The United Nations' Influence on Global Education Paradigms

While everything that falls with in the scope of globalization makes an appearance on center stage of political debate, from free trade to protectionism, the environment to social justice, terrorism to sweatshops, the implications for the direction education is moving in still remains relatively free of controversy. Research has only begun to scratch the surface concerning the effects of neoliberal political influence on the education in the 21st century. The following paper addresses the issue by analyzing the United Nations’ International Forums for Education and critiquing the Dakar Framework for Action from 2000. The power of international politics to perpetuate the industrial-consumer paradigm of education is demonstrated in a preliminary consideration the Colombian government’s formation of national curriculum standards and examinations. Lastly, a reflection on the United Nation’s relationship with civil society reveals what it might take to reverse the current human-capital ideology with a truly progressive culture for education.


It is an indisputable fact that the United Nations are devoted to reaffirming faith in fundamental human rights, promoting social progress, and improved standards of living around the globe. However, in an era of globalization, other organizations such as the World Bank and OECD have their own education priorities guided by the prevailing neoliberal capitalist paradigm. Even though the United Nations has proved their dedication to humanist progressive ideals for education since the Declaration of Human Rights, their ideology has been pervaded by the industrial-consumer paradigm of education rooted in neoliberalism, which makes the primary aim for educational institutions the development of human capital for economic investment.

The standardization of curricula and credentials is necessary for a global market-society. In order to prepare individuals to be effective workers “local and education policymakers rely on world education culture for decision making so ‘general outlines of mass education and its curriculum often show surprising degrees of homogeneity around the world” (Spring, 2009:23) The “sameness” characterizing education globally is reinforced through national standardizations of curriculum and testing, primary and secondary school grade ladder systems, performance evaluation of teaching based on testing outcomes, mandated textbooks, scripted teacher lessons, and the increase in the teaching of English. (Spring, 2006:2) These aspects of reform, especially standardization, examinations, and the ladder system, favor the monitoring of progress through the collection of data and statistics analysis. The industrial-consumer paradigm fosters these, Standards-Based-Curriculum Reforms (SBCR), and in turn creates a conundrum for the United Nations, who desires the primary objective of education to be democratic empowerment, socioeconomic justice, and altruism. While the United Nations has made great strides in creating an alternative rhetoric for global education, and has made clear their desire of NGOs at International Forums, the overriding human-capital model still pervades their written declarations and the global conference structure.

Have the United Nations fallen into a true Catch 22 in their attempt to support individual freedoms and rights while adhering singularly to the standards that promote schooling for the knowledge economy?

In the first section I trace the United Nations devotion to a progressive educational ideology based on lifelong learning. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, UNESCO’s 1972 report Learning to Be: The World of Education Today and Tomorrow, and the World Conference on Education for All in 1990, all validate a humanistic, values-driven approach to education.

The second section discusses in more detail the International Education Forum from 2000 in Senegal. This analysis aims to demonstrate how the neoliberal capitalist agenda was actually encouraged through the very nature of the event: Its discouragement of critical evaluation. Also, in this section the rhetoric of the Framework for Action, the final product of the Dakar meeting is examined in order to divulge how it promotes the industrial-consumer paradigm despite the progressive goals set for 2015.  Instead of a global collaboration to creatively expand techniques for ensuring realization of their objectives, the approach to remains rooted in an expansion of “expertise” in the world of education.

The third section offers a preliminary discussion of educational reform movements in Colombia influenced by neoliberalism, from the guise of OAPEC to Urbe’s “Education Revolution.” The goals of the Ministry of Education are reminiscent of the EFA in Dakar, first because their agenda likewise embodies the goals of improving “quality” and “accountability” in education, especially for children in the poorer regions, and aims to do so through the neoliberal SBCR reforms focused on national curriculum guidelines and examinations. However, the statistical analyses these reforms require to track progress reveal themselves that basic education is still not meeting the needs of all. There is a growing private sector of education in Colombia and a limited opportunity for implementing progressive educational practices.

The fourth section addresses the inner-workings of the United Nations that can be modified in order to produce more pluralistic education reforms as are needed in Colombia, instead of the perpetuation of SBCRs which call for the privatization of education and the omnipresent human-capital model. The original progressive vision can be transformed from rhetoric to reality only if there are improved accreditation practices for NGOs and CSOs, as well as the creation of more direct roles for civic society at international forums for shaping policy.

While the United Nations remains the most promising international organization for setting the standards for a global community in the 21st century, a more local, context-dependent approach to evaluating education progress must be valued above all in order to realize their goals.


An ethics based education serves the overarching role of the United Nations in the global political arena. In this model individuals are empowered to be participatory actors in deciding how and what they learn. Education is holistic and interdisciplinary, so that “learning for sustainable development” is an integral part of lifelong learning, “not a separate subject.” (Spring, 2009:73) Progressive education aims to foster critical thinking skills so to address the challenges of improving society. There are numerous ways of teaching and a plethora of assessment methods available in this approach depending on the needs of the community, from arts to drama to debate to experience, etc. The use of local language is prioritized, as well as a focus on sharing the values of local culture.

The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed by the General Assembly fully supports this dogma:

Article 26. (2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace. [The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948]

These principles are also upheld in UNESCO’s 1972 report Learning to Be: The World of Education Today and Tomorrow. Instead of educational institutions aimed at preparing individuals for the knowledge society, this report sponsored by the International Commission the Development of Education, declares lifelong learning to be the primary goal. The report first describes the need for everyone to unite around universal human rights how in the progression of a culturally and politically global society. Secondly, it underscores the necessity of a “learning-society” culture of education to support a successful democracy. Democracy is defined “as implying each man’s right to realize his own potential and to share in the building of his own future. The keystone of democracy… is education.” (Faure, 1972:vi) Learning to Be echoes the commitments of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in its position on developing the full potential of the individual in multifaceted ways, not only as a source of capital:

The aim of development is the complete fulfillment of man, in all the richness of his personality, the complexity of his forms of expression and his various commitments – as individual, member of a family and of a community, citizen and producer, inventor of techniques and creative dreamer. [Faure, 1972: xv]

Overall, the report describes what the learner truly needs in the 21st century: An educational institution that will teach individuals to engage in social problems and to build community, that will create politically active individuals not dependent on elected government representatives. “The new man must be capable of understanding the global consequences of individual behavior, of conceiving of priorities and shouldering his share of the joint responsibility involved in the destiny of the human race.” (Faure, 1972: xxv) This reflects a holistic, progressive approach to education, true to the essential spirit of the United Nations.

In March of 1990 over a period of four days in Jomtien, Thailand, The United Nations began formulating an agenda for the realization of their humanistic, values-driven approach to education. A movement was born at the World Conference on Education for All where there were “about 1,500 delegates from 155 countries and representatives of some 150 governmental, non-governmental and intergovernmental organizations” who called for all countries to universalize adequate basic education. With the belief that education for all as an attainable goal, they proclaimed:

1. Expansion of early childhood care and development activities

2. Universal Primary Education by the year 2000

3. Improvement in learning achievement

4. Reduction of the adult illiteracy rate to one-half its 1990 level by the year 2000, with sufficient emphasis on female literacy

5. Expansion of provisions of basic education and training in other essential skills required by youth and adults

6. Increased acquisition by individuals and families of the knowledge, skills and values required for better living and sound and sustainable development. [Müller, 2011:4]

Beyond a renewed commitment to education with specific targets, one important feature of Jomtien is that the members constructed an outlook of education, less focused on basic education and more on basic learning needs:

These needs comprise both essential learning tools such as literacy, oral expression, numeracy, and problem solving and the basic learning content such as knowledge, skills, values, and attitudes required by human beings to be able to survive, to develop their full capacities, to live and work in dignity, to participate fully in development, to improve the quality of their lives, to make informed decisions and to continue learning [WCEFA Declaration 1990:1.1]

While many nations renewed their efforts to improve primary schooling, Jomtien truly focused not on education systems but on learning in the broadest sense. The forum outlined a series of requirements for meeting those educational needs at regional and national levels such as “Improving Managerial, Analytical and Technological Capacities” and “Building Partnerships and Mobilizing Resources.” Overall, the goals of the Jomtien Conference to universalize primary education and reduce illiteracy undeniably reflect the honest commitment to improving quality of life worldwide and human rights. The UN is founded in altruism.


“The EFA 2000 Assessment is, without doubt, the most in-depth evaluation of basic education ever undertaken.” (Josef Müller, 2011)

The second section introduces the 2000 International Education Forum in Dakar Senegal, and demonstrates how the consumer-industrial paradigm of education permeated the structure of the Forum as well as its final report, the Framework for Action; This occurred despite persistent elements of progressive education also present in the discourse. While this incalculably valuable opportunity to change the world was not in the spotlight of political debate, and few journalists and newspapers circulated information assessing the happenings and outcomes, many scholars have looked critically at the event. Rosa María Torres, the representative of Ecuador and Argentina in both Jomtien and Dakar, offers important insights on the structure of the “global” conference in her speeches and publications. Her background includes experience with UNICEF and UNESCO. Also, research by international education scholar Dr. Laurence Tamatea provides ideas for discerning the neoliberal doublespeak in final report. Together they demonstrate that the purpose of the Forum to evaluate progress, reassess, and debate how to compel a progressive global education ideology was superseded by a reiteration of the conclusions arrived at a decade earlier in Jomtien. No new methods of monitoring progress were proclaimed beyond the already established neoliberal niche of “expertise” of the previous decade.

Ten years after Jomtien in April of 2000, over one hundred members of UNESCO and two hundred NGOs meet in Dakar, Senegal, to weigh the achievements and failures of the Jomtien goals and to construct a new plan. The Conference was organized by the International Consultative Forum, which is comprised of representatives from UNESCO, UNICEF, UNDF, UNFPA, the World Bank, as well as other cooperation agencies, governments, NGOs, and education specialists. Their collaborative efforts over a three day period at the World Education Forum affirmed the Dakar Framework for Action, Education for All: Meeting Our Collective Commitments. EFA describes UNESCO’s six lofty goals to be achieved no later than 2015.

The first of their goals is to expand elementary education programs worldwide in order to support the families of young children and their communities and improve all areas of growth: Physical, emotional, social, and intellectual. They also wish to realize free and compulsory education for all children at the primary school in fifteen years.  Their third goal describes the need to improve learning and basic skills for young adults, and their fourth objective is to see an increase in adult literacy by fifty percent. UNESCO’s fifth aim is to achieve an equal number of girls and boys attending primary school by 2015; and last but not least of their ambitious tasks is to see that every individual should receive a quality education. (UNESCO, 2000)

On the whole, Dakar upheld the same humanistic principles established in Jomtien. (See Appendix) The only substantial changes worth noting from 1990 to 2000 according Torres, include: “1. The acknowledgment of education as a right2. That schooling should be free, compulsory, and of good quality 3. Outcomes need to be measurable and transparent4.  The need for the elimination of gender inequality in education 5. The importance of government policies bringing focus and place for adult education.” (Torres 2010:3)

Her in depth analysis of the relationship between the meetings in Thailand and Senegal illuminate how the neoliberal capitalist influenced industrial-consumer ideology of education hindered the UN’s ability to establish procedures truly reflecting their progressive rhetoric. At the end of the week-long trip to Africa, Torres explains that:

…what was written was descriptions, personal stories and travelogues, rather than substantive, analytical accounts of the complex world of education and of the myriad relationships, positions, power conflicts, interests and games that are usually at stake in this type of events. [Torres, 2001:4]

In her essay What Happened at the World Education Forum she exposes why the event did not lead to dynamic discussion on global education paradigms:

Not much happened at Dakar. It was a huge and costly meeting without sparkle and without expectations, with complicated logistics, with few surprises and with anticipated outcomes, as is usual at events that are concerned essentially with discussing and approving documents that have been prepared in advance and have already been through various drafts. What is left open for discussion is form rather than content… Frequently, battles and victories revolve around “including” sentences or paragraphs that each person or group considers relevant from their own point of view or field of interest… This results in documents, which are coveralls, neither including everyone but neither representing nor satisfying anyone in particular. That is how international documents and declarations are drawn up and how they end up talking about generalities, coming back to commonplaces, enshrining vagueness and ambiguity, and creating the illusion of shared ideals, consensus and commitment. [Torres, 2001:5]

First and foremost, the statistical findings that the 1990 objectives had not yet been achieved were related to the participants: Information already published on the Internet and otherwise known visa-a-vi common sense.  Then first half of the forum consisted of presentations on plenary issues, more or less organized by the goals, and was then followed by sessions concerning strategy/operational issues. Torres explains that the changes proclaimed in the Framework were in the works since 1998, and hence the very purpose of the forum was not actually to reinvent a new approach to education as much as it was a space to present the project. In the very last session, “Voices from the Grassroots,” several participant NGOs gave shared their input. Civil society representation was not integrated through out the conference. Instead, Dakar exemplifies the continuation of civil society as “contractual service-providers rather than consider(ing) them stakeholders and partners.” (McKeon, 2009:138)

Several more observations from Torres emphasize the contrast between rhetoric and reality, how the conference “encouraged excuses and self-justification” and largely “provided a temptation to inflate numbers and to blur realities.” (3) According to Torres the only organization present who did not contest to the outcome of the EFA was the World Bank, “which has its own agenda and huge financial and political resources with which to pursue it, and which, in the technical vacuum effectively created in the field of education on a global scale, has succeeded in imposing a new type of technical “expertise” and legitimacy in the field.” (5) It is this “expertise” that is rewritten into the international agenda, and influences the development of education in decolonized countries still along the lines of neoliberal capitalist countries, as we will see in the next section on Colombia.

While the official goals of the Framework inflate the importance of rights, self-development, and dignity above all else, EFA actually delimits the structure of education in support of the World Bank (its main financer), prioritizing and monitoring over a independent, context-based approach, depending on quantitative documentation, a top-down approach, that demands efficiency over quality, and has an overall homogenizing effect on the role of education in the 21st century. This narrowing of education is further evident in the neoliberal doublespeak embedded into the Framework for Action. First, the positive aspects of EFA that are true to the humanist perspective must be acknowledged before discussing the tacit undertones in the jargon of “quality” and “accountability.”

The very first goal of the framework calls for the reduction of socioeconomic disadvantages in education.

Goal 1
Expanding and improving comprehensive early childhood care and education, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children

The second goal promotes inclusive orientation and programs that “should be sensitive to cultural and linguistic identities, and respectful of diversity.” (UNESCO, 2000:212)

Goal 2
Ensuring that by 2015 all children, particularly girls, children in difficult circumstances and those belonging to ethnic minorities, have access to, and complete, free and compulsory primary education of good quality.

The third goal promotes education for adults and equity of access.

Goal 3
Ensuring that the learning needs of all young people and adults are met through equitable access to appropriate learning and life-skills programmes.

Goals 4 and 5 continue the theme of inclusion and promotion of literacy as well as the emphasis on self-supporting individuals.

Goal 4
Achieving a 50 per cent improvement in levels of adult literacy by 2015, especially for women, and equitable access to basic and continuing education for all adults.

Goal 5
Eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary education by 2005, and achieving gender equality in education by 2015, with a focus on ensuring girls’ full and equal access to and achievement in basic education of good quality.

The sixth goal draws attention to numeracy, literacy, and life skills. It speaks to improving condition for the masses.

Goal 6
Improving all aspects of the quality of education and ensuring excellence of all so that recognized and measurable learning outcomes are achieved by all, especially in literacy, numeracy and essential life skills. [UNESCO, 2000]

How can you argue against the pursuit of education for girls, equal access, and quality for all? These goals are well meant and constructed with the best of intentions. However, in order to improve ‘all aspects of quality education and ensuing excellence’ there needs to be “recognized and measurable learning outcomes achieved by all, especially in literacy, numeracy, and essential life skills,” meaning that quality must be objectively measured. (Tamatea 2005:2) Quality is turned from subjective attribute of progressive education into a political question, one that depends on expertise of outsiders and UNESCO governance instead of being determined and measured locally. Through out the Framework, ‘quality’ it is constructed to be an economic concern and that the support of ‘quality’ comes from effective management on all levels. For this reason, reiteration of the need for more time and more effort devoted to the large construction of statistical data reports on education is one conclusion of the report. On the emphasis on quantitative progress measures, Torres notes that:

In fact, the global end-of-decade assessment was largely quantitative (the 18 indicators) and unilateral (international agencies requesting evaluation by governments without evaluating their own performance). In comparison with 1990, there is no doubt that we now have more refined statistics, which allow the magnitude of the problems to be better understood, but neither the Declaration nor the Framework for Action suggests that ten years of practical application of EFA have led to any better understanding of the nature of these problems or of suitable ways of dealing with them. [Torres 2001:9)

The framework does not provide indicators regarding the quality of inputs, a huge omission also characteristic of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB.) The overall way the Framework is designed also suggests that there is no alternative (TINA) to achieving successful quality other than through their neoliberal scientific means.

Furthermore, the significance of‘transparency’ in education is not made as crystal clear, as it should be. The increased appeal of the concept of “transparency” in education refers to the goal of maximizing money-to-more in educational institutions. The need for more time, more money, more commitment, more monitoring, and more action was reiterated in Dakar. The EFA’s approach to transparency is the construction of data banks and the publication of quantitative statistics for monitoring reports on their goals in different countries. Governments committed to “transparency” in educational outcomes “recognize the need for the fundamental importance of statistics and the need for credible and independent institutions to produce them.” (EFA, 2000:232) Describing education as needing a very specific ‘transparency’ in order to measure ‘quality’ opens the doors for the need of independent “experts” in local educational systems. Since local knowledge is unfortunately not effective in the task,

“it became clear that most of the participating countries lacked the necessary expertise to formulate coherent and feasible plans targeting EFA goals. For Those countries who cannot produce a comprehensive national EFA plan they will have ‘technical advisory groups transformed into a regional EFA consultative council… these are composed of specialists in the areas of research, statistics, administration, etc.” [Torres 2005 referencing EFA 2000]

Foreign expertise and statistical measurements foster a singular mindset and expectations for education, and perpetuate the industrial-consumer paradigm of education. “Educational systems world-wide continue mimicking and often mechanically copying from each other and borrowing curricula (from trivial facts about history in middle school to trigonometry in high school), teaching methods (“chalk and talk”), and assessment tests (short answer and regurgitation).” (Orozco 2004:2) While it is undeniable that donor institutions influence the outcome of the rhetoric in international global declarations, at least the Framework for Action makes strides in better defining “the roles and mechanisms at the various levels” and reaffirming “ that “the heart” of the action must lie at the national level.” (Torres, 2001) Still, the insights of Torres and Tamatea reveal that the Dakar Conference served to reestablish the same unmet progressive education objectives from the earlier decade, with the same neoliberal capitalist procedures for determining their success. What does this imply for national politics?



As in the Dakar Framework, the discourse of the national government in Colombia desires the reduction of poverty and improvement of living standards through improvements in basic education, but the reforms in place have yet to reap profound changes. In this section I describe in brief, some major examples of the neoliberal capital influence in the history of Colombia, from guise of OAPEC to Urbe’s “Education Revolution,” and demonstrate how the programs of the National Ministry of Education reflect the United Nations prescribed procedures of achieving “quality” in education. These actions have only led to a growing private sector of education in Colombia, and less opportunity for progressive education reform.

The influence of neoliberalism on the Colombian government has been incredibly strong ever since the creation of UNESO in 1946. Financing from the UN and the World Bank shaped the programs of ACPO in 1948 (Radio Sutatenza and Programs for Popular Cultural Action) as well as the offices and programs of OAPEC (Administrative Office for all Educational Programs) in 1963 with the intent of modernizing the primary school system. OAPEC was also heavily funded by the “Alliance for Progress” initiative of the United States government, which loaned 575 million dollars towards social progress in Latin America, emphasizing the utilization of modern communication and technology in education. (Hernandez 2006:1-3)

The National Education Plans under Misael Pastrana Borrero and Alfonso Lopez Michelsen furthered the primary value of education to prepare citizens to be productive contributors of the economy, especially the manufacturing industry. In 1964 the National Examination Service was set up as part of the Colombian Institute for the Furtherance of Higher Education (ICFES). This service was organized with the help of the United State’s Educational Testing Service (ETS.) It continues to give biannual exams for those students entering higher education (compulsory since 1980) and also for assessing the progress and quality of primary education. However, international research conducted by Christine De Luca of the Scottish Examination Board found that asked teachers to what extent the tests led to “value being placed on theoretical rather than on practical knowledge or skills?”  Over 70% of teachers extremely agreed that the tests valued the theoretical over the practical, while the group of experts had mixed responses. (De Luca, 1994:24)

From 1975 to 1979 the National Institutes of Middle Vocational Education were introduced in the hope to “extend educational opportunities by making available a substantial vocational element alongside the traditional subject areas.” (De Luca, 22) On top of core curricula classes one could opt to take vocational classes ranging from electrical work to metallury. As progressive as this system was meant to be, giving students the ability to “diversify” their education, even a study in 1999 by George Psacharopoulos (who worked for the World Bank) found that:

The results of the study indicate that the.... --objectives of diversification were not met, and that the expense of the diversified schools was considerably more than that of the conventional academic schools. In particular, evidence from the study implies that diversified school students who continue their education are more likely to be found studying in a completely different subject area than the skill area in which they received their pre-vocational training, that graduates from diversified secondary schools do not find employment more quickly than graduates from conventional schools, and that graduates from diversified schools do not demonstrate higher initial earnings than those from traditional academic schools. These findings, along with the substantially higher costs of diversified schools, require the educational policymaker to be far more cautious in the future about adopting such educational reform. [Psacharaopoulous, 1998:276]

The next significant phase of reform the Colombian Ministry of Education’s developed was from 1988-2000 prior to the Dakar. “Apertura Educativo” was part of the larger “Bases of the Development Plan” for the new millennium. The Ministry again restructured it’s own system to strengthen it’s influence over design of curriculum and evaluation in Law 24 of 1988. “The Ministry was required to oversee all curricular matters while the Educational Secretariats of Town Councils (Alcaldias) and Departmental Administrations (Gobernaciones) were required to administer the teaching cadre.” (Hernandez, 15) This gave the government the responsibility of publishing the syllabi for the main subject areas of the curriculum and permitting private companies to produce accompanying textbooks. As well, the secondary examinations were reworked and made requirements for passing secondary schooling in the subjects of “Physics, Chemistry and Biology, Verbal Aptitude, Spanish Language and Literature, Mathematical Aptitude, Mathematical Knowledge, ”Social Sciences” (approximately equivalent to History Geography and ”Civics”) and an elective which is worth 20% of the total marks.” (De Lucra, 20)

In order to increase “la cobertura” or coverage of the “Education Revolution,” Urbe Vélez (2002-2010) emphasized the increase of coverage through the SAT (Sistema de Aprendizaje Tutorial,) the change a compulsory military service required of teachers, obligation of university to be a teacher of first or secondary school, the investment of 500,000 million pesos in annual loans, and much more, in order to develop a culture of citizenship, achieve peace, and increase income levels. As well, the “Education Revolution” would have to implement transparency of teaching peaceful conflict resolution. (Hernandez, 17)  Uribe suggests that the project would be financed with 50% of the royalties and share of resources from "the fight against corruption, “poltiquería”, and waste in public institutions.” (Hernandez, 2006:7) This is ironic in the eyes of activist César Hernández of, who insists that the “Whole story of curriculum standards, basic skills, employment and productivity as well as regulators have suggested curriculum to develop the bourgeoisie plan and compelling to turn everything into a commodity, in business, the object of capitalist accumulation.” (21)

This preliminary examination of educational reforms in Colombia highlights how the goals of the Ministry of Education are evocative of the EFA in Dakar as they aim improve the “quality” of education through a neoliberal commitment to national curriculum guidelines and examinations. The dependency on foreign “aid” to keep up the industrial-consumer paradigm of education also requires statistical analyses of these reforms to measure the progress and create more need for more “expertise” and funding. How can the focus return to a progressive education approach?



How can the United Nations improve their agenda to instill progressive education instead of promoting schooling for the knowledge economy? One possibility to sole the dilemma comes from top-down democratization with in the UN. First, there exists the opportunity for further democratization with in the United Nations that can lead to a more pluralistic vision for education. This can be achieved by means of improving accreditation procedures for NGOs and CSOs, redefining practices of participation at global summits, and establishing better relations for summit follow-up. These ideas were presented in Nora McKeon’s UNRSID research project from 2003-2005, in which a system wide survey conducted of members from the civil society liaison units in conjunction with reports from the United Nations Non-Governmental Liaison Service (UN-NGLs.)

Accreditation practices are one piece of the puzzle. From 1993 to 1996 the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) reviewed the consultation of the United Nations with NGOs, and after the UNCED Conference in Rio provided a resolution for accreditation procedures for both NGOs and INGOs, which is used for the majority of intergovernmental policy forums. While the ECOSOC has accomplished many respectable practices, such as periodically requiring reports from organizations to hold them accountable for their formal status, it is a “cumbersome and time-consuming operation.” (McKeon 2009:136) Also, there is no way to review relations with CSOs that have ad hoc status and cannot obtain the formal accreditation. Wies and Gordnecker stress that there is a disproportionate amount of energy put into assigning different consulting standards, and that the fixation has only increased since the 1990s with NGOs in international policy forums. (1996:230) McKeon’s findings also demonstrate the privilege international NGOs from the North receive. These findings echo the observation of Castillo from Dakar, who writes, “The Latin American presence was weak and hampered by the fact that translation into Spanish was available only in plenary sessions.” (Torres, R.M. 2001) The need to enhance transparency in the accreditation process is one of the issues in civil society engagement in global policy forums.

Beyond accreditation, issues of actual participation in policy creation are of upmost importance. The summit model as it was in Dakar protects governmental decision-making prerogatives instead of fostering dialogue. Mckeon explains:

Respondents report less experience with practices that introduce changes into the way business is conducted in the intergovernmental sessions themselves, nibbling away at the rule whereby observers are given the floor only once government delegates have end their debate. These practices include allowing for civil society representatives to intervene freely on selected agenda items, enabling identified spokes-persons of selected caucuses to intervene throughout the debate, or separating periods of deliberation –with free civil society intervention – from those of decision-making. [McKeon 2009: 129]

Many parallel CSO and NGO forums are accepted in place of a different structure altogether. During the World Education Forum in Dakar, for example, there were actually two separate events. The International Consultation of NGOs was held from the 24-25 of April and described by Torres as the “alternative” event. These two days preceding the EFA Conference were organized by the “Collective Consultation of NGOs on Literacy and Education for All and the NGO-UNESCO Liaison Committee.” (Torres, 31) Their separate declaration highlighted the need for “monitoring and control of programmes to be turned over to government in partnership with civil society” and that “resources, technical expertise and monitoring of progress must be decentralized with major investment in a regional level EFA capacity. These structures have to be effective, accountable and transparent.” While Torres highlights the importance of the critical work of the participants in these meetings to put forth a global action plan to achieve EFA, not all members could participate in the conference, and their point was not implemented. The Forum did not foster a true “forum” but was instead “an event with out big surprises” since the assessments and outcomes were decided prior to the month of April instead of this period of time being a collaborative effort with the NGOs.

Also, the United Nations needs to go beyond the traditional NGO to improve relations with other non-state actors. NGOs are a western structured perception of civil society, that of “well-established non-profit, apolitical international councils grouping people or associations that felt themselves to be families on the grounds of their professions, their academic fields, their beliefs, their ages, their status, their activities, their experiences.” (Mckeon 2009:11) A civil society organization extends to both formal and informal groupings of people and may include NGOs. This term “refers to the sphere in which citizens and social movements organize themselves around objectives, constituencies and thematic interests.” (FAO 1999a:3-4) Such groups range from teachers unions, peasant farmers, and indigenous peoples. The World Bank-Civil Society Global Policy Dialogue Forum in April of 2005 stresses that CSOs invited to consultation meetings are those “easily accessible and approving of the government and the Bank’s preferred strategies.” (World Bank, 2005) The report also describes that the CSOs were not well enough informed to effectively participate which is of upmost importance as described by a respondent from Mckeon’s research: “CSOs are not elected and don’t pretend to replace elected governments, and their representation and legitimacy comes form other factors such as representing the interests of disenfranchised populations, track record in promoting grassroots development, and speaking for non-constituency values such as the environment or human rights.” (McKeon 1999: 144) If the UN is to follow their original humanist creed, fostering an environment for CSOs will be critical. Eva Friedlander echoes this sentiment in a UNDESA 2003 report on the importance of civil society engagement:

Information and analysis provide the underpinning for government negotiating positions… the need to open up to different types of expertise in order to benefit from differing perspectives is considered particularly critical with regard to the fundamental questions asked and to measuring the ways in which progress is measured or impact evaluated.

Last but not least, civil society is integral to the follow through of any education objective. For this reason, Schecter writes the success of ‘the future of UN-sponsored world conferences in the twenty-first century are to a considerable extend in the hands of NGOs” (Shechter 2001: 185). The implementation phase is just as important part of the political process as the formation of policy, and the role of civil society is emphatically highlighted in the Dakar declaration, and yet this role has not been turned over to local powers but is still tracked by intergovernmental institutions. In Dakar, an occasion for this change was not embraced:

Perhaps the greatest surprise, the tensest moment and the source of most contention at the conference, was countries’ reaction to the proposal put forward by the Futures Group for the monitoring of implementation of this second stage of EFA (2000-2015). The proposal entrusted global coordination of follow-up to a special body to be set up by the international agencies that sponsored EFA, and by representatives of governments and the civil society. The who and the how of this follow-up had been the subject of critical discussions among the international agencies in the lead-up to Dakar, and one of the topics entrusted to the Futures Group during the Forum. The mechanism proposed was expressly designed to avoid UNESCO’s taking on the global coordination of Dakar+15. [Torres, 2001]

Instead of placing power to assess follow-up with members of civil society, this responsibility remained centralized in the United Nations.

The speakers were equally emphatic in agreeing that the task should be entrusted not to the present UNESCO but to a restructured UNESCO…The Futures Group had to reconvene in an additional unplanned emergency session to amend the original proposal…Ten years on, there has been an unprecedented growth in poverty throughout the world, in exclusion, unemployment, hunger, despair and AIDS. Quality and equity are now worn-out words, with little relation to reality. [Torres, 2001]

How did respondents of Mckeon’s project react when asked how UN organizations facilitate civil society involvement in the follow-up? Their difficulties and successes? An overwhelming majority did not have enough information to reply. “This reaction corroborates the hypothesis of a disconnect, in many entities, between global policy discussion and follow up action…” (McKeon, 1990:135)

Overall, rhetoric claims civil engagement is necessary, but the importance of the private sector remains more influential. Improving accreditation procedures for NGOs and CSOs, redefining practices of participation at global summits, and establishing better relations for summit follow-up are all areas where the United Nations can make headway. During his term as secretariat-general, Kofi A. Annan tried to take steps towards this democratization agenda in 2003 by creating the Panel of Eminent Persons on United Nations–Civil Society Relations, which in its final report acknowledges that “The most powerful case for reaching out beyond its constituency of central Governments and enhancing dialogue and cooperation with civil society is that doing so will make the United Nations more effective.” The Cardoso report, however, has also been criticized due to the fact that it was “intellectually incoherent because it embodied three competing theoretical frameworks: functionalism, neo-corporatism, and democratic pluralism.” (Willets, 2006) Peter Willets notes that the 12 individuals appointed to the panel, while coming from diverse backgrounds within the UN, were certainly not experts on the UN’s relations with NGOs. The report also did not resolve the political confusion surrounding who can represent civil society by lumping the private sector with it.

The report did not mention… the divisions within civil society over issues such as the reconciliation of economic growth and environmental conservation; the role of corporations in development; abortion and reproductive health; or the role of women in society. Thus, the Panel failed to recognize the complexity, the diversity, and the divided nature of civil society…When it comes to the accreditation of NGOs to the UN, the democrat will promote rules allowing open access, subject to basic conditions of financial probity; absence of criminal activity; and respect for the system's procedures. Functionalism aims to restrict participation to experts. Such an emphasis on expertise, knowledge, and experience is not necessarily anti-democratic. Indeed, to explore issues, with the participation of "world specialists" and ministers, in roundtables that "would inform and be informed by global public opinion", is to contribute to democratic debate. Functionalism becomes anti-democratic when political controversy is denied or suppressed, when access to policy-making is "depoliticized", when policy networks are limited to "relevant" actors, and when participants at the UN "would be decided . . . according to their expertise and competence". 48 Neo-corporatism restricts participation to organized vested interests, resolves conflicts by bargaining between those interests, and ignores the general interest. The neo-corporatists will actively seek out the major organized sectional interest groups but be unconcerned if the poor, the weak, or advocates of the general public interest do not participate. [Willets, 2006]

As Willets describes, there is still a lot of work to make top-down democratization happen so that EFA can stay true to its progressive spirit instead of promoting schooling for the knowledge economy. Finding solutions to accreditation procedures for NGOs, increasing NGOs and CSOs participation and international forums, and giving CSOs more leadership roles in tracking the progress of education.

Concluding Thoughts

This research demonstrates the power of international politics over global models of education. While the United Nations is dedicated to a school system for democracy, one that will promote their values in fundamental human rights and social progress, their International Forums and Plans for Action in reality support the human-capital model of education. The projects of the national government of Colombia adhere to the global SBCRs in order to continue receiving funding from organizations such as the World Bank, who in turn requires assured statistical analyses to track the “progress” of “Education for All.” These measures of standardized curriculum and testing for “quality” and “accountability” in effect limits the freedom of teachers to create progressive methodologies and curriculum.

This essay discusses one possibility for change that would require a dramatic top-down democratization from the United Nations. The second piece of the puzzle requiring further investigation concerns the interdependent power of individuals in communities to bring bottom-up change. While programs in Colombia presented in this paper exemplify the negative consequences of following in the footsteps of the United Nations, there are many successful NGOs that improve conditions for children, such as Aulas for Paz in Bogota and Mecellin. This UNICEF supported group uses a curriculum based in social competencies that demonstrate success in lowering aggressive behaviors in children living in communities dominated by violence. Additional research investigating how these national reforms are contextualized at a context-dependent, at the local level, can only provide further evidence of the enormous responsibility of the United Nations to set the agenda for the 21st century. As anthropologist Ted Lewellen’s insights on the heteroginizing tenet of globalization remind us: “Contemporary globalization is the increasing flow of trade, finance, culture, ideas, and people brought about by the sophisticated technology of communications and travel and by the worldwide spread of neoliberal capitalism and it is the local and regional adaptations to and resistances against these flows.” (5)


Agudel-Valderrama, Cecilia. "The Growing Gap between Colombian Education Policy, Official Claims and Classroom Realities: Insights from Mathematics Teachers' Conceptions of Beginning Algebra and its Teaching Purpose." International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education 4.5 (2006): 513-544. Print.

Ayala Zárate, Jair, and Jose Aldemar Álvarez V.. "A Perspective of the Implications of the Common European Framework Implementation in the Colombian Socio-cultural Context." Colombian Applied Linguistics Journal 7 (2005): 7-26. Print.

Bassett, Roberta Malee, and Alma Maldonado. International organizations and higher education policy: thinking globally, acting locally?. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2009. Print.

Clark, Helen. MDG Acceleration Plan. New York: One United Nations Plaza, 2010. Print.

De Luca, Christine. Report: The Examination Systems of Curricular Development:. Paris: UNESCO , 1994. Print.

"DVV | Declaration on Education for All." DVV | Home. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 May 2011. http://www.iiz

Education (Colombia), in Europa World online. London, Routledge. Oberlin College. Retrieved 08 April 2011 from <>

Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2011: the Hidden Crisis: Armed Conflict and Education. Paris: Unesco, 2011. Print.

Fals-Borda, Orlando, and Luis Mora-Osejo. "Eurocentrism and its Effects: A Manifesto from Colombia." Globalisation, Societies & Education 1.1 (2003): 103-7. Print.

Faure, Edgar. Learning to be; the world of education today and tomorrow. Paris: Unesco, 1972. Print.

Faguet, Jean-Paul and Sanchez, Fabio (2006) Decentralization’s effects on educational outcomes in Bolivia and Colombia. DEDPS working papers, 47. Suntory and Toyota International Centres for Economics and Related Disciplines, London School of Economics and Political Science, London, UK.

Ferguson, Rebecca. World education encyclopedia: a survey of educational systems worldwide. 2nd ed. Detroit: Gale Group/Thomson Learning, 2002. Print.

Foley, Douglas. (2010). "The Rise of Class Culture Theory in Educational Anthropology." Anthropology & Education Quarterly 41.3: 215-227. Jstor. Web. 1 Dec. 2010.

Hernández E, César Julio. "Anotaciones Acerca de Las Políticas Educativas del Estado Colombiano.”

Colectivo Revista Pedagogía y Dialéctica 5.2 (2006): 1-23. Print.

Hanhimäki, Jussi. The United Nations . Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2008. Print.

Hartmann, Eva. "Bologna Goes Global: A New Imperialism in the Making?" Globalisation, Societies & Education 6.3 (2008): 207-20. Print.

Inda, Jonathan Xavier, and Renato Rosaldo. The anthropology of globalization: a reader. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishers, 2002. Print.

Iregui, Ana Maria, Melo, Ligia and Ramos, Jorge, (2007), Análisis de eficiencia de la educación en Colombia, Revista de Economía del Rosario.

Lewellen, Ted C. The anthropology of globalization cultural anthropology enters the 21st century. Westport,

Conn.: Bergin & Garvey, 2002. Print.

McKeon, Nora. The United Nations and civil society . London: Zed Books 2009. Print.

Müller, Josef. "DVV | From Jomtien to Dakar Meeting Basic Learning Needs – of Whom?." DVV | Home. UNESCO, n.d. Web. 20 Apr. 2011. <>.

Orozco, Marcelo M., and Desirée Hilliard. Globalization: culture and education in the new millennium. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004. Print.

Peter, Willets. "The Cardoso Report on the UN and Civil Society ." N.p., n.d. Web. 15 May 2011. <>.

Psacharopoulos, G (1988) ”Curriculum Diversification. Cognitive Achievement and Economic Performance”

In Lauglo& Lillis (1988)

Schecter, Michael G. (ed.) (2001) United Nations-Sponsored World Conferences: Focus on Impact and Follow-up, United Nations University Press, Tokyo, New York, Paris.

Spring, Joel H.. Pedagogies of globalization: the rise of the educational security state. Mahway, N.J.: L. Erlbaum Associates, 2006. Print.

Spring, Joel H.. Globalization of education: an introduction. New York, NY: Routledge, 2009. Print.

Tamatea, Laurence. "The Dakar Framework : Constructing and Deconstructing the Global neo‐liberal Matrix." Globalisation, Societies & Education 3.3 (2005): 311-34. Print.

"The Universal Declaration of Human Rights." Welcome to the United Nations: It's Your World. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2011. <

Torres, Rosa María. "Lifelong Learning: moving beyond Education for All." Shanghai International Forum on Lifelong Learning. UNESCO, the Shanghai Municipal People’s Government, the Chinese Society of Educational Development Strategy (CSEDS) and the Chinese National Commission for UNESCO. Shanghai World Expo 2010, Shanghai. 19 May 2010. Keynote speech.

Torres, Rosa María. "What Happened at the World Education Forum?" DVV International: Adult Education and Development 56 (2001): 67-89. Print.

UNESCO. 2000b. Final Report. World Education Forum (Dakar, 26-28 April 2000). Paris.

UNESCO. 2000c. The Dakar Framework for Action “Education for All: Meeting Our Collective Commitments”, World Education Forum (Dakar, 26-28 April 2000). Paris.

"United Nations: Key Conference Outcomes in Education." Welcome to the United Nations: It's Your World. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2011. <

Weiss, Thomas G, and Leon Gordenker (eds) (1996) NGOs, the UN and Global Governance, Lynne Rienner Publishers, Boulder, CO, and London.

Willetts, Peter. "The Cardoso Report on the UN and Civil Society: Functionalism, Global Corporatism or

Global Democracy?." Journal of Global Governance 12 (2006): 305-324. Print.

World Bank (2005). World Bank- Civil Society Global Policy Dialogue Forum.( Washington D.C. 20-22 April 2005), Summary Report. Washington, D.C, World Bank.

World Conference on Education for All (= WCEFA), 5-9 March 1990, Jomtien, Thailand. World Declaration on Education for All and Framework for Action to Meet Basic Learning Needs. Published by the Inter-Agency Commission. UNICEF House, New York, N.Y. April 1990

Torres, Rosa María. "Lifelong Learning: moving beyond Education for All." Shanghai International Forum on Lifelong Learning. UNESCO, the Shanghai Municipal People’s Government, the Chinese Society of Educational Development Strategy (CSEDS) and the Chinese National Commission for UNESCO. Shanghai World Expo 2010, Shanghai. 19 May 2010. Keynote speech.

research, lxdTara Gilboa