What’s with the lockstep thing?

by Sasha Alyson

The Global Partnership for Education has shown us their vision of the future. Let’s pay attention.

Though it isn’t a household name like UNICEF, the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), based in the U.S. and Europe, rechannels billions of dollars from agencies such as USAID and European nations for the purpose of shaping school policy in for the world’s poorest children, especially in Africa. After a quarter century, however, these schools have more students, but they’re learning less. (More at: Schools Are Getting Worse)

The photo accompanying one GPE news release is downright creepy:

Scary, because this is their vision: Girls marching in lockstep. They could have looked for a picture of girls reading. Or acting independently. They chose schoolgirls marching in lockstep.

Scary, to realize that the groupthink at GPE is so strong that nobody within the organization said, “Maybe this isn’t the right image for our Education news release.”

Schools for the world’s poorest children, under the influence of the U.N. and agencies like GPE, are joyless places where children learn to memorize the right answer – maybe. If they don’t, at least they learn to accept their fate as nothing more than beans to be counted on in the enrollment statistics, creatures to walk and think in lockstep, following orders sent from another continent.

Just as GPE published this picture and story, an outside evaluation of its 5-year, $100-million education program in northern Nigeria became available. Did that money do any good? We don’t know. The report states that while “contributions from several partners in Nigeria have modestly improved education planning in Nigeria,” they don’t know if that planning achieved anything because “stakeholder appetite for monitoring has been low.” Why would “stakeholders” want to be monitored, when the money flows anyway?

The report concluded that “effectively the GPE theory of change is not appropriate for Nigeria…. This means taking a bottom up approach….”

That sounds promising: They learned that top-down didn’t work, so next they’ll try bottom-up. But if GPE actually wanted bottom-up, it had 18 years to try it. The latest $386 million is being passed along (after taking out whatever salaries and overhead GPE requires) to the same top-down organizations – the World Bank, UNICEF, UNESCO – that for years have contributed to creating disastrously bad schools in the global South.

They all prefer top-down. That’s how everybody at the top gets their salaries.

None of them want to pass control to the populations of Nigeria, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, and the rest. They know full well that people who are running their own lives do not do it in lockstep.

The Global Partnership for Education has shown us their vision of the future. Is that the future that the rest of us want?