurale in Senegal; or Zambia’s 1976 Education for Development program. He seeks the reasons why policies or programs were not carried out. Policies are often “extremely ambitious, poorly prepared, and inadequately explained” (p. 47). Even with the best of talent and abundant resources it would be hard to carry through such policies, and they are further beset by weaknesses in the bureaucracies, in the quality and motivation of teachers, and in the commitment of leaders to what they have proposed. Perhaps surprisingly for a continent as poor as Africa, Craig thinks resource constraints are not as serious a cause of failure as other conditions.

Thus the record is poor, and the conditions that need changing to make it better are numerous. Even the study of the phenomena is backward. Craig says, severely, that he has not found “a single study of the implementation of educational reforms in developing countries that would satisfy the conceptual and methodological standards now common in such studies conducted in Western countries” (p. 7).

But the design of this monograph is essentially static — it depicts how educational policies have been put into effect at a certain period, mostly in the 1970s. It addresses only occasionally and incidentally the trends and changes to which many now hopefully look. One remembers Beebe’s little classic on The Quality of Education with its message that reform and improvement in education is a process hard to force faster than the rise in the general educational level of the teachers in the schools. Back in the 1960s when everyone was in a great hurry, this was not a welcome message. Now, 30 years later, it may be that there are grounds for the New Optimism in education; both the teachers and the pupils, and the governments that provide resources and policies for the schools, have had time to mature and may be ready to do better than in the past.

It is notorious that one of the failures of educational policy has been to spend so much on salaries — however miserable they may have been — that little or nothing was left for books and equipment. Perhaps in a new maturity both policy and the will to follow it may give a new generation of African children books to read.

About the Author

Francis X. Sutton is completing a stay in Bellagio, Ialy, where he has been Acting Director of Fondazione Rockefeler (a study and conference center).

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