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Nepal and Zambia

The birth of international development created a global revolution in educational practice. Many newly independent colonies established national education systems as a first order of business, and as a result the number of students enrolled in schools increased throughout the world. In 1950, there were approximately 253 million primary school students in the world, approximately 47 per cent of all children. By 2006, this figure had more than doubled to 654 million, or 86 per cent of all eligible children. However, growth was even more dramatic in former colonies; for instance, primary school enrolment in sub-Saharan Africa increased from 20 per cent to 70 per cent between 1940 and 2006 (Benavot and Riddle, 1998:200–3; UNESCO, 2008:307). This boom in enrolment rates is often referred to as the expansion of mass education (Boli et al., 1985), as in many countries access to education expanded from a privileged few to ‘the masses’ (i.e. most of the population).

In many senses, Zambia exemplifies the experiences of many former colonies in sub-Saharan Africa. Under British rule, some education was provided by missionaries and the colonial government. As the economy was heavily focused on copper mining, there was little need for skilled labour, and as a result only 961 Zambians in the entire country had completed secondary school at the time of independence (Kelly, 1991:13). After independence, the government prioritized secondary and technical education in the hope of increasing economic growth, with secondary enrolment tripling between 1964 and 1969. This meant that primary education received less attention than might have been hoped for, despite a government goal to ensure at least four years of schooling for every child (Kelly, 1991:14).

While the country experienced a decade of strong economic growth, fluctuations in the global price of copper weakened the government and prompted it to request assistance from the IMF and World Bank (Kelly, 1991:20). At the time, both institutions required borrowing countries to undergo a series of reforms collectively known as structural adjustment. These conditions included minimizing spending on public services (including education), and promoting free trade with other countries. Zambia entered into a structural adjustment agreement with the World Bank and IMF in 1983, which stipulated limits on public sector pay, removal of agricultural subsidies, and allowing free exchange of its currency internationally. Effects of structural adjustment policies caused considerable turmoil within the country, including wide fluctuations in the price of food that sparked riots (Simutanyi, 1996). Combined with a growing HIV/AIDS epidemic, limits on public expenditure contributed to a drop in school enrolment from 80 per cent in 1980 to 68 per cent in 2000 (World Bank, 2012a).

In contrast to Zambia, the Himalayan kingdom of Nepal was never directly ruled as a colony. Instead, its rulers held it in near isolation from the outside world for nearly a century, partly to avoid the influence of the British rule in India. However, when its neighbour India became independent in 1947, Nepal opened its doors to the outside world, establishing diplomatic relations with other countries for the first time (Whelpton, 2005). Due to its strategic location (between communist China and democratic India), it was able to leverage a sizable amount of foreign aid from competing world powers, and, as a result, it received proportionally more aid than other countries in the region. Like Zambia, it became heavily dependent on foreign aid, and by the 1980s these funds accounted for 40 per cent of the overall government budget (Whelpton, 2005:128).

Like Zambia, Nepal quickly took steps to establish a national education system. Within 50 years, literacy expanded from 2 per cent to 49 per cent and primary school enrolment jumped from a mere 9,000 to over 3.6 million (UNDP, 2004; World Bank, 2001). For the national government, education was a key in developing a cohesive nation: as Nepal contained many different ethnic, linguistic and religious groups, maintaining national unity was perceived to be a major challenge. Thus, a commission convened by the government to lay the foundations for a national education system proclaimed ‘schools and educational systems exist solely for the purpose of helping the youth of a nation to become better integrated into the society’ (Nepal Education Planning Commission, 1956:14). While the effort to build a single nation was largely successful, by doing so the government marginalized many linguistic and religious minorities. Through its policies and curriculum, the government successfully promoted the idea that these minority groups were backward or deficient, while Hindus who spoke the national Nepali language were forward-looking and progressive. Simmering tensions about the rights of minority groups were among the causes of a decade-long civil war that broke out in 1996 (Shields and Rappleye, 2008a: see Chapter 4).

What is perhaps most remarkable about the global expansion of mass primary education is not how individual countries differed in their approaches, but how similar they were. Throughout the world, schooling was implemented using more or less the same model: schools were built, teachers were trained, and students entered classrooms that would have looked quite familiar to a European visitor. Furthermore, most governments placed priority on primary education, preferring to provide basic education to as many people as possible rather than offer secondary or higher education to a few. In both cases, international organizations (e.g. the UN and World Bank) were deeply involved in the development of education systems throughout the world. Their roles went well beyond simply providing funds for education; they also gave recipient countries advice on how their education systems, and indeed their entire economies, should operate.

Did education lead to development in Nepal and Zambia? What does their experience say about the relationship between education and development?

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