Why are schools failing?

by Sasha Alyson

  • After four years of school, why can’t my son read?
  • Why does my daughter hate school?
  • Why don’t my children learn anything in school?

If you have children at a public school in the global South, you’ve probably asked questions like these.

You’re not alone. In developing regions worldwide, and in lower-income neighborhoods of the U.S. and many other wealthy countries, parents are asking the same questions, and feeling the same helpless frustration. School is now compulsory in most countries, but why? It’s not working.

The answers are complex, but one simple theme runs through them: Low-quality, rote-based schools are disastrous for children forced to attend them. But not if you’re among the elite. You have better choices for your own children, and if others are forced into bad schools, they’ll never be able to challenge your privilege.

Karma Colonialism looks at how the West uses aid and other feel-good strategies to continue the colonial relationships of the past. Herding third-world children into bad schools, and calling it education, is a key part of the approach which has evolved. It doesn’t need to be a conscious, planned effort to keep others in their place. It simply has to make that happen.

“Why do my children have to go to schools that fail them?” Here are stories that explain.

Schooling, then and now

Left: The origin of modern schooling: Worldwide, children attend schools that use rote memorization to teach for the test, and leave students unprepared for the real world. How did this system become so widespread?
Right: Schools in the global South are getting worse. The aid industry doesn’t ask why, and for good reason. It created much of the problem.

Left: What do your schools focus on? We polled people in 15 diverse countries. A decisive majority said their schools primarily teach children to pass tests.
Right: Schooling for Colonialism. UNICEF claims it will “transform” lives through education. Instead, it pushes poor children into rote-based schools, transforming many into dutiful subjects for a neo-colonial world.

Who benefits from bad schools?

Left: Does the U.N. actually WANT rote schooling for children in the South? It sounds absurd, but that’s what the evidence says. And with a little thought, we can see how U.N. interests push it in this direction.
Right: The Global Partnership for Education announced a recent grant with this photograph of schoolgirls marching in lockstep. Did they learn anything? Can they even read? GPE doesn’t know. What does it think ‘education’ is about?

Left: An African Adventure. Bono wanted to make Africa “less of a burden, more of an adventure” and the Millennium Villages Project made it just that – for celebrities and bigwigs who briefly visited and got the media spotlight.
Right: Schooling vs. education. The United Nations has convinced much of the developing world that getting more children enrolled in school is the same as expanding education. The consequences have been devastating.

Left: UNICEF preaches diversity. But for 77 years, UNICEF has ALWAYS had a white USA citizen in its top spot. That’s hypocritical. Racist, too? You decide. And it leads UNICEF to push Western interests.
Right: It’s all about control. Development aid is a continuation of colonialism by other means. If that sounds far-fetched, this story in The Africa Report presents six strong pieces of evidence,

A helping hand – and a stab in the back

Left: Francophonie. By forcing children in its former African colonies to study in French, France thought it was spreading the glory of the French language. But students ended up learning neither French, nor much of anything else.
Right: How aid undermines education. Too many children in developing countries enter secondary school unable to read their own name. It wasn’t always this way. Here’s how self-serving Western aid has contributed to illiteracy.

Left: Mimicry. The aid industry collects piles of data about things that don’t really matter, while ignoring the things that do. To understand this, it helps to understand the concept of mimicry.
Right: Bad aid in action. A TV celebrity wanted to give desks to every school in Malawi, so UNICEF plans to do that. It won’t improve education, but it looks good. It’s an example of how self-serving aid projects actually hurt.

Left: Free books often hurt literacy. Many of us recoil at the thought of throwing away books. But shipping them to a poorer country is often worse.
Right: One Laptop Per Child. U.N. agencies, with funding from big tech, endlessly pitch tech-based solutions to education problems. It doesn’t work — but the money is good. Here’s a look at the most famous of these.

Left: Building schools: “We’re building a school for children in Africa.” Few things sound so virtuous. I donated to construct a school once. I now think that was a mistake.
Right: The high cost of meddling. Aid organizations claim they want to “fix” problems, but they’re really driven to create jobs for themselves, while pleasing foreign donors. They end up meddling, and it carries a high cost.

Left: The campaign against reading. The aid industry says it promotes reading. But its actions — such as dumping unwanted books from the USA — are motivated by self-interest, and consistently undermine reading in the global South.
Right: Branding by UNICEF. More and more children display UNICEF-branded knapsacks as they walk to and from school. Does this improve the quality of their education? Or does it just increase the value of the UNICEF brand?

Left: Libraries that don’t work: Big NGOs tend to focus on appearance over substance. One result — libraries filled with the wrong books — undermines education in Africa. Karim F Hirji describes what he’s seen in Tanzania.
Right: Proud graduates, No jobs. Institutions with no accountability generally do a bad job. By giving out scholarships in developing regions, NGOs make schools worse.

How karma colonialism works

Left: Bribes. UNICEF gave vehicles to Zimbabwean officials “to help review the school curriculum.” Nonsense. Thinly-disguised bribes ensure a warm welcome for foreign aid staff, who can then keep drawing big salaries.
Right: Willful blindness. As it tries to control school policies in the global South, the aid industry has data about every subject except one: Are students learning anything? It doesn’t want to know.

Left: Groupthink has led to many disasters — from burning down ancient peat forests, to compelling children in the South to attend schools where they learn nothing. Groupthink helps the aid industry stay in business.
Right: “Free” sounds generous — until you look carefully. It’s a way that wealthier nations keep others poorer, and dependent.

Left: Why do U.N. agencies fabricate data? Other stories show how they do so. Here we look at why. This data isn’t used for planning. Rather, it’s a means of controlling social policies in the global South.
Right: Experts vs. Chimps: Do “development experts” have any more wisdom than dart-throwing chimpanzees? Well, it’s a tight contest. It turns out, the experts who get in the news have a sorry track record, though they try to hide it.

Lies, deceit and manipulation

Left: Snake oil. Many Western NGOs will say pretty much anything to get your donation. We examine Save the Children’s claim that an extra year of school will bring great wage increases. It’s snake oil. But it brings in donations.
Right: Cellphones and literacy. UNESCO took money from big tech to publish a deceitful report that benefited the company that gave it the money. If an African president had done that, what would we call it?

Left: The Shadow Government. UNICEF produces reports for weak governments to publish as their own. This makes the government look productive while hiding the extent to which UNICEF, like any colonial power, is pulling the strings.
Right: Do African perspectives matter? The Global Partnership for Education shapes education policy in 70 countries, mostly in Africa and Asia. Its CEO, chair, and 7-member evaluation team are from the USA, Australia, and Europe.

Left: Half the story. Save the Children boasts that children who got its Literacy Boost showed a three-fold improvement in reading skills. It doesn’t mention that those who did NOT get the program showed a FIVE-fold increase.
Right: Cooking the numbers. 59% of 10-year-olds in Senegal can’t read, says a UN-World Bank report. Actually, the number is only about 7%. After denying the problem, now the global agencies exaggerate it. There’s a reason.

Left: Does the Unesco Institute of Statistics actually understand statistics? There’s good reason to be dubious. But it produces the numbers that the U.N. uses to plan education and health policy.
Right: Masters of Deceit. Raising funds for “girls’ education” has become big business…. and remarkably often, the aid industry has crossed the line into deceit and dishonesty.

What would REAL education be like?

Left: Rethinking education. In many countries, the schools simply don’t work. We can’t fix this until we ask: What should be the top priorities of education? Here are some ideas.
Right: Freedom to choose. What would happen if children had a meaningful choice about their education? For one thing, truly bad schools would no longer look full, and thus successful. They’d look empty.

Other stories about karma colonialism

Left: Cash transfers. Why not just give aid funds directly to the people you want to help? This approach has been done, results have been studied — and it proves quite effective.
Right: What would make a better future? There are ways that wealthier countries can genuinely help others, if they want to. Give the aid money directly to the poor, for example. Here are ideas.