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International Development Agencies and Education

United Nations And International Agencies

Official multilateral development agencies are those that are responsible to and governed by representatives of worldwide organizations. The United Nations (UN), a multilateral organization with a variety of institutional mandates, has many organizations under its umbrella. Other organizations have a single mandate but are similarly broad in scope. A distinction should be made between the multilateral development banks–such as the World Bank–whose projects take the form of loans, and the other multi-lateral development agencies–such as United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)–whose projects take the form of nonreimbursable grants. This entry will describe the history, legacy, importance, and role of international agencies with regard to education.

The World Bank (or the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development) The World Bank is an international bank established in 1944 to help member nations reconstruct and develop by guaranteeing loans. The organization has members (both donors and borrowers) who own shares in the bank, although each member nation does not have a vote. Rather, the governance structure is representative in nature, such that one representative may vote on issues for a cluster of nations. It provides loans and technical assistance in many sectors–including education–to reduce poverty and advance sustainable economic growth. There are several types of loans: project loans, macro-policy loans, and sector-policy loans. For each project bank staff work carefully with country counterparts to establish a project covenant or loan agreement, which stipulates the government's commitments, to reform, for example. As part of the loan agreement, when the bank and the country meet to negotiate the loan contract, the bank can establish conditionalities or parameters that commit the country to accomplishing certain changes. Should these benchmarks not be reached, then the bank, according to the terms set out in the contract, can take action.

Educational mission. Education is a cornerstone in the bank's overall mission to help countries fight poverty. The World Bank's mission in education is to assist clients to improve access to relevant learning opportunities, use education resources wisely and fairly, and build stronger institutional capacity. More specifically, the bank works with national ministries of education to identify and implement the countries' strategic steps in order to provide access for all to quality education. The institution works in partnership with the client (or government) as well as other stakeholders, including bilateral-aid agencies, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and other members of civil society.

The long-term goal in education is to ensure that everyone completes a basic education of adequate quality, acquires foundation skills (literacy, numeracy, reasoning, and social skills such as teamwork) and has further opportunities to learn advanced skills throughout life, in a range of postbasic education settings.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century the bank draws upon four decades of experience in education with approximately 600 projects in 115 countries totaling $26 billion. Although the focus of early projects was on building school infrastructure, increasingly the focus is on improving access to schooling, student attendance, and the quality of education once students are there. Concern for the adequacy of the education has led to greater emphasis on teaching quality and learning achievement. In addition, the concern about a greater demand on limited resources has precipitated a concern about efficiency, including the need for building the institutional capacity required to implement and sustain improvements.

The World Bank made its first loan for education in 1963, and the bank is now the largest single source of external financing for education in developing countries. Since 1980 the total volume of lending for education has tripled, and its share in overall bank lending has doubled. The primary and secondary levels of education are increasingly important; in the fiscal years from 1990 to 1994 these levels represented half of all World Bank lending for education. Early bank lending for education concentrated on Africa, East Asia, and the Middle East, but at the beginning of the twenty-first century lending is significant in all regions. Girls' education is at the forefront, and increasing attention is being given to the educational needs of ethnic minorities and indigenous people. World Bank funds are used less for buildings and more for other educational inputs. The narrow project focus of the past is increasingly giving way to a broad sectoral approach.

The World Bank is strongly committed to continued support for education. However, even though bank funding now accounts for about a quarter of all aid to education, this funding still represents only about 0.5 percent of developing countries' total spending on the sector. Therefore, the World Bank sees its key contribution as advice or technical assistance, designed to help governments develop education policies suitable for the circumstances of their countries. Bank financing will generally be designed to leverage spending and policy change by national authorities. According to World Bank documents, future operations are expected to adopt a more explicit sectorwide policy focus to support changes in educational financing and management. Because of the need to consult key stakeholders, this strategy may increase both the resources and the time needed to prepare projects. In increasingly decentralized contexts, the stakeholders will include not only central governments but also other levels of government, as well as communities, parents, teachers, and employers. Donor cooperation is expected to extend to broad policy advice, as well as investment coordination.

Programs. World Bank programs encourage governments to make education and education reform a higher priority, particularly as economic reform becomes a permanent process. Projects will take more account of outcomes and their relation to inputs, making explicit use of cost—benefit analysis, participatory methods, learning assessments, and improved monitoring and evaluation. The share of basic education in total World Bank lending for education is expected to continue to increase, especially in the poorest countries, which receive International Development Association (IDA) funds. The bank emphasizes a sectoral approach that recognizes the importance of each level of the education system, the interdependencies among levels, and the need to focus bank assistance in areas where the bank can be most useful in the particular circumstances of each country.

At the outset of the twenty-first century, World Bank-supported projects have paid greater attention to equity. This is especially the case in education for girls, for disadvantaged ethnic minorities, and for the poor–and consequently for early childhood education. Projects will support household involvement in school governance and in school choice through an increased emphasis on the regulatory framework for education, on quality-enhancing mechanisms such as outcome monitoring and inspection, on recurrent cost financing, and on demand-side financing mechanisms such as targeted scholarships for the poor, stipends for girls, and student loan schemes for higher education. They will encourage flexible management of instructional resources, complemented by national assessment and examination systems to provide incentives. In all these areas, bank-supported projects are expected to focus more intently on institutional development, including strengthening educational administration and appropriate financial mechanisms, and the bank's staff will pay increased attention to implementation.

Criticism. Criticisms of the World Bank emanate from across the political spectrum, from NGOs as well as committees of the U.S. Congress (e.g., the Meltzer Commission), and are strikingly similar in nature. Critics from the conservative right, such as the Meltzer Commission, argue that institutions such as the World Bank should stop the business of lending and instead serve as development agencies. Critics from the left contend that the bank does not alleviate poverty, but rather condemns citizens of poor nations to chronic debt. Both ends of the political spectrum have registered criticism of the need for reform, restructuring, and revisiting the mission of the bank, an increase in transparency and access to information, and the creation of an independent audit and evaluation unit. Another area of criticism revolves about the issue of conditionalities. The criticisms leveraged by NGOs include mention of the unreasonable restrictions and demands placed on countries by the multilateral development banks, including the World Bank.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)

The United Nations Children's Fund is an affiliated agency of the United Nations. It was originally established in 1946 as the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund. UNICEF is concerned with assisting children and adolescents throughout the world, particularly in devastated areas and developing countries. Unlike most United Nations agencies, UNICEF is financed through voluntary contributions from governments and individuals, rather than by regular assessments. National UNICEF committees collaborate with UNICEF in various projects. UNICEF was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1965.

UNICEF was created at the end of World War II to relieve the suffering of children in wartorn Europe. It continues to respond rapidly in crises, helping recreate a sense of stability and normalcy, reopening schools and establishing safe spaces for children when armed conflict, war, flood, and other disruptions occur.

The mandate of UNICEF confines its activities and operations to projects intended to benefit children and youth. Unrestricted donations to its budget permit UNICEF to provide assistance on a grant basis and to operate wherever it deems most necessary, independent of political or governmental influence. As part of its mission, UNICEF is committed to the notion that the survival, protection, and development of children are universal imperatives, integral to human progress.

UNICEF currently works in more than 160 countries, areas, and territories on solutions to the problems plaguing poor children and their families and on ways to realize their rights. Its activities vary according to the local challenges presented. They include encouraging the care and stimulation that offer the best possible start in life, helping prevent childhood illness and death, making pregnancy and childbirth safe, and combating discrimination and cooperating with communities to ensure that girls as well as boys attend school. UNICEF works on behalf of children's well-being in other ways. It supports National Immunization Days in the global effort to eradicate polio. It encourages young people to prepare for and participate in issues affecting them. It helps youth resist the onslaught of HIV/AIDS. UNICEF is out in the field at the local level and at the fore, bringing ideas, resources, strategies, and support to bear when and where they are needed most.

UNICEF strives through its country programs to promote the equal rights of girls and women and to support their full participation in the political, social, and economic development of their communities.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is the agency charged with instituting and administering programs for cooperative, coordinated action in education, science, and the arts. The agency promotes education for all, cultural development, protection of the world's natural and cultural heritage, press freedom, and communication. The internal governance structure grants each member nation one representative in the decision-making body of UNESCO and one vote.

Within UNESCO is an International Bureau of Education (IBE) that is responsible for holding conferences on both broad and specific topics within education. This includes international, regional, and country-specific work, including research, technical assistance projects, the provision of data banks and publications to be used by professionals in international organizations, NGOs, ministries of education, and others.

The IBE Documentation and Information Unit has two main tasks: (1) the Internet site with its data banks, and (2) the Documentation Center. The unit manages the IBE's website in general and, to increase the relevance of its services to decision-making processes in member states and to the needs of educational practice, has developed several data banks, which are accessible and regularly updated on the website: (1) INNODATA–innovative projects in the fields of educational content, methods, and teacher education; (2) world data on education; (3) educational profiles–descriptions of national education systems; (4) national reports–full texts of reports presented to the International Conference on Education in 1996; and (5) country dossiers–a compilation of various sources on education. The data banks provide wider access to materials gathered and analyzed at the IBE. These materials are available for local consultation in the Documentation Center. UNESCO is heavily involved in numerous education-related endeavors, which include associated schools, the production of basic learning materials, drug-abuse prevention programs, early childhood and family development programs, promotion of Education for All, educational facilities, elearning, emergency assistance, girls and women in Africa, higher education, HIV/AIDS work, the literacy decade project, poverty eradication, primary education, science and technology, special needs education, street and working children, sustainable future, and technical and vocational education.

In addition, it provides more than half a dozen networks for communication among practitioners, policymakers, and people interested in education-related topics. UNESCO also works to build partnerships among key stakeholders in the education policy process, including intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), NGOs and other UN agencies.

A learning materials project, the Basic Learning Materials Initiative (BLM) is based on the premise that successful materials-development strategies must include mechanisms for generating a wide range of printed materials needed by a reading society. The development of a viable local publishing industry in each country is a necessary element of such strategies. The creation of a well-functioning system for the production and distribution of basic learning materials may be a first step toward creating a literate society and a market for books and other printed materials. This project seeks to address the scarcity of books, magazines, newspapers, and even posters in the developing world and to provide learning materials for the classroom environment, which is often the only place where children encounter words in written form. Textbooks provide the main resource for teachers, enabling them to animate the curricula and give life to the subjects taught in the classroom. The importance of books to the quality of education and rates of educational achievement has been well documented. But the goal of Education for All also involves the development of literate societies in the developing world and cannot be attained solely by providing quality learning materials to schools. If people are to stay literate, they must have access to a wide variety of written materials and continue the habit of reading in their adult lives.

Like any large organization, UNESCO has not been immune to controversy. In the 1980s it suffered accusations of mismanagement, which precipitated the withdrawal of three nations: the United States, the United Kingdom, and Singapore. Although the latter two have returned, UNESCO closed its Washington, DC, office definitively in 2001.

International Labor Organization (ILO)

The ILO formulates policies and programs to improve working conditions and employment opportunities and defines international labor standards as guidelines for governments. It settles labor disputes and establishes guidelines for acceptable labor practices. In the field of education, the ILO is involved in issues regarding teaching personnel, including initial preparation, further education and recruitment of teachers, the conditions of employment and work, and the extent of teacher's participation in decision-making processes of public and private educational authorities that affect teaching and learning. The internal governance structure grants each member nation one representative in the decision-making body of ILO and one vote. The philosophical basis of all ILO operations is the equal tripartite partnership of labor, business, and government, with representatives of all three on most internal commissions.

The ILO established the In Focus Program on Strengthening Social Dialogue to strengthen and promote the practice of social dialogue in ILO-member states as a means of sharing information among labor administrations, trade unions, and employers' associations, as well as developing consensus on policy approaches and practical measures to ensure equitable social and economic development. Social dialogue is understood to include all types of negotiations, consultations, or exchange of information between or among the tripartite and bipartite partners on issues of common interest relating to economic and social policy. As such, it plays a pivotal role in identifying the important labor and social issues of the ILO's constituents and in realizing fundamental principles and rights at work promoted by the ILO.

World Health Organization (WHO)

The World Health Organization is the international directing and coordinating authority for information on international health work, which strives to bring the highest quality health to all people. Health is defined in the WHO constitutions as a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. In support of its main goal, the WHO works to promote technical cooperation; assist governments at their behest to strengthen health services, to provide appropriate technical assistance and, in emergencies, necessary aid; to stimulate and advance work on the prevention and control of epidemic, endemic, and other diseases; and to promote, in cooperation with other specialized agencies, the improvement of nutrition, housing, sanitation, recreation, economic or working conditions, and other aspects of environmental hygiene. The internal governance structure grants each member nation one representative in the decision-making body of WHO and one vote.

As part of an educational mission of sorts, the WHO works to promote and coordinate biomedical and health services research. It also promotes improved standards of teaching and training in health, medical, and related professions.

The WHO conducts numerous health-education programs for the benefit of health care professionals and health care beneficiaries. Such health-education programs include, for example, teaching medical students about diarrheal diseases, programs to prevent and reduce the use of tobacco, and health education in food safety. The role of education at the WHO is to aptly disseminate information about ways to prevent and cure disease.

The WHO serves as a conduit to numerous sources of health and medical information as well as health initiatives. The WHO Global School Health Initiative, for example, seeks to mobilize and strengthen health and education activities at the local, national, regional, and global levels. The initiative is designed to improve the health of students, school personnel, families, and other members of the community through schools. Another example is that of the WHO Healthy Cities Project in which attention is given to the principle that health can be improved by modifying living conditions, that is, the physical, environmental, social, and economic factors that affect or determine people's health. The home, the school, the village, the workplace, or the city are all places or settings where people live and work. Health status is often determined more by the conditions in these settings than by the provision of health care facilities.

The WHO has extended collaboration with a number of organizations. One such example is WHO's collaboration with the Industry Council for Development (ICD) and the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), both NGOs in official relations with WHO. Some of their joint activities include (1) the Second Asian Conference on Food Safety; (2) Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point training in several countries; (3) training of nutritionists in food safety in Indonesia; and (4) development of a food safety program in Indonesia.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is an intergovernmental, multilateral organization created to boost standards of living through improving nutrition, agricultural productivity, and the conditions of rural populations. This is accomplished through development strategies and projects undertaken in cooperation with both national governments and other organizations. The FAO is the largest of the many specialized organizations in the UN system. The FAO's 180 member states and one member organization, the European Community, form the FAO Conference, which meets every two years to determine policy and approve a budget. Each member nation has one representative at the conference. The conference also elects a council of 49 member nations, which form the executive organ of the organization. The council meets at least three times between each conference session, and each of the 49 member nations has one vote. Council representatives are selected for three-year terms.

Founded in 1945, the FAO moved its headquarters from Washington, DC, to Rome, Italy, in 1951. The FAO has eight departments: Administration and Finance, Agriculture, Economic and Social, Fisheries, Forestry, General Affairs and Information, Sustainable Development, and Technical Cooperation. Education programming falls primarily under the control of the Sustainable Development department.

The Sustainable Development (SD) department has four main components: communication for development, education, extension, and research and technology. According to the FAO, it gives priority to basic education through promoting and supporting initiatives aimed at improving children's health and capacity to learn, using technology and distance education, educating rural girls and women, and promoting lifelong education and skills for life in a rural environment. However, the SD expands beyond basic education to improve the quality of all levels of education by supporting curriculum development and teacher training. The FAO tries to respond to the needs of farmers and rural communities by assisting agricultural universities to better serve farmers and to interact with basic and secondary educators. In addition, the SD encourages debate on future trends in education and training in agriculture, rural development, and food security; researches practices and case studies; supports partnerships for education for rural development; and provides technical assistance for the training of policymakers and managers.

Youth programming includes a Youth Network for Food and Security and various exchange programs. The goal is to provide education and training to prepare future farmers and community planners.

The SD agriculture extension service does much of its work through universities and extension-research-education linkages. This involves fostering interaction between academic staff and students, with members of local farming communities, and supporting collaborative problem solving.

The FAO further assists in human-resource capacity building through efforts to improve literacy, health and nutrition, and economic well-being. The FAO Nutrition Education and Training Group works with governments to provide training about nutrition and dietary habits. The Policy Assistance Division assists with capacity building through policymaker training.

A 1997 FAO report available on the FAO Internet site in the SD area titled "Agricultural Education and Training: Issues and Opportunities" outlines some of the changes that have affected agricultural education. These include advances in communications technology, decreasing proportions of economically active populations dependent upon agriculture and an increasing marginalization of agriculture and rural life, population increases, scientific progress, changing market demands and employment opportunities, and the increasing recognition of the roles of women in the sector.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees helps resettle people who have left their home countries due to a fear of persecution and who either do not want to or cannot return to their homelands. The UNHCR has two basic goals. First, it aims to protect refugees, and second, it tries to help refugees normalize their lives again. According to the UNHCR women, children, and the elderly comprise 80 percent of the typical refugee population, and the organization attempts to meet their basic needs. For children, this includes education projects.

The UNHCR views education services as meeting psychological needs; restoring structure to children, families, and communities; and helping prevent conflict by providing alternatives to joining armed groups. The UNHCR funds governments and NGOs to construct, rebuild, and operate schools for children and adolescents. Many of these projects are small-scale, quick-impact projects of building and repairs. Although most of the UNHCR's activities are focused on primary and secondary schools, it also provides for literacy classes and vocational training for adults.

The UNHCR tries to use familiar languages and the curriculum from refugees' home countries. In some instances, refugee status might be long-term, and in those cases the UNHCR combines curriculum from countries of origin and the host countries. In cases where a host country forbids education of refugee youth, the UNHCR negotiates on behalf of the refugees.

Beyond direct assistance to refugees and their teachers, the UNHCR also provides information and curriculum materials for teachers worldwide. These resources are provided with the goal of expanding awareness of historical issues and current refugee situations. These efforts can be preventive and build assistance possibilities.

The UNHCR was established with a three-year mandate in 1950 to help resettle refugees left homeless in Europe following World War II. The UN has extended the mandate every five years. It began as a small agency and gradually expanded to offices in 120 countries. It has faced resistance from some countries either unwilling to provide assistance to fleeing civilians or willing to help only temporarily.


HEYNEMAN, STEPHEN P. 1986. Investing in Education: A Quarter Century of World Bank Experience. Washington, DC: World Bank.

HEYNEMAN, STEPHEN P. 1993. "Educational Quality and the Crisis in Educational Research." International Review of Education 39:511–517.

HEYNEMAN, STEPHEN P. 1998. "Educational Cooperation between Nations in the Twenty-First Century." In Education for the Twenty-First Century: Issues and Prospect. Paris: UNESCO.

HEYNEMAN, STEPHEN P. 1999. "Development Aid in Education: A Personal View." International Journal of Educational Development 19:183–190.

HEYNEMAN, STEPHEN P. 1999. "The Sad Story of Education Statistics in UNESCO." International Journal of Educational Development 19:65–74.


FOOD AND AGRICULTURE ORGANIZATION OF THE UNITED NATIONS. 1996. "Human Resource and Institutional Capacity Building through Agricultural Education." <www.fao.org/sd/exdirect/exan0015.htm>.

FOOD AND AGRICULTURE ORGANIZATION OF THE UNITED NATIONS. 1999. "Agricultural Education for Sustainable Rural Development: Challenges for Developing Countries in the Twenty-First Century." <www.fao.org/sd/exdirect/exan0025.htm>.

FOOD AND AGRICULTURE ORGANIZATION OF THE UNITED NATIONS. 2001. "Sustainable Development Dimensions." <www.fao.org/sd>.

ORGANIZATION FOR SECURITY AND COOPERATION IN EUROPE. 2001. "General Information." <www.osce.org/general>.




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