Coordinated Hypocrisy: The World Bank’s Hegemony In Education

The doublespeak of the World Bank on education, evident in its 2018 report on education, exemplifies what has been coined as organized hypocrisy and clearly sets out the need to challenge its legitimacy and hegemonic role in global education.

In line with the scholar Brunsson’s thoughts, organized hypocrisy must be understood as understood a set of inconsistencies between talk, decisions and actions created by conflicting norms. During the last 50 years the World Bank has become the largest provider of external funding for the education sector around the world. Not surprisingly, this has translated into a prominent role in the global governance of education for the past half-century, thus giving the World Bank a strong influential capacity on national policy and the production of knowledge, evidently bounded to the reproduction of its neoliberal ideology through its policy briefs an reports among others.

The World Bank launched the first World Development Report in 2018 which focused only on education, a significant move as it highlighted the ongoing discussion on education, the World Bank’s role in it, and examined what changes the future might hold.. This article explores the need to rethink the World Bank’s role in education, its policy recommendations, and to further challenge the legitimacy of the World Bank in these matters.

To this end, it is indispensable to take a closer look at the World Bank’s (from now on, the Bank) 2018 report on education and highlight some crucial flaws in the report, such as its vague suggestions and lack of concrete and feasible measures to tackle the low learning rates. Also, it is important to scrutinize the ideological nature of the Bank’s recommendations.

The Bank’s report on education: organized hypocrisy

As will be discussed, the Bank’s suggestions on how to improve education are not new, furthermore they have been criticized for lacking clarity and being neither evidence-based nor feasible. Aside from the lack of access to education, illustrated by the 260 million children/teenagers not enrolled in primary or secondary schools, the bank focuses on the results of an extensive and profound analysis of the educational crisis. In terms of policy it suggests: effectively measure learning, and the application of scientific findings based on neuroscience to the learning process, claiming that  “Even in a good school, deprived children learn less” due to malnutrition. The Bank also advocates for the strengthening of teacher-learner interactions, linking vocational training to jobs, and to align the education system to boost learning through improvements of: information, incentives, coalitions, innovation, external actors, and the removal of political barriers.

At first sight, the recommendations of the Bank seem plausible, rational and necessary, nonetheless, their lack of clarity and evidence has been thoroughly highlighted. For instance, the scholars Mundy and Menashy illustrates its dis-junctions; on the one hand, the Bank’s report calls for participation in the local design of assessments: “Student assessments developed with the collaboration of various stakeholders are more likely to be considered valid and relevant at local levels.” On the other hand, they note that the Bank usually faces a myriad of criticism for the limited local participation in its international education policy.

In the same way, the report exhorts caution for governments to transfer the responsibility of guaranteeing education to the private sector, but in practice, the Bank is characterized by its support to and funding of low-cost private school chains. The lack of evidence for the Bank’s claims is best illustrated by the absence of it in the assumption that teachers are unmotivated and need to be monitored and controlled to do their job. Nowhere does the Bank take into account that it could be explained by their low wages and the cost-ineffectiveness of pre-service and in-service teacher training.

The lack of feasibility of the Bank’s suggestions is clearly represented by its miserable financial development. Coming from a bank, it is a complete disappointment. The report also does not give any direct answers to basic questions such as how the governments should invest their money, nor does it suggest what proportion of GDP they should invest, or how to finance the vast investments that the well-diagnosed education crisis is in dire need of.

To illustrate the latter, the Bank does not address how to tackle stunting and malnutrition, how to enforce daycare centers for the young followed by three years of quality preschool or how to attract the best students into teaching, etc. Similarly, the report does not directly calls upon governments to increase domestic resources which provides negative incentives for the need of public systems to have adequate budgets. The lack of an increase of domestic resources results ultimately in difficulties to provide equitable access and quality of education for all.

Some may say that the doublespeak of the Bank regarding what it preaches and what it actually does exemplifies the impossibility of establishing the human right to education under the Bank’s actual policy recommendations. In regards to teachers, there is a manifest disconnect between talk and action within the knowledge products and the lending products, “Whereas knowledge products tend to portray teachers as part of the problem to be solved (low levels of student learning or, more generally, poor education quality), lending projects devote more attention to teachers as agents that are part of the solution to the most significant educational problems.”

Challenging the legitimacy of the World Bank.

The World Bank´s work reflects its biases and its neoliberal ideology, hence, its legitimacy must be challenged. The suggestions provided by the Bank can be seen as highly ideological/doctrinal in the way that they tangentially address issues of equity by overemphasizing that what can be measured by standardized assessments will for sure have a positive effect in educational quality and teacher-student interactions. Further, in that they do not take into account the problems of linking test scores to accountability policies, and blindly labels education in a market orientation approach and as a way to solve unemployment through economic growth, which in turn is highly problematic as unemployment is a necessary condition of capitalism.

Instead of promoting policies that benefit teachers labor conditions “it labels job security and good learning outcomes as competing interests, questions the need for initial teacher education,, and suggests short-term contracts as well as performance-based incentives and punishment systems. All of these have been found to contribute to a decrease in teachers status with a questionable impact on system improvements.” And finally, it does not acknowledge that the state and crises of education around the world is partly a responsibility of the Bank.

Therefore, the doublespeak of the World Bank can be coined as organized hypocrisy as its conflicting norms systematically create inconsistencies between talk, decisions and actions. Summed to the highly doctrinal and ideological content of the Bank’s suggestions, it is necessary to question and rethink the role and hegemony of the Bank within the global educational system.

Hector Felipe Ramirez

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