Steven Hite recently co-authored a monograph that the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has now placed at the head of its current effort to guide and influence education development worldwide. UNESCO is considered the most influential education organization in the world.
Hite’s involvement stems from an 11-year relationship with the International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP), the oldest and largest institute of UNESCO, with the mission to strengthen the capacity development of countries to plan and manage their own education systems.
Within the past decade, considerable dissatisfaction has surfaced regarding the effectiveness of international aid in less-developed countries. Recently UNESCO/IIEP engaged in a project to investigate capacity development failures and successes in developing countries’ education systems. Hite was appointed to join a panel of 24 education experts from around the world who met to discuss these issues in Paris, France last July. He was the only North American representative on the panel.
“This was a unique opportunity, not just as a North American, but as a North American academic representing BYU and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That is a fairly unique voice,” Hite said.
Hite, along with Anton DeGrauwe, one of eight representatives working in France, was assigned to document and represent the discussions in a way that the group felt accurately projected their many points of view. Hite and DeGrauwe wrote the manuscript, then sent out drafts to get approval from all 24 attendees before publication.
“That was a challenge,” Hite explained. “It was quite a difficult task to get 24 global experts to agree that the monograph represented their interests as well as their concerns, because not all geographical locations or professional domains see education capacity development the same way. Imagine if you’re from Africa versus Europe: Your whole worldview is different about what is important—the role and function of capacity development, aid, and the kinds of contingencies that should be required, etc. The same potential for differences applies whether you’re from South America, Asia or elsewhere.” Representatives from five different continents participated.
Hite pointed out that the project required a lot of time since the monograph was required to be presented as a brief, succinct manuscript, consumable within an hour or two. He explained that brevity was necessary to appeal to various types of education agencies around the world.
The monograph, titled “Capacity Development in Educational Planning and Management: Learning from Successes and Failures,” addresses the three main conference objectives below:
1. What are the key reasons for the relative failure of capacity development (i.e. failure to improve the effectiveness of education organizations in a sustainable manner)?
2. What strategies can overcome (or in some countries, have overcome) the conditions that led to the failures?
3. What roles can international agencies, in particular UNESCO, perform in building educational capacity within a nation?
After exploring these issues, including some of the philosophical and conceptual challenges as well as some of the real opportunities, Hite and DeGrauwe briefly outlined the four main conclusions of the expert panel discussions. These are included at the end of the monograph, and are as follows:
- Capacity development succeeds only when individuals and educational organizations are ready for change (not all of them are). “If the development project didn’t work, the first things to ask are (1)Was the project inflicted on the ministry of education without sufficient internal agreement and support? Without internal commitment, external efforts make little sense, and (2) Do those who resist change outweigh by far those who promote it?” Hite said.
- Readiness for change depends on the type of leadership at the national level as well as within organizations. “It is important to know what kind of minister of education, president, or prime minister you are working with. The kind of leader has an unavoidable impact on whether capacity development takes place—or what kind of capacity development approaches will be successful and self-sustaining.”
- Successful capacity development programs cannot be limited to a few training courses, but may have to be comprehensive and multifaceted. “For the past few decades, capacity development has mainly been done through week-long training courses. Training is undoubtedly an essential part of capacity development programs, but training individuals often does little to improve organizations. In fact, inadvertently, these kinds of training projects can result in higher costs and less capacity in the organization.”
- Capacity development is intrinsically a complex and challenging endeavor, but without capacity, sustainable development is not possible. “The results of effective capacity development efforts can take years or decades to manifest. Current measurement systems tend to expect short-term results, but when dealing with national ministries of education, it is important to understand that these kinds of changes most often take a long time. We often do not pay attention long enough to see whether or not the project really worked.”
Hite is grateful to both the Educational Leadership and Foundations Department (EDLF) and BYU for their support in his work on influencing education organizations at the macro level. “BYU, perhaps more than any other university, understands that there are many ways to make significant impact worldwide,” Hite said.
The monograph has assumed a central position on UNESCO’s Web site and will be delivered to ministries of education, aid agencies, and academic institutions around the world. It can be viewed online and downloaded for free at the UNESCO/IIEP Web site.
19 April 2010