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EFA and governance by numbers: a local perspective

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Abstract:

How do discourses on Education for All (EFA) influence everyday practices in a public primary school in a remote village in Benin, West Africa? How do EFA discourses translate into a mode of “governance by numbers” at local level that prioritises the production of the “right” statistics above the development of competencies and knowledge among pupils and teachers? And what does this mode of governance reveal about the functioning of school bureaucracies in the global South in the present developmental context, as compared to the global North?
In my presentation I discuss these questions based on my empirical data of semi-structured interviews and observations obtained during 11 months of field research in Benin in 2012/13.
I use an actor-centred, socio-anthropological perspective to look at the negotiation, translation, appropriation and bricolage of global imperatives in a local context.
Taking examples of the local production of rates of enrolment, class repetition, and success in the final primary school exam, I show how school actors use EFA discourse strategically in a number of ways to justify their practices that are sometimes in line, other times at odds with official norms.
It is not unusual for a Beninese school director to start the academic year with two teachers for four classes, and to finish the same year with five teachers and six classes. Referring to parents’ demand for more classes and to the government’s effort to realise the donor-driven EFA goals, the director will do everything possible to “find” more pupils and teachers, even if this entails recruitment of (officially non-existent) community teachers paid by parents, or bribing local school authorities to provide teacher trainees. Every officially authorised class entitles the director to a monthly compensation, to a higher school budget and perhaps to the new school building he is hoping for; every teacher trainee presents not only an additional work force, but also additional funds informally paid by the trainees for their training. Besides these material rewards it is also the expected honour of being able to offer the full cycle of six classes in a village primary school and his belief in communal development which drives the school director’s commitment. He is therefore inclined to use a big part of his instructional time as the class teacher of the sixth and final grade of primary school for bureaucratic purposes: for counting pupils, for shifting, translating and adapting numbers, for writing requests and for filling in reports for the government or for international donor agencies. He is governing the school by numbers and is himself a number in globalised education politics.
Drawing on examples such as these, I argue that this extroversion of school governance marks a big difference between school management in the global South compared to the North. Schools in the South are not only accountable to governments and parents of pupils. They are also directly linked to international organisations (bilateral, multilateral, NGOs), manipulating the latter’s demands for numbers to creatively access financial, material and social benefits.
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Name: Comparative and International Education Society Annual Conference
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MLA Citation:

Fichtner, Sarah. "EFA and governance by numbers: a local perspective" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Comparative and International Education Society Annual Conference, Sheraton Centre Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Mar 10, 2014 <Not Available>. 2014-12-10 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p708718_index.html>

APA Citation:

Fichtner, S. , 2014-03-10 "EFA and governance by numbers: a local perspective" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Comparative and International Education Society Annual Conference, Sheraton Centre Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada <Not Available>. 2014-12-10 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p708718_index.html

Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript
Review Method: Peer Reviewed
Abstract: How do discourses on Education for All (EFA) influence everyday practices in a public primary school in a remote village in Benin, West Africa? How do EFA discourses translate into a mode of “governance by numbers” at local level that prioritises the production of the “right” statistics above the development of competencies and knowledge among pupils and teachers? And what does this mode of governance reveal about the functioning of school bureaucracies in the global South in the present developmental context, as compared to the global North?
In my presentation I discuss these questions based on my empirical data of semi-structured interviews and observations obtained during 11 months of field research in Benin in 2012/13.
I use an actor-centred, socio-anthropological perspective to look at the negotiation, translation, appropriation and bricolage of global imperatives in a local context.
Taking examples of the local production of rates of enrolment, class repetition, and success in the final primary school exam, I show how school actors use EFA discourse strategically in a number of ways to justify their practices that are sometimes in line, other times at odds with official norms.
It is not unusual for a Beninese school director to start the academic year with two teachers for four classes, and to finish the same year with five teachers and six classes. Referring to parents’ demand for more classes and to the government’s effort to realise the donor-driven EFA goals, the director will do everything possible to “find” more pupils and teachers, even if this entails recruitment of (officially non-existent) community teachers paid by parents, or bribing local school authorities to provide teacher trainees. Every officially authorised class entitles the director to a monthly compensation, to a higher school budget and perhaps to the new school building he is hoping for; every teacher trainee presents not only an additional work force, but also additional funds informally paid by the trainees for their training. Besides these material rewards it is also the expected honour of being able to offer the full cycle of six classes in a village primary school and his belief in communal development which drives the school director’s commitment. He is therefore inclined to use a big part of his instructional time as the class teacher of the sixth and final grade of primary school for bureaucratic purposes: for counting pupils, for shifting, translating and adapting numbers, for writing requests and for filling in reports for the government or for international donor agencies. He is governing the school by numbers and is himself a number in globalised education politics.
Drawing on examples such as these, I argue that this extroversion of school governance marks a big difference between school management in the global South compared to the North. Schools in the South are not only accountable to governments and parents of pupils. They are also directly linked to international organisations (bilateral, multilateral, NGOs), manipulating the latter’s demands for numbers to creatively access financial, material and social benefits.


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