WCOTP, the World Confederation of Organizations of the Teaching Profession, with roots in nineteenth-century Europe, became the recognized voice of the teaching profession at UNESCO and other United Nations agencies. By 1960 the Confederation--an international nongovernmental organization--had about three million members and its governance believed that teachers in newly independent countries would benefit from affiliation. Member dues financed all activities.
When seventeen African countries achieved independence in 1960, colonial education began the process of transforming from private missionary provision to state-funded, free public schooling. This expansion was dramatic and followed a 1961 blueprint called the Addis Ababa Plan, which projected a doubling of primary school enrolments by 1980. An interim assessment eight years later, in 1968, showed that primary enrollments went from 40 to 44 percent of African school age population, from 9 to 11 percent at the secondary level, and from 0.1 to 2.3 percent for higher education. Quantitatively, over the eight-year period, primary enrolment grew from 15.59 to 23.48 million pupils, an increase of eight million students and 110,000 teachers in less than a decade.
The driving force for this expansion was the sincere belief in education expressed by the first generation of political leaders--those who brought their country to independence, and who were called "the Fathers of the Nation." Without exception, they felt that education was the only route to true freedom. Financial resources for this effort were domestically generated, since international development assistance was not yet organized.
Between 1960 and 1975, I concentrated on three main tasks:
- combining small independent teacher bodies into nation-wide professional associations;
- conducting leadership training seminars for men and women teachers;
- organizing regional and continent-wide education conferences for teacher leaders and education officials, so that together they could solve national problems;
- conducting the first ever Survey of the Status of the Teaching Profession in Africa.
A parallel development was the Africanization of the public service. As European civil servants were repatriated, the only qualified replacements were the relatively few teachers with advanced training, since there were few university graduates. As a result, the first generation of African civil servants came from teacher ranks. Often these were the same people that WCOTP had trained as teacher organization leaders. The Confederation encouraged African-led structures and helped to launch the All African Teachers Organization (AATO). Generous extra budgetary funding for the African program came from WCOTP members in Australia, Canada, and the Nordic countries.
The efforts to unify and strengthen national associations were extremely successful. Pride in the profession meant that trained and dedicated teachers staffed the majority of classrooms in English- and French-speaking Africa; teachers willingly supported an association with dues deducted from their salary. As tensions with governments gave way to close cooperation, teachers became a stabilizing force in civil society.
This was the education scene until about 1975, when Africa as a whole began to unravel after the first oil crisis the previous year. When energy costs soared, governments were forced to borrow money to run the state, and services like health and education were curtailed. The first one million African refugees were recorded at this time--and their number would grow to five million. The military in each country remained intact, prompting a series of coup d'etats aimed to restore order, but managing only to complicate life for the poor. Twenty-eight countries were run by the military; teachers and other groups were often victimized; WCOTP training refocused to help member institutions survive.
The United Nations declared the 1980s "Africa's Lost Decade," when all economic indicators plummeted. The international community tried to help with World Bank Group (WBG) led structural adjustment policies to reduce public expenditure. Under the circumstances, belt tightening was necessary. Historically, colonial provision of free health, education, and other social services continued after independence, as did colonial salary scales. African leaders believed it demeaning if civil servants, doing the same job, were paid less.
According to the International Labor Office (ILO) in Geneva, since independence in 1960, the public service in Africa has been the largest employer of salaried workers on the continent. Moreover, its terms and conditions of work are extremely generous. This is a conundrum. A strong case can be made that in situations of weak governance, the modern African public service holds the continent together like glue; without it, states would literally fall apart. Yet, maintaining it consumes a major share of national resources.
After 1975 the WBG, with reason, targeted salaries for decrease focusing on teacher pay. Experience has since shown, it had not been easy for the development aid community to tinker with African salaries. Powerful teacher unions fully capable of defending negotiated salary awards reinforced opposition from political leaders, who believe in publicly supported education and are willing to pay for it. The negative fallout has convinced many senior civil servants that the development aid community plans to reduce teacher salaries first, and later their own. An obvious reaction is to use the inherent power of the civil service to protect itself.
Cost-cutting measures, particularly in education, have managed to annoy everyone by compromising the capacity of public education to fulfill its normal social function. Parents with children precluded from attending school, or having to pay for the privilege, teachers under attack and with little status in society, a threatened public service-seem to have unified in their reluctance to cooperate with external efforts to reform education.
The United Nations tells us that Africa, measured by development indicators, is the most troubled region in the world, with the fastest growing population. Yet, people are the only constant in the African equation, with education their only hope for a better future. It is a natural law for parents to help children improve their station in life; the inability to do so is a constant frustration
Although international efforts like Education for All are attempting to revitalize schooling throughout the developing world, the African dilemma is unique because it signals a failure of development aid to comprehend what public education means for the poor. Through it all, one must hope that African civil servants, and expatriate counterparts, will use their collective wisdom, power, and authority, to devise solutions with parents in mind.