«ANSA Alternatives to Neo-liberalism in Southern Africa The search for Sustainable human development in Southern Africa Editors: Godfrey Kanyenze, ...»
With the coming of independence, southern African states faced the challenge of modernisation and of political and economic growth, but colonialism had left them in a woefully inadequate state as far as education and human resource development was concerned. The meagre efforts of missionaries and the colonial states had left the overwhelming majority of people unschooled and illiterate and higher-level training in industrial skills was virtually non-existent. In Zambia, at independence in 1964, there were only 107 university graduates and less than 2000 Africans had completed secondary schooling. A similar situation existed in most other countries in the region (Chisholm et al. 1998). When most of the Portuguese colonists left Angola and Mozambique abruptly in the mids they left with most of the technical and managerial skills base of the two countries. The educational inheritance of colonialism was clearly of little assistance in meeting the development needs of the newly independent countries.
A recent, ostensibly sympathetic, publication admonishes African countries – in contrast to Asian countries such as Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea – for not giving enough emphasis to education and cites this as one of the reasons for Africa's underdevelopment (Govender and Farlam 2004). Such arguments do Africa a great disservice by failing to recognise the extremely high priority that African countries placed on education.
In most countries, the state took control of education and provided it free of charge. In the sixties and early seventies, this took place against a backdrop of economies sustained by buoyant commodity prices. Countries such as Malawi, Zambia, Tanganyika (later to become mainland Tanzania), Zanzibar, Mauritius, Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland were thus able to begin implementing their visions of democracy and social transformation. Both schooling and higher education expanded and adult education – including literacy – courses were expanded throughout the region. New schools and universities were opened, teachers trained and enrolments grew. From 1961 to 1980 primary school enrolments throughout Africa expanded at the exceptionally high rate of 6.2% per annum – and the independent countries of Southern Africa were no exception to this trend. In most countries, secondary school enrolment growth was even more impressive. Higher Education also grew rapidly as new universities and colleges were established and enrolments for the continent as a whole grew from 140 000 in 1960 to 1 169 000 in 1980 (Chisholm et al. 1998:10–11, Habte and Wagaw 2003:687–690).
Most countries initially accepted the model of schooling inherited from colonialism and expanded it to cater for a far greater proportion of the population. Despite this, most leaders of the newly independent states were agreed on the need to make their education systems more relevant to social needs and rooting them in African culture. The Malawian president, Hastings Kamuzu Banda, who advocated an unashamed copying of the English public school and the virtues of an education based on the study of Latin and Greek, was the exception rather than the rule.
(Habte and Wagaw 2003:685–686).
In some countries experimental forms of education were tried out as the new systems contemplated the possibility of making their offerings more relevant to the needs of their students and their new democracies. In Botswana and later in Zimbabwe, for example, a number of schools were established to combine education with production. Perhaps the boldest attempt to re-conceive the purpose and practice of education was in Tanzania where the ideas and writing of President Julius Nyerere led to the concept of "education for self-reliance". Universal primary education and adult literacy became major priorities and schools were required to engage in productive activities, particularly agriculture. The changes in education were part of an integrated vision to reconstitute a socialist, selfreliant society based on collective effort, social co-operation and nonexploitation and an end to elitism (Chisholm et al. 1998:10–11 and 141, Habte and Wagaw 2003:685–686).
4. Economic crisis and its impact on education
An international economic crisis, triggered from 1973 to 1974 by a fourfold increase in the price of oil had a devastating impact on most Southern African economies, especially the poorest. All the independent countries of Southern Africa were importers of oil, which was their main source of transport fuel and, in some cases, of electricity production. The need to spend large amounts of foreign exchange on oil imports began to drain their foreign reserves and to undermine their ability to import other necessities, including machinery, spare parts, certain raw materials, consumer goods and even educational necessities such as books, journals and other educational supplies. The oil crisis exacerbated a problem that was already starting to manifest itself: the deteriorating terms of trade for Southern African commodity producers. Prices of tea, coffee, tobacco, copper, and other goods exported by the countries of independent Africa declined while the cost of manufactured goods and capital goods increased.
From the 1970s onwards, this left many Southern African nations in a precarious economic position and most plunged deeply into debt to the World Bank, the IMF and private financial institutions. Most countries struggled to repay these loans and had to borrow more in order to do so.
Further borrowings were invariably tied to strenuous conditions, often associated to SAPs. These included cutbacks in spending on social services such as education and healthcare, in addition to various provisions requiring economic "liberalisation" (e.g. decreases in tariff protection for local industries and cuts in food subsidies). The very independence of the poorer Southern African countries came under pressure as they became more and more dependent on foreign creditors and donors whose economic leverage put them in a position to influence policies in a decisive manner.
Throughout this period, the situation in the entire region was affected by instability due to the liberation wars in a number of countries – Mozambique, Angola, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa – and by the destabilisation of other countries by apartheid South Africa and Rhodesia.
The growing economic crisis throughout the seventies and eighties affected every aspect of life in these countries, not least the education system. Government's could no longer sustain the previous rate of growth in the education systems and educational expansion slowed drastically – or even came to an end. Every aspect of the education system suffered as funding cutbacks by cash-strapped government's began to strangle progress. Educational institutions were gripped by shortages of learning and teaching materials – everything from textbooks, library books and academic journals to chalk, paper, pencils and pens. The construction of educational buildings and other infrastructures slowed dramatically and existing infrastructures deteriorated. Deteriorating conditions in universities made it increasingly difficult to attract foreign academics to many Southern African universities. Many of the best African academics and those who graduated abroad joined the brain drain, attracted by better conditions in the developed countries.
The World Bank, which had invested in building its own institutional expertise in education policy research and advocacy and which, through its influence on donor nations, had begun to dictate education policies to developing countries, argued that investments in higher education were less valuable than those in primary schooling. It argued that primary education offered greater returns to both individuals and societies than secondary or higher education. Although the Bank began to shift from this position in the 1990s, one effect of this thesis had been to further undermine investment in higher education and thus to increase Africa's capacity for independent knowledge production and to make it increasingly intellectually dependent on the developed world.
5. Growth and influence of neo-liberalism and globalisation
The economic crisis triggered by the oil prices in the early 1970s, also marks the beginning of a gradual process of ideological reorientation in the more developed countries, particularly in the social democratic countries of Western Europe. At about this time, the strong economic growth of the post-war reconstruction period had come to an end and former colonial powers such as Britain and France were trying to adjust to the loss of their colonial empires. There, the Keynesian policies which had dominated government thinking and practice since the Second World War came under attack from neo-liberals who drew on the work of public choice theorists and advocated "rolling back the state". Neo-liberalism considered the public sector to be inefficient and promoted the privatisation of state enterprises and other state assets. In addition they advocated increased private sector involvement – largely through competitive tendering – in the provision of public services and increasing competition, wherever possible, into the workings of the public services.
In the UK, Thatcherism became the political embodiment of this thinking, which began to exercise a strong influence over government policy from the time that Margaret Thatcher became the British Prime Minister as head of the Conservative Party in 1979. From about the same time in the USA, efforts were being made by resurgent conservative forces to turn back the influence of Keynesianism. The election of Ronald Reagan as US President in 1980 brought with it a conservative national administration with an ideology akin to that of Thatcherism which promoted the use of the private sector in delivering public services at all levels of government.
Over the eighties and nineties, neo-liberalism became increasingly influential in other developed countries in Europe and beyond in countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
In developing countries neo-liberal ideology came to be felt through the influence of multilateral agencies such as the World Bank and the IMF and, to a lesser extent, through United Nations Agencies such as Unesco. The biggest impact came with the SAPs – which were either imposed during loan negotiations by the lending agencies or, as in the case of Zambia's Policy Framework Paper for the period from 1989 to 1993, were adopted by government's in the hope of attracting donor assistance. These programmes have been fundamentally concerned with limiting the role of the state and expanding the role of the private sector and the market, thus limiting the capacity of the state to pursue its development goals. It has also led to increased social inequalities.
The consequences of globalisation and neo-liberalism for education have been profound. Below is a discussion of some of the most important of these.
5.1 Fewer resources available for education The biggest impact of neo-liberalism and globalisation in Southern Africa, as has already been stated above, is its contribution to the increasing weaknesses of many of our economies and their increasing inability to meet their people's expectations with regard to living standards, employment and social services. This has ensured that fewer resources are available for education, leading to severe funding cutbacks for education at all levels.
This meant not only that educational institutions had less with which to tackle their enormous problems (as described above) but also that less was available for strengthening systems of educational administration and management at national and sub-national (e.g. regional/district/circuit) levels. The shortage of resources has impacted on the quality of education management. The efficacy of management information systems, on which management decisions are based, has been compromised and cannot be adequately developed to meet the needs of the education systems.
Quality assurance systems no longer function adequately as there are insufficient numbers of school-support personnel (e.g. school inspectors) to visit schools regularly and insufficient transport to take them there.
Management training at all levels is inadequate or non-existent. Many middle-ranking officials (and even relatively senior officials in some countries) do not have access to adequate modern electronic communications systems. Not surprisingly, management morale tends to be poor and expectations are correspondingly low.
A study commissioned by SADC has described the impact of SAPs on
education as follows:
"…the immediate impact of structural adjustment policies on education … has been to reduce education budgets and intensify capacity problems. As the education share of the budget has fallen, enrolments have dwindled, quality has declined and equity goals have been compromised. With insufficient funds to maintain buildings, pay teachers a living wage and provide meaningful instructional materials, infrastructure has become dilapidated, dropouts have risen sharply, teachers have taken on extra jobs to make ends meet and skilled personnel at higher levels of education have left for better conditions elsewhere (Chisholm et al. 1998:9).
Even in South Africa, the most prosperous country in the region, economic policies emphasising fiscal constraint and deficit reduction have resulted in a situation where schools must charge school fees in order to discharge their basic functions. This system has proved workable for wealthier communities and for the increasingly multi-racial middle class who have been able to pay fees at a level, which allows them to maintain schools with relatively high level of quality. In poorer communities, especially in the rural areas of the former Bantustans, conditions are similar to those in the poorest SADC countries. Although the government decided in 2003 to look for ways to eliminate the need for poor schools to charge fees, this is proving much more difficult than expected due to fiscal constraints associated with government's own economic policies.