Educational Development: NGOs vs. IGOs

Education is a crucial aspect of development and growth, not just for an individual but also for a country. Most accept this a given, however education is rarely prioritized and when funds are limited and needs are great, education very often gets neglected. “National budget priorities are formulated with attention to immediacy of impact and severity of consequences. The most immediate and catastrophic threats are generally given priority. In this equation, education tends to lose.” (Chapman 463) In this paper, we will examine the current status of educational development goals in the international community and compare the efforts of Intergovernmental Organizations (IGOs) as well as those of Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and we will conclude by comparing their efforts and efficiency in improving the conditions for education.

Intergovernmental Organizations

Out of the many IGOs that exist, the only one dedicated to the development of education is UNESCO, and even it has other foci. UNICEF is another organization with the most direct objective of improving educational quality and access specifically to children. All other organizations work towards many types of development within countries and education will be one aspect under the umbrella of development. The two IGOs I will examine are; UNICEF and UNESCO. Other organizations that work toward development in general and support educational development are: USAID, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the World Bank.

One of the major efforts by the UN to improve education has been the Education for All (EFA) movement. This movement began in 1990 as a joint effort by UNESCO, UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF and the World Bank. “Participants endorsed an ‘expanded vision of learning’ and pledged to universalize primary education and massively reduce illiteracy by the end of the decade.” (UNESCO) UNESCO is the agency responsible for managing and coordinating efforts around EFA. In 2000, the UN established the Millennium Development Goals with a 15-year time frame to achieve them; achieving universal primary education was one of the eight goals established as well as to eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education by 2015.

UNESCO is “the only UN agency with the mandate to cover all aspects of education. UNESCO’s work encompasses educational development from pre-school through to higher education, including technical and vocational education and training, non-formal education and literacy.” (UNESCO) In the year 2000, UNESCO held a World Education Conference in Dakar for the EFA movement. Six goals were set regarding education during this conference with the year 2015 also as a goal. The six goals were: (1) expand early childhood care and education, (2) improve access to complete, free schooling of good quality for all primary school-age children, (3) greatly increase learning opportunities for youth and adults, (4) improve adult literacy rates by 50%, (5) eliminate gender disparities in schooling, (6) improve all aspects of education quality. (UNESCO)

UNICEF’s focus regarding education is obviously education for children specifically. UNICEF work emphasizes (1) Early childhood education and school readiness, (2) Equitable access (3) Quality of education and child-friendly schooling, (4) Education in Emergencies and Post-Crisis Transition, and (5) Girls’ education and gender equality.

Non-Governmental Organizations

NGOs are not only an active partner with the UN’s and other IGO agencies which work towards actualizing the goals set forth by the UN, but also operate on their own outside of coordination with an IGO. The NGOs we will evaluate in this section are: The Clinton Global Initiative, The Aga Khan Foundation, BRAC, and Save the Children. There are so many NGOs working towards improving education across the world, some are giant organizations such as the Aga Khan or Clinton Global Foundation to very small organizations run by only one or two people who work with other individuals across the world to organize direct efforts to a specific school or village, such as Education without Borders.

One of the points of focus within the Clinton Global Foundation is The Education & Workforce Development Track. This track “focuses on education as a powerful instrument in poverty reduction and a principal component to achieving lasting social and economic development.” (Clinton Global Initiative) The construction of this branch is intelligently designed, recognizing that education leads to work, which leads to improving the economic position of the individual that will contribute to the country. “CGI members in this Track discuss efforts to build effective education systems—ranging from early childhood education to work-ready skills programs—while exploring how education can provide the knowledge and skills necessary to lead healthy, satisfying, and productive lives.” (Clinton Global Initiative) In the realm of education, CGI focuses on: Early Childhood Education, Financial Inclusion for Youth, Girls’ Education, Designing an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem, Emerging Technology for Education and Skill Development and Investing in Human Capital.

Save the Children is an NGO that works to improve the lives of children holistically so they focus on health, education, poverty reduction, nutrition etc. In their education work they: (1) train teachers to engage their students through more effective teaching practices. (2) Coach parents and caregivers to help their children learn early on, so they are prepared to enter school. (3) Offer ways for parents and community volunteers to get kids reading and doing math outside of school hours. (4) Introduce children to the power of artistic expression — drawing, painting, music, drama, dance and more — to help them heal, learn and do better in school. (5) Make sure that children don’t stop learning during a crisis, and we help to keep kids healthy so they don’t fall behind or drop out. In 2012, Save the Children’s education programs reached 9 million children. (Save the Children)

BRAC is a fascinating organization. It is a development organization based out of Bangladesh and as of November 2012, it is the largest in the world (based on number of employees and how many people it has helped). (Dhaka & Shilbaloy) It was created in 1972 soon after the independence of Bangladesh. Their vision is, “A world free from all forms of exploitation and discrimination where everyone has the opportunity to realize their potential. “ (BRAC) And their mission is, “To empower people and communities in situations of poverty, illiteracy, disease and social injustice.” (BRAC) BRAC’s results are impressive, over 700,00 students are enrolled in primary schools worldwide. BRAC focuses specifically on disadvantaged students, who are unable to enroll in formal educational systems such as those living in extreme poverty, victims of violence, displacement or discrimination. BRAC offers educational services as well as skills development training, saving and financial services to adolescents and youth. They even have mobile libraries to bring literacy skills and access to reading materials to those who have no access to such services. With nearly 5 million graduates, worldwide BRAC has successfully opened 410 schools in Philippines; of which, 292 are pre-primary schools and 118 are primary schools. (BRAC)

The Aga Khan Development Network is a huge organization and offers development assistance in every aspect of life to countries of Africa, Asia and the Middle East. There are five agencies within the Foundation 5 devoted solely to educational aims. They are; Aga Khan Foundation, Aga Khan Education Services (AKES), Aga Khan Academics (AKA), Aga Khan University (AKU), Aga Khan Academies, University of Central Asia (UCA). (Aga Khan). AKES has more than 300 schools and serves more than 54,000 students in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and Tajikistan. The Aga Khan Foundation, “strives to improve the quality of basic education by ensuring better early caring and learning environments for young children; increasing access to education; keeping children in school longer; and raising levels of academic achievement. Girls, the very poor and geographically remote populations receive special attention.” (AKDN) The Aga Khan Academies is described as having a dual mission: “to offer exceptional education to girls and boys from all backgrounds – irrespective of their families’ ability to pay – an international standard of education with a rigorous academic and leadership experience; and to strengthen the profession of teaching by investing substantially in the professional development of teachers, locally and regionally.” (AKDN) AKU began in 1983 and was Pakistan’s first private university and has since expanded into Afghanistan, Kenya, Tanzania and the UK as well. The University of Central Asia (UCA) was founded in 2000 to offer courses and advanced education in Central Asia and was founded by the governments of 
 Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan, and His Highness the Aga Khan.


Effectiveness: Ethnocentrism, Local Demands, Financing and Government

So which approach has been the most effective? First we will evaluate the IGOs efforts. One of the criticisms of the IGOs, such as UNESCO and USAID, instituting educational norms is that they are originating from the West and based on Western ideologies, and are being turned into global norms and the world is expected to institute them. “Thus, […] bilateral and multilateral activities appear to have worked in tandem to spur the governments of developing countries to adopt programs of educational expansion modeled on the western world.” (Mundy 346) Mundy asks,

“Are forms of transnational private authority overshadowing the educational decision-making power of states? Is supranational elite or expert authority in education thickening, or has the expansion of relatively homogenous educational systems and of popular faith in the liberal promise of schooling generated new opportunities for popular political contest on a transnational scale?” (Mundy 351)

Mundy’s questions reflect concern, which others are starting to investigate. Is there an “elite dictating the educational system? Are local cultural preferences and identities being eroded due to Western (or other) influence on what education should look like? In Brock-Utne’s book, she “shows how global power relations shape educational provision, language of instruction, and curriculum content of African schools and universities.” (Herman 131)

Matthew Nelson’s conducted research in Pakistan where he surveyed those running the IGOs providing educational services in Pakistan as well as the citizens. He wanted to see if the local demands of the people were in line with the perceptions of the donor agencies, as to what locals wanted for their schools and options. He found that consistently the preferences of the people did not correlate with the agencies. “The data we collected also allowed us to better ascertain the terms of local preferences regarding two important issues for local policy makers- namely (a) language of instruction and (b) religion. These are important issues to examine especially because our data pointed to conclusions that contradict the expectations of those working in prominent donor agencies and think tanks.” (Nelson 712-713)

This brings us to the issue of the alignment of global norms with local demands. In Nelson’s study, “… the substance of local educational demands did not point to any patter of convergence with any specific global norms.” (Nelson 701) The World Bank and USAID initiatives in Pakistan claim to utilize a bottom-up strategy to focus on the local level. “Yet, precisely because their attention has shifted to the local level, reformers routinely find themselves confronted with a wide range of difficult questions concerning (a) the nature of local demands, (b) the role of market forces when it comes to satisfying these demands and perhaps most importantly, (c) the extent to which the international agencies are prepared to reinforce ‘demands in favor of religion.’” (Nelson 707) The issue of ethnocentrism of Western ideologies creeping into educational structures gives way to the issue of the opinions of the state or local level to have a say in education. “The extent to which communities were allowed to participate in education and the nature of the structures of governance has been a major source of conflict in recent years.” (Johnson 225) It is a complex point, how can decision-makers in France or the UK determine the best educational system or plan for those in an Asian or African nation? Or how comfortable is the US with providing for more madrasas or Islamic education oriented schools in the Middle East? “In fact, those interested in international educational reform increasingly find themselves confronted with a truly complex global marketplace of ideas.” (Nelson 705) According to Nelson based on his research in Pakistan, “Prominent education-sector donors in Islamabad including the largest, ‘Educational Sector Reform Assistance (ESRA) funded by USAID, have made little discernible attempt to publish any systematic or disinterested assessment of local educational demand even though they claim that their work is ‘demand-driven.’” (Nelson 719)

Therefore we can see the positive efforts of the IGOs efforts to make universal primary education and increase the quality of education in world. The criticism emerges on how states should implement these goals and what the state or local curriculum should look like. This is an aspect in which the NGOs are more on track and in tune with the local demands. It is NGOs who are working more with the local people and with a specific mission. NGOs work directly with the people, not through government agencies or workers, therefore have a better impact on the individual rather than the system. “Many NGOs were viewed as being more in touch with the real needs of citizens and better structured to deliver services at the grass-roots level.” (Chapman 466)

Another way in which the NGOs seem more effective are in the aspect of funding. When it comes to government funding, “Urgent needs in health and environment and financial downturn being experienced in some countries, a decline in the percent of the national budget being allocated to education.” (Chapman 460) Additionally, government inefficiency or corruption oftentimes counteracts potential positive effects from the IGO level. “International assistance agencies have been repeatedly criticized for the limited impact and effectiveness of their development assistance. […] Working with NGOs increasingly was seen by international and bilateral development agencies as a way oaf delivering assistance directly to the target groups of citizens while by-passing the problems encountered in working through some recipient governments” (Chapman 466)

However, that doesn’t mean that the NGO operations are without their own problems when it comes to financing. “Working with NGOs sometimes puts international organizations at odds with Governments, […] working outside official channels can result in lack of coordination with countries’ own efforts. It is also becoming clear that NGOs do not always have the capacity to effectively program and manage sudden, large infusions of external funds.” (Chapman 466) BRAC offers us an interesting example as an NGO because they generate all of their own funding and use it to fund their development efforts. They have also experienced highly effective results in the area of education. They results have been so good, that government schools are beginning to model their methods.

In 2012, 207,000 children from BRAC primary schools participated in the primary school completion exam (PSCE) along with children in the government and private primary schools, and achieved a success rate of 99.99% with 11.6 % scoring A+. Students from 120 schools, operated by our local partner NGOs, took part in the primary school certificate examination (PSCE) for the first time in 2012. A total of 3,318 students, 69% of whom are girls, appeared in the exam and 3,311 amongst them passed the exam, with 325 of them earning GPA 5 or A+. (BRAC Annual Report 2012)


Overall, in terms of funding, it really varies as to who is more efficient. One situation may reveal a highly efficient government and an inefficient NGO but in another case it may be the opposite.


Education and Gender

Stromquist researches the effectiveness of Women In Development (WID) government agencies. She finds that most nations have established such WID units due UN conferences and initiatives, however “many states do not feel bound to deliver domestically on international promises after the public scrutiny has subsided.” (Stromquist 96) Stromquist also found that although policies and plans of action have been created for WID agencies, “human and financial resources have not been assigned in adequate amounts.” (Stromquist 95) So although IGOs have done a good job of creating an international norm many countries agree to abide by, states may not be able or willing to dedicate more resources to international initiatives. For instance, Stromquist addresses the EFA, “Further reflecting the limited importance bestowed upon formal education and the education of girls is the degree of WID unit attention the Education for All (EFA) initiative. This initiative- a major effort by donor agencies and governments to bring equality, quality and efficiency to basic education- was unknown to 15% of the responding WID units. Among those who acknowledged it, more than half (54%) reported not to be involved in it.” (Stromquist 94) In spite of all the efforts and idealist goals of the EFA, and considering how many countries have signed and how long it has been working, the results of this data are disheartening.

Stromquist’s data regarding educational improvements on the parts of governmental WID units does not fare any better. Here are a few of her findings:


“Surprisingly, several of the WID units (14%) reported no activities at all in the area of education.” (Stromquist 93)

“[…] this combination of gender issues with issues concerning children and youth is part of the state’s persistence in bracketing women with children in both administrative structures and development plans. Educationally, this bracketing brings attention to adult women in their role as mothers and family managers and away from a critical view of the educational system in its formal version – schooling.” (Stromquist 89)

“It is important to observe that stand-alone literacy programs constitute a very minor activity.” (Stromquist 93)

“The WID units dedicate more effort to the education of adult women than to that of young girls in the formal system, since a rather small number of WID units address primary and secondary schooling (17 and 20% respectively). Despite its considerable importance, higher education is also an activity only engaged in by a modest proportion (27%) of the WID units.” (Stromquist 94)

Even UNESCO’s own reports show that, “although the world has witnessed impressive progress in some countries, the prospects for achieving the EFA goals are failing.” (UNESCO 187 EX/8) This report identifies six ways in which EFA coordination and implementation needed to be improved. Weaknesses included: (1) Lack of evidence-based advocacy outside of the educational sector, (2) insufficient linkage between the coordination at national, regional and global levels, (3) uneven involvement of the five EFA convening agencies, (4) absence of clear lines of accountability with regard to the Member States’ representation and participation at meetings […] as well as their follow-up commitments made, (5) difficulty in capturing and reflecting all aspects of the EFA movement only through the annual EFA Global Monitoring Report and (6) Insufficient knowledge-sharing. (UNESCO 187 EX/8)

In summary, there are pros and cons to both IGO and NGO efforts. IGOs have been instrumental in creating global norms and getting countries to commit to initiatives and monitoring progress. However, NGOs have been more effective in getting services directly to the people in the community as well as providing services more in line with the preferences and norms of the community. Financially, efficiency is varied, although it is there is generally less corruption or diversion of funding through NGOs than governmental agencies, however, depending on the size and capacity of the NGO, they may not be prepared to handle a large amount of inflow. NGOs also wouldn’t be subject to limiting services based on government budget cuts, although they are subject to donor’s monetary commitments. Ultimately, it depends on the country, the agency and the NGO as to how efficient they will be at utilizing money. Ultimately, both types of organizations are vital to the continued development of educational norms and systems throughout the world.


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