The African experience of instrumental rationality in education from the colonial past to the World Bank today.
The initial step in this process of the intrusion of economic considerations dates back to the colonial period : in the 20’s and 30’s, in addition to its “civilizing mission”, the project of a school adapted to training modern farmers – such as the “écoles rurales” - first started to emerge (Léon, 1991). After WW II, direct colonial domination had to make way for self-governing institutions and independent States (sometimes not so independent in the case of former French colonies).
Later, in the 60’s, schooling was described as the “golden key to development”. During this period, the economicisation of education was not yet dominated by compulsory reference to market regulation. Instead, what did prevail was a strong belief in planning the development of schooling systems, thanks to UNESCO creating a particularly propitious statistical environment (Deblé, 1994). This was the first attempt to pin down the moving reality of educational systems, by applying techno-bureaucratic measurements such as the internal return ratio . Equally, economic requirements were introduced, such as training costs, the labour market situation and development priorities.
By the end of the seventies however the reference to “planning manpower needs” was discarded under the hegemonic influence of “human capital theory” in Third World countries. This conceptual shift had already been envisaged many years earlier ; it was only when the state-led development model failed to create sufficient accumulation however that it was made standard in the field of education. Behind these dissents among development economists was the debate on the nature of labour markets : for those in favour of the ‘manpower needs’ model, the labour market was a rigid one, where relative prices mechanisms were ineffective ; on the contrary, the new orthodoxy was relying on the idea of flexibility of the labour market, arguing that the forecasting of manpower needs was uncertain (Psacharopoulos & Woodhall, 1988 : 75-93). The main innovation brought about by using human capital theory was to consider education as an investment, in the economic and even the financial sense, and then to calculate its rates of return (Psacharopoulos ; 1973). Contrasting with the former views, this approach was explicitly centred upon the micro-economic level. The macro-economic one was observed secondarily through the residual concept of externalities. Even if it had already been shown that all these results were scientifically shaky (Vinokur ; 1987), the main consequence was to dismiss any pluralist debate on education policies, making the issue a mere question of “adjustment” to an optimum given by econometric calculations . During the eighties, this same human capital theory has been used to justify the growing importance of a financial intellectual complex organised around the World Bank . At the organisational level, the turning point occurred at the beginning of this decade when the World Bank openly pushed into the background the UNESCO expertise (Laidi, 1989 : 57-58). In the nineties, this financial intellectual complex was able to set the agenda of national policies, orchestrating all governmental or non-governmental aid agencies operating in the education field.
Our analysis intends to stress the various paradoxes underlying this process. First, we can argue that the influence of adjustment policies has been nurtured by the short-sighted critics of the previous version of this so-called “adjustment”. At the end of the eighties, bearing in mind criticisms about social budget costs, the WB was able to enlarge the scope of its action by applying the concept of the “social dimension of adjustment” (Osmont, 1995). Another paradox lies in the fact that, unlike its stated tenets of accountability and good governance, the intellectual financial complex often acts behind the scenes and in a very bureaucratic manner.
Making sense of educational adjustment in Africa
Scrutinizing the content of this adjustment policy in the field of education also reveals the priorities of the WB in its dealings with the African continent, perceived as the “Deep South” of the globalized world. In Africa, more than elsewhere, the common denominator of measures advocated by the WB is allegiance to ‘instrumental rationality’. In other words, education is never considered as a sufficient objective in itself, but as a basis for realizing a more or less hidden agenda .
The top priority for Africa at the end of the eighties was the quantitative development of primary education. This is still the case nowadays since it was proclaimed the official creed - “fundamental education” or “education for all” - at the Jomtien conference in 1990, subsequently reaffirmed at the Dakar meeting in 2000. What is characteristic of instrumental rationality applied by the WB is its reference to a rate of return at primary school level, which is said to be better than the other educational rates of return. One might argue that focusing on the primary level was better for democratic reasons as it seems to respond to the basic needs of the population, but this was not put forward as the main reason. Indeed, the democratic argument - the WB prefers to talk of ‘equity’ - is instead used to silence both students and teachers, whose vociferous social groups are the next targets of educational adjustment. But, from the sociopolitical point of view, this Malthusian attitude towards the development of secondary and higher education smacks of the paternalistic policy of former colonial authorities . This overinsistence on low level education seems destined to further shackle Africa in its subordinate role within the international division of knowledge.
Other aspects of conceptualizing African educational policy must also be subjected to scrutiny. One of these is revealed by the discourse applied both to teachers’ salaries and scholarships. Adopting a historical perspective may be essential here to clarify the issue of an alleged welfare State in education. We also need to distinguish between these two costs in term of “adjustment”.
Primary school teachers are often portrayed as privileged, well-paid employees. One favoured way of doing this is by comparing their average salary with national per capita income (Suchaud & Mingat : 2000) . Nevertheless, it is not difficult to show that, compared to their situation in the eighties or the nineties, where they made up the core of the rising indigenous elite, they have been largely superseded by other groups (Niane, 1992). Moreover, they have suffered diminishing real wages during the last two or three decades (Orivel, 1995 : 83). How long can this trend continue ? For the cynical economists, and they are legion, the continuing overproduction of jobless students can bring down the average teachers’ wage level even further. However, perhaps those cynical economists should take into account what is said in Exit Voice and Loyalty (Hirschmann, 1982) and consider the internal and external “brain drain” in African countries : that way they could understand the limits of theorization within a single model, all other things being equal. .
This is the case with the scholarship system which is often presented as a vestige of a Welfare state, which with the massification of the school system has apparently become unaffordable for an underdeveloped country. It may seem reasonable at first sight. But this antinomial vision cannot be justified historically. If we take the example of French-speaking institutions, we can see that scholarship and boarding systems were first introduced at primary level (in the “écoles régionales”), then at secondary level (in the “collèges” and the “lycées”) and only finally into higher education. Nowadays, all this has disappeared or is about to disappear, if we consider the few grants and aids for students still available at the University. Within just a few decades this mechanism has, in fact, led to a “bourgeoisie du diplôme” (Kasongo Ngoy, 1989). Chosen from the happy few, its members can close the gates of meritocracy behind them, in a context of a “sauve qui peut” era (Boyle, 1999). This is yet another aspect of the constitution of a “ State bourgeoisie ” in Africa that has, so far, not attracted sufficient attention .
Ever since the end of the eighties, there has been rapid development in a private sector destined to safeguard the privileges previously obtained freely or for a nominal sum only. The crisis of the State and the avowed policy of the World Bank have together accelerated the growth of these private institutions, especially at secondary level and more recently in higher education. At the highest level, foreign credentials are considered as being better than the local brand, to such an extent that now we can see institutions from the North launching educational subsidiaries in Africa . Meanwhile, at the bottom of the education system, children from popular suburbs have to attend overcrowded or part-time classrooms .
We see then that social privilege at school not only lies in the structural mechanisms of the transmission of cultural capital but also in access to the best places that money can buy, combined with all the resources of the social network. The developmentalist theory has been stood on its head ; instead of evolving from an ascription-oriented to an achievement-oriented situation, we now find the opposite : opportunity for social mobility thanks to education now seems to have disappeared and all this has happened within the space of a single generation. In this context, a private sector in education was developed, as a complementary device to ensure the reproduction of this “ State bourgeoisie ”.
This policy, which reinforces a growing trend toward inequality in the name of “ efficiency ”, contains an apparent oddity : the WB advocates measures in favour of girls at school, justifying this by the imperative of “ equity ”. Of course, no one can question the lagging percentages for females in African education systems and criticize the idea in itself. Nevertheless, we must also remember the gap had tended to diminish in the sixties and the seventies but then stopped during the austerity era of the 80’s. What is even more important however is to understand the real cause of this insistence on schooling girls. We might think that egalitarian and feminist principles were being promoted, but this is simply not true. Instead, the correlation between higher female literacy and lower reproduction rates is used to justify policies curbing the previously underrated demographic expansion in Subsaharan Africa. Nowadays, we are undoubtedly confronted with instrumental rationality in another guise.
Ambitions of hegemony and weaknesses of the Bank in monitoring African education systems.
The logic of the WB in the field of education as in all the other domains in which it intervenes is always to pursue its determination to influence national policies. This is why it is not true to say that Bretton Woods institutions are not sensitive to the social consequences of adjustment. It is, in fact, very clear that the WB has conjured up the concept of “good governance” essentially to extend the scope of their policy-making power. At the same time, that means that they are not obliged to relinquish their pretended mask of technocratic neutrality (George & Sabelli ; 1994). This is not merely a case of begging the question. For example, in order to implement a particular “adjustment” in higher education in Senegal in the 90’s, the Bank demonstrated that it was able to act in a rather subtle and political manner (Bianchini, 2000).
At a more general level, in Africa, the Bank tries to train a new managerial ruling class through “capacity building” programs. It also recruits former civil servants as program administrators, offering them salaries at least five times those awarded locally, which tends to create a parallel administration to the official one. In response to the crisis of African higher education, the Bank has launched an ambitious program of an African Virtual University (AVU), intended to curb student emigration to Western universities . More generally, the WB sees information and communication technologies (ICT) as an opportunity to realize its ambition to become the benchmark international “knowledge bank”. With this aim in view, the WB intends to open a new portal on the net in order to replace its existing website. It should give access to ‘the most comprehensive information available on a topic presented clearly, logically and conveniently.’ 
But all this organizational strength, even when it is backed up by considerable funds, might prove to be more apparent than real.
First, the Bank is still totally dependent on Western countries. It is not an autonomous system like the Catholic Church or the Comintern used to be. This is a general comment, but in the field of education, everybody recalls the eclipse of UNESCO in the 80’s, with the defection of the United States and Great Britain.
Second, as regards education projects at a country level, the Bank has to compete with other cooperation agencies, some of which are sometimes far more experienced and fiercely jealous of their prerogatives. Even if the Bank tends to invite these other agencies to merge in a “task force”, like Donors in African Education (DAE), such rivalry still exists.
Third (and not least), at the local level, the WB has no rank and file priests or soldiers. Moreover, its local representation sometimes lacks credibility. For instance, in the changing political context of the 90’s, we may find that the education minister or some other top civil servant speaking in favour of double vacation classes or adjustments policies in general, was the same one who had criticized this system a few years earlier. 
Of course, nobody can deny that there is a pervading influence of managerial values among students (Fall, 1992 : 501-513). But, at the ideological level, is this more significant than the anti-imperialist marxist vulgate that, seemingly, twenty or thirty years ago, used to prevail in African campuses ? And, in terms of individual behaviour, attitudes of “ careerism ” at the University have long been rife since the very beginning of African universities and even during such a period of radicalization . (Sanou, 1981).
Even among the WB economists, the idea that the market is the main solution to education problems in poor countries is openly questioned in recent writings (Orivel, 2001).
As a ‘meta-State’ or a ‘new Church’, the WB demonstrates large ambitions of hegemony. But seen from different angles, it appears sometimes as an idol with feet of clay. Nothing proves that it will be able in the next decades to promote its ideology and to implement its policies at a grassroots level.
The education market in Africa : new totem or new reality ?
We do not intend to say that the marketization of education is merely a matter of ideology in Africa. It is difficult however to pin down the changes taking place without viable clearly defined concepts. It is time for sociologists to take a very critical look at the way sociology has evolved in Africa : epistemological aspects, in particular, should be subjected to close examination. If we consider the development of sociology in Africa, we can see that there are two main constraints at work : one of these was due to the culturalist ethnologic tradition ; nowadays the spreading influence of economics, dominated as it is by a single paradigm, is a real problem. The field of education is a definite case in point.
For decades there has been an ongoing critique of the misconceptions of classical ethnology due to its colonial bias (Copans, 1974). Now, a more recent study about the French Africanists in the colonial era has stressed their essentialist approach to African societies. More precisely, these societies were depicted in terms of an idealist belief which only considers a monolithic and everlasting “ indigenous soul ”, with the intrusion of new elements, whether material or cultural, being seen as a superficial phenomenon (De L’Estoile, 1997 : 39).
This influence of culturalism in African sociology of education was visible in pioneering studies, when the ethnic factor was substituted for class determinism to explain achievement at school (Clignet & Foster, 1968). Since the eighties, this reference to the “ tribal issue ” is more problematic, whether in the field, when gathering data or at the intellectual level, with the deconstruction of the “ ethnic ” concept (Amselle & M’Bokolo, 1985). Nonetheless, in the education field, the critique of the culturalist stance is hard to find and remains limited (Lange ; 1999 : 34-38) . Recently, as if time had stopped for decades in Africanist theories, the figurehead of this academic tradition could recently express the very fundamentalist idea of a permanent Bantu “ basic personality ” (Erny, 1999).
Nevertheless, the major obstacle for the sociological comprehension of the undergoing changes in education in Africa is the growing hegemony of the economy of education, and especially of human capital theory.
First, we can observe that for some scholars in the economy of education, field studies in Africa provide a unique opportunity to experiment with the hardline version of Becker’s theory, such as his hypothesis about children considered as ‘durable commodities’ for a household (Coury & Razafindramatsima, 2000). Heavy statistic tools are used to investigate issues whose scientific interest would be questioned anywhere else, such as the correlation between the performance of pupils and the gender of the teacher (Jarousse & Mingat, 1993).
These are only a few examples of the general attitude of those economists working as consultants for the WB who tend to go beyond “reasonable” limits in revealing their very intrinsic views. In Western contexts where this could provoke adverse reactions these consultants would have felt compelled to resort to euphemisms. They also pour scorn on the “ pedagogues ”, who are losing ground in this new managerial era. With educational adjustment, the up-to-date creed no longer considers teaching as a craft based on inter-individual relations but as an industry with measurable inputs and outputs. The main argument used to challenge the pedagogical position, especially in Third World countries, is to say that number is not a problem for the quality of teaching (Orivel, 1995) .
This managerial creed also attracts followers in most overseas national agencies and NGO’s. The belief that education is a world market, with new shares to conquer, has more or less superseded the traditional geopolitical vision of an area of influence, which, inherited from the colonial past, has to be preserved. This change, initiated at the end of the seventies with the emergence of an international trade in training programs and consultancy dedicated to development countries (Jacquemot, 1978), has shaped a new environment for educational policies. The reference to private companies as a model for the school system is sometimes caricatured.
“Quand on gèrera l’éducation en Afrique comme des sociétés locales de cigarettes ou de bière, on aura franchi le seuil de rentabilité administrative qui satisfait tout le monde” wrote a French expert, long-experienced in the “Coopération française” (Afrique Education, 11 May 1995, p.15).
The need for a theoretical clarification to pave the way to an alternative paradigm
If it is still doubtful whether the ideology of adjustment is accepted - or simply heard - at a popular level, the WB has proved more effective in “manufacturing consensus” among intellectual spheres in development countries (Mohan, 1997). The collapse of alternative society models (the various versions of socialism) has left a vacuum that is even more obvious among African intellectuals who used to be fascinated by Soviet or Chinese “shortcuts to progress” in the previous decades. Equally, as socialist ideologies disappeared, so did the funds that once accompanied them. What is at stake, however, is not limited to a matter of ideology. The very state of precariousness in which rank and file African scholars now find themselves contrasts sharply with the advantages enjoyed by a more restricted number of academics and researchers whose income is boosted by their work for foreign consultancies.
Even for Western social scientists working on Africa, most tend to be relegated to a secondary role within their own discipline, and, consequently, feel they have no choice but to accept prevailing paradigms after merely token, or even non-existent, discussion. This can explain the prevailing tone in favour of market references . This theoretical weakness is to be seen in the frequent and even automatic use of the terms of “education supply” and “education demand”. It is not a matter of “political correctness”. Anyone can use the vocabulary of their choice, provided a clear definition has previously been given .
The terms “supply” and “demand”, in a strict neo-classical economic sense, refer to market situations, and more specifically those characterized by a continuous relation between quantities and prices. The prices system related to quantities is essential in that case “to reveal the consumers’ preferences, within their budget constraints”. In a broader sense, the terms “supply” and “demand” are not necessarily related to the idea that the “consumer” in education pays for the service that he or she benefits from. In the latter case, it implies public institutions able to collect taxes in order to finance this service .
In the case of educational adjustment in African countries, this functional difference is essential. The policy of “recovering costs” means to generalize fees or parents’ contribution, especially at secondary and tertiary level, whereas it had always been free in many African countries ever since the beginning of the colonial epoch. The challenge of policy adjustment lies in this paradoxical injunction : people must be made to pay for a service that was once provided free of charge …with a better “ rate of return ” than is the case today ! Not all private institutions however are profit-minded. Sometimes, it appears that the logic of economic profit can be sometimes rejected in favour of other priorities, in particular proselytism in the case of religious schools. This remains an important reality in Africa today. Vested interests in society cannot be limited to economic profit. Without jumping to conclusions, this ambiguous reference to the market among scholars appears to be the result of this highly influential but very misleading ideology of management in education. This is the case when actors in the education fields are addressed. Even in a broad sense, this vocabulary, when it addresses the actors in the education field, can be sometimes mistaken. For example, in the case of community (harambee) schools in Kenya, it is confusing to distinguish between the “supply side” and the “demand side” which are managed by either parents’ associations or other grassroots organizations.
Briefly, the same old story of “supply and demand” in the field of education is too often merely a poor concept for poor countries , which does not help our understanding of the schooling process either in Africa or in other continents. The fact that this magic formula tends nowadays to spread to Western sociology of education is not an academic argument but a sign that this problem of ‘travelling concepts’ is becoming more and more serious. Why is it that most prominent authors, from Durkheim to Bernstein or Bourdieu, avoid this explicit reference to a market model, when theorizing about the effects of education on society ? There must be a reason somewhere.
Conclusion (I) : Distinguishing critical moments in an historical process.
The ambition of this short paper is not to give a ready-made paradigm to replace the existing ones. Although our work appears to be concentrated on ‘deconstruction’, it could seem to be justified if we are to highlight the existing dead ends in this theoretical ‘fuzzy set’. Having chosen to review the existing models, we have insisted on the fallacies of the economicist paradigm and secondly on those of the traditional-culturalist paradigm .
If we had wanted to go beyond, we might have stressed that opposite ideas could eventually bring other misunderstandings. For instance, when contrasted with the idea of economic instrumentalization, the anti-utilitarian paradigm seems rather attractive (Godbout, 1992 ; Caillé, 2000). The gift model could then be applied to educational issues . There is a trap however since this could mean accepting all too easily an ideology of disinterestedness... that members of the educated elite sometimes adopt to disguise their own interests !
On cultural ground, the rejection of “primordialist” concepts disguised behind ‘tradition’ is more than ever necessary. Nevertheless, it seems difficult to follow postmodernists theories, which, by focusing on intellectual diasporas and technologies of information and communication, are only too prone to neglect new (and old) forms of imperialism (Appadurai, 2001). The history of postcolonial education in Africa clearly demonstrates just how extraordinary difficult it is to reform these inherited systems, especially on language issues (Bianchini, 2001). Moreover, with the crisis of national education systems, colonial nostalgia has come back into fashion in many countries .
Our commitment to a socio-historical point of view is particularly pertinent. This is true not only in opposition to ‘culturalism’ in ethnology and neoclassical economicism, but it is also justified by the intensity of the historical process, under the influence of external and internal dynamics, as Balandier expressed it. It may prove useful to leave aside such frequently used superficial oppositions because in the public sector and the private sector in African education both State and market logics are closely intertwined even more than everywhere else .
If we pursue this socio-historical approach, we need to distinguish between breaking points and continuum phases. In African contemporary history we can observe three critical moments. The first is, of course, the foundation of a colonial school system, dominated by the idea of the “conquest of natives’ souls”, after an initial military conquest. The second important moment is the turning point towards massification and the idea of meritocracy that took place after World War II. The most recent critical moment is the ongoing “adjustment” that is producing a segregated school system, made up at one end by a primary school system (a school for the people) followed by a secondary and higher education (affordable for the elite). Whereas the WB advocates “revitalization” and “selective expansion” (World Bank, 1988), the real question is how education systems will recover, since ‘adjustment’ considerably jeopardizes the relations between school and society.
Conclusion (II) : The cultural arbitrariness of market relations at a ground level
Our approach, we believe, provides an initial basis for a general framework, in which to analyse relations between school and social systems in Africa, even where there may be different local situations. The debate on the outcome of educational adjustment, however, does not end here . We must not forget that the process of inclusion of education in the economic sphere, which is a non-material good, depends on the whole range of cultural patterns operating here and there in a society.
The author of this paper himself experienced this kind of cultural arbitrariness when attending one of his first seminars in Africa. He was given a mysterious envelope, like all the other members of the audience. Once he understood that something to do with money was involved, he started going through his wallet. Though reluctant to do so, he was preparing to slip a banknote inside the envelope when he realized that there was already some money inside. Since he had joined the assembly, he was rewarded by a “per diem”, a well-known custom of African seminars. Of course, the argument would be incomplete if we did not point out that it is easier to adapt in this way than the other way round (paying for something that used to be free) .
Yet, it is precisely this major shift in cultural patterns that educational adjustment policies take for granted. In particular, compared to the situation in developed countries, the African consumer’s choice remains limited. For the vast majority of children, the nearest school is several miles away (in rural areas). Besides, on enrolment day their parents are kept busy queuing up since dawn for a place in an overcrowded school (in urban areas). The main choice in most African situations is only between sending a child to school or not. This is always limited even when we consider the siblings’ level, where intermediate strategies are to be found, between no schooling at all and all children at school (Gerard, 1992).
Whereas educational consumerism, the technologies of information and communication and lobbying from companies have played a key role in introducing new managerial standards in Western systems (Hirtt, 2000), this pattern remains remote from African educational reality. At one end, however, a market for transnational e-learning firms can emerge, limited however to a tiny well-off minority of the population. For the remaining part of society, ‘ironically, the external agencies need the state’ to implement their programmes (Samoff, 1994 ; 165).
The consequence is that the concern for “return” in education appears more through the imposition of bureaucratic methods of management than through market-driven regulations, in spite of ideological affirmations.
Moreover, the trans-national bureaucracy shaping national policies is not constrained by any mechanism of political accountability. Will the adjustment bureaucracy prove better for African education than the Soviet bureaucracy for Russian agriculture ? The comparison may be too far-fetched for the moment but it’s high time to question the long-term effects of educational adjustment policies in Africa.
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