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For Africa to achieve economic dependence it needs a pool of its people capable of using their skilles and talents to lubricate the productive sectors of the economy. This underscores the importance of education in promoting development in African countries where such trends are whoppingly lacking.

The desire to reverse the negative trend on the part of African governments and some of their international development partners has in the recent past led to the rise of a market-oriented paradigm in reforming the educational sector, especially in technical and vocational training.

This shift in paradigm was however partly provoked by the economic crisis afflicting most African countries who have been finding it extremely difficult to continue the process of providing basic education for their people. Increasing privatisation or semi privatisation of educational institutions has therefore been identified as the only way forward to sustain and improve the educational sector. Shifting the policy focus from inputs to outputs, finding new financing and certification mechanisms, involving social partners in governance, granting more autonomy to institutions, and promoting private providers have been among the emerging common trends.

According to a research conducted by UNESCO's International Institute for Educational planning (IIEP), Technical and Vocational Education (TVE) was in the 1990s subjected to a number of policy changes with the encouragement amongst private training representing the lion share of the reform strategy. However, until recently, not much is known about the activities of these private providers. It is in this context that IIEP, on behalf of the World Bank, launched a study on Private TVE providers in Mali and Senegal, two countries illustrating very different contexts for training. While in the former, TVE benefits from a positive institutional environment, partly due to the establishment of a Training Fund, in the latter, the TVE sector is underdeveloped with no clear strategy regarding its future.

It is recognised that conflicts of interests between the public and private sectors bubble up here and there, especially in the third world. When studying private training provision, according to the IIEP survey, one of the key questions is first and foremost to determine what place the private sector should have in relation to the public sector, and the appropriate measures to favour its development while ensuring effectiveness and equity. The experience of sub-Saharan African countries, the survey adds, illustrates the fact that the public/private relationship is a complementary one, rather than one of substitution or competition.

On the issue of addressing an unsatisfied demand for training and diplomas, it is recommended that the private TVE sector must also meet the needs for skills on the job market. The question is knowing whether it satisfies this need better-i.e. with an improved cost/efficiency ratio-than the public sector.

PRIVATISATION

Poor performance of the educational institutions in most African countries have often been blamed on the administrative deficiences such as over-centralised management, cumbersome procedures, ill-defined responsibilities, slackness in personnel and budgetary management. Worst still, resources needed by the public authorities to kick-start the educational sector and address the inherent deficiencies are unfortunately limited by economic crisis, recession or inadequate economic growth, and debt.

The privatization of education has therefore come to be seen as the best way forward in boosting this sector. Although this system is characterised by the involvement of market and individual initiative in the provision of educational services, a typical mistake, according to a special IIEP survey, is to link it with private schools only. Privatization may take many forms, and can concern any level, stage or element of education as a service in various combinations. While advocates of privatisation say it is necessary to streamline government bureaucracy, eradicate ineffeciency, and meet the unmet or diversified demand, critics lampoon it for profit- making and inequity due to income disparities.

In the developing countries, the share of private schools in total enrolment can be immense (100 per cent in Lesotho, 90 per cent in Zimbabwe, 80 per cent in Botswana), but these schools depend on the state for teachers and per-capita grants.

But a recent study by IIEP noted that although the spectrum of the private sector in education is wide, it produces good or bad schools in the same way as public education. The social and economic make up of the community, together with accountability of staff, are key variables for performance. As often seen in most emerging African countries, the study adds, the best, well-established public schools often operate almost like de facto private schools in terms of exclusivity, where access is determined by whether one can afford property in the catchement area. In mainland Tanzania for example, public secondary schools are considered better than private as the latter develop due to the limited number of the former.

COMMUNITY SCHOOLS

The failure on the part of most African states to meet the increasing educational demand has provoked some village communities to organise themselves in order to create and run community schools. Examples of these schools are found in Mali and Togo, where they educate up to 10 per cent of pupils at primary level, or Chad (nearly 15 per cent).

In his special UNESCO/IIEP sponsored study on Community schools in Mali, Senegal and Togo in 2000, J. Marchand discovered that they are first of all characterised by strong community involvement in which the schools constitute a sort of 'village project'. This appropriation of the school by the community, the study adds, is accompanied by close integration with the surroundings, and richness of social relations in and around the school, including highly motivated teachers often coming from the community itself. In some countries, the community school model is accompanied by interesting innovations in adapting the school calendar, integrating local dialects and developing practical community-based activities. These efforts are often supported by NGOs such as Action Aid and World Vision International.

But according to the study, these definite advantages are also accompanied by weaknesses or stumbling blocks such as lack of sufficient school shelters, equipement and teaching materials, and often untrained and poorly paid teachers. With all this however, these communities struggle to assure the development of their schools and often expect the state to support their efforts. But whether these expectations see the light of day is another matter.

Although these schools are neither public nor really private, and to make matters worse, long ignored by the public administration, they are now being increasingly recognized for their contribution to the development of education in Africa

The underlying element explaining school performance and cost-efficiency is not exactly ownership or source funding, but the type of management of the school and the teaching force. And perhaps that is why apart from promoting research and the drive to increase the role of the private sector in education, the IIEP Director, Gudmund Hernes, in an interview with EXPO TIMES in Paris, said: "We are also actively involved in the training of educational administrators and financial managers; school mapping, publication of catalogues and research papers." Mr Hernes noted that since the setting up of the institute by UNESCO in 1963, it has produced about 1300 graduates from various countries in the world .

"We are happy to report that we've in this way succeeded in promoting efficiency in the educational sector in most developing countries, especially in Africa. Most of our graduates have returned to their countries to occupy top administrative positions in the educational sector, with some, such as in Mozambique, becoming ministers of education", said Mr Hernes.

The IIEP Director observed that they are also organising courses for educational planners and administrators in some African countries such as Senegal and Mauritius. "In fact more than half of our out reach programme is in African countries, including those emerging out of conflict situations", he said. Hernes cited Rwanda and Burundi as among the countries where his institute has been working with authorities to rehabilitate the educational sector long affected by conflicts. He was however quick to admit that problems of security have hindered their operations in some of these areas.

The IIEP has produced an overview of the development of private education in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as case studies on private education in Cameroon and Tanzania (Mainland). Forthcoming are case studies on Tanzania(Zanzibar), KwaZulu Natal province of South Africa, and Kazakhstan.