Development Education

To what extent can low fee international education programmes, aid the process of decolonization in post-colonial Mozambique?


At the end of five hundred years of shouldering the white man’s burden of civilizing “African natives” the Portuguese had not managed to train a single African doctor in Mozambique, and the life expectancy in eastern Angola was less than thirty years”

      (Rodney 2018 pp 247)

Education creates a nation’s doctors, lawyers, nurses, and teachers, all the social services needed to develop a society, keep its citizens healthy and economically productive. With few exceptions, throughout the colonial period of Africa, education systems provided for the majority black populations were geared towards the needs of the minority white settlers and their ‘mother country’ and not in the interest of most indigenous populations. The quote above demonstrates the reality of the outcomes of the Portuguese colonial education system in Mozambique.

Using the context of Mozambique, this essay will examine the rise of global transnational education programmes delivered by private schools for a growing middle class across Africa. I will examine how Enko education, a transnational provider of private education across Africa, with three schools in Mozambique, promises to help African students gain places in ‘leading’ global universities by giving students access and opportunity to study internationally recognised curricula. There are a few different international or transnational education programmes but this essay will consider only the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme (DP). Transnational organizations like Enko education and the IB raise interesting questions for decolonization within the African historical context. What I hope to offer is a study of the increase towards private low fee international schools and their implications for decolonization, with a specific focus on Mozambique. This paper will examine the question: “To what extent can low fee international education programmes, aid the process of decolonization in post-colonial Mozambique?”

The first three sections provide contextual information and are structured similarly: considering general trends in low income and postcolonial contexts in Africa before discussing Mozambique in detail. In section one I present a history and context of some colonial education systems. Section two is an overview of the African learning crisis and rise of low fee private schooling including Enko education. In section three I examine the IB, its philosophy and history, before moving onto analysing the issues described in these contextual sections through the framework of underdevelopment in section four. In the final section I provide a conclusion.

Before continuing I need to define some of the boundaries of this paper. This is not a paper about so-called low-fee or low-cost private schools (LFPS) of which I have written about elsewhere (Vincent 2021a, Vincent 2021b) and have been the basis of much academic debate over the last two decades (See Tooley 2009, Härmä 2020). Nor is it a paper about elite private international education, the type of which is normally available to the highest socio-economic groups, referred to as Type A international schools by Hayden and Thomson (2013). Instead, I seek to examine what may be considered the middle ground, and its decolonising role, within a post-colonial context. These are private schools that cater to a growing middle class and offer the type of international education programmes found in elite schools but at a tenth of the cost. This trend sits alongside the rise of LFPS across Africa, within a general trend of privatization in the age of global neoliberal economics.

Section 1: Colonial and Post-Colonial Education

            According to Datzberger (2021) pre-colonial African education was based on social and communal relationships within family tribal and clan-based groups which focussed on the learning of utilitarian skills. These skills are those that were needed for the development, within the individual, of the social-cultural values and norms. Usually within pre-colonial societies the important unit was not the individual, but the group and hence education was focussed on developing group cohesion amongst individuals. Children were educated to engage with a particular activity, and to ensure the transmission of cultural values. Education of this type included oral storytelling and literature as well as the transmission of traditions through stories and dancing and interactive experience. Traditional pedagogies in Kenya for example, are highlighted by Wa Thiong’o (1986) who stresses the importance of using local African languages for cultural transmission and education through the Arts. Rodney (2018) claims that whilst local differences did exist between different African communities in their pre-colonial education, most did follow a similar pattern based on respect for communal relationships.

            With the scramble for Africa circa 1870, there was differing emphasis given to education between different colonial powers. Although the differences appear to be by way of degree and implementation, the intent of colonial powers was generally to absorb African societies into a subordinate position in an economic hierarchy. Thus, in British, French or Portuguese colonies, education existed to promote the interests of the colonising nation generally at the expense of the colonised. Madeira (2005) gives an interesting comparative account of the differences and similarities of education systems in Anglophone, Francophone and Lusophone colonial jurisdictions.

Whilst he was writing about his experiences of British colonial schooling in Kenya specifically, the colonial education system described in detail by Wa Thiong’o (1986) could be thought to be typical of colonial education systems throughout Africa during the colonial period in terms of its purpose (Rodney 2018). Wa Thiong’o (1986) is included here because he has written with lucidity about his personal experience of colonial education, an experience that could be thought to be typical for successful indigenous completers of colonial education, even across different contexts. He describes how the Kenyan colonial education system was designed to dominate ‘the mental universe of the colonised’ (ibid pp 16). He writes that the colonial education system focussed on the ‘destruction or the deliberate undervaluing of a people’s culture … and the conscious elevation of the language of the coloniser’ (ibid pp 16). The author goes on to describe how the colonial school served to sever the child from his community and natural environment so that he came to see them as something other to themselves. This was brought about by the deliberate use of colonial language but also ‘the alienation became reinforced in the teaching of history, geography, music, where bourgeois Europe was always at the centre of the universe.’ (ibid pp 17)

            Not only did colonial education systems place Eurocentric learning material front and centre but colonial education was elitist and competitive, designed to select and mark out a minimum of the colonised population for secondary school, university, and then junior roles within the colonial administration. The aim was to train a class of the local population that could work to keep the colonial machinery in operation. This class needed to be culturally homogenous, replaceable and have a connection with the colonizing nation. As such the curriculum and pedagogies were devoid of developing critical thinking. Wa Thiong’o (1986) describes how, in Kenya, the only mark that mattered at the end of primary exams was English. Without a pass in English a child could not move up the educational ladder no matter how bright they were and how well they scored in other subjects.

            In Mozambique the intent on paper was like that of the British and French although the implementation of the colonial education system was hampered by the lack of development of the colonial power itself (Madeira 2005). In official Portuguese political discourses, the plan was to create a shared Portuguese culture across all of its ‘overseas provinces’ where black Portuguese citizens would be created. This plan was only haphazardly implemented and never came to fruition (ibid). Portugal had been economically dominant in the region of what is now Mozambique since the 1600s but towards the end of the 1800s Portugal itself had failed to industrialise to the same extent as other European powers and therefore was unable to promote the economic development of Mozambique (Cross 1987). Instead, from the 1930s it sought to use Mozambique to shore up its own economic position through the exportation of forced migrant labour and the provision of jobs in Mozambique for Portuguese settlers who lacked employment opportunities in Portugal. Thus, on the eve of independence the Portuguese ruled Mozambique directly from Lisbon with ‘the main objective [being to] quite nakedly to get the maximum benefits and profits…for the mother country’ (Gaster 1969 pp 151). The ‘almost absolute lack of African participation in positions of economic and political leadership’ (Cross 1987) was caused by a failure of the Portuguese to fully assimilate the indigenous population through education, creating a very weak, small, and fragile assimilado (‘Africans considered to have divested themselves of all tribal customs…and assimilated Portuguese values and culture’ (Cross 1987 pp 553))petty bourgeois.

In the early days of colonial education in Mozambique (1800-1930), education of the indigenous population was left to the catholic missionaries. However, by 1900, Portugal effectively only controlled around 10% of modern Mozambique and so influence in many areas was gained by the British through the activities of protestant missionaries (Madeira 2005). Madeira (ibid) claims that in the first decades of the 20th century up to 1948 there were more schools operated by protestant missions (and under the influence of the Americans and British) than there were catholic. The Portuguese state operating in Mozambique focussed its energies initially on the provision of public academic education for the children of white settlers, mulattos (people of mixed race (Cross 1987 pp 553))and assimilados. Education of the indigenous population was left to the missionaries who favoured literacy for the catechism and the elements of training needed for the indigenous population to fill the unskilled labour roles (Madeira 2005). This resulted in an effectively two-tiered education system within Mozambique where the indigenous population who had access to schools (most didn’t) was taught just enough to be able to read and write the catechism and to fulfil their role in society as forced migrant labourers (Cross 1987, Madeira 2005). The curriculum that existed was Portuguese in values and culture and Portuguese was the language of instruction, the use of local languages in the education system were banned in 1921. This system left Mozambique with a literacy rate that stood at 5% in 1967 (Gaster 1969).

The Mozambique Liberation Front, FRELIMO, was formed in 1962 from the fusion of several exiled organisations and succeeded in its aims of securing independence during the liberation war that spanned 1964 to 1975 (Cross 1987, Gaster 1969). From its inception FRELIMO was aware of the need for education (Mondlane 1967, Gaster 1967, Samuels 1971) to ‘train cadres and promote general literacy’ (Samuels 1971 pp 69). Thus, even during the war of independence FRELIMO started schools in the areas that they were active in and began a secondary school for refugees from Mozambique in Tanzania, called the Mozambique Institute (Mondlane 1967, Gaster 1969, Cross 1987). FRELIMO adopted Portuguese as the language of instruction ‘to unite all Mozambicans above diverse languages’ (Hall & Kidd 1978 pp 124), and they were aware that ‘education must prepare us to develop a new society and meet its demands’ (ibid pp 125). Education was thus seen consciously by FRELIMO to build a successful post-colonial society. However, despite efforts post-independence, the educational picture in Mozambique is still severely underdeveloped with a recent report citing an average years of schooling at 3.2 years of education amongst the population and high levels of illiteracy (Härmä 2016).

Section 2: The African learning crisis and Enko education

The educational situation in Mozambique presents echoes of a wider African ‘learning crisis’ (Oketch 2021) recently described as severe by the World Bank (The World Bank 2017). The argument put forward by Oketch (2021) is that the increased access to education brought about by EFA has caused a decrease in the quality of education in some African contexts, for example Malawi (Inoue & Oketch 2008, Härmä 2016). The crisis has arisen because schooling is not the same as learning. There has been improvement in access to schooling, but the quality of that learning is poor or declining with many children not meeting minimum indicators (Oketch 2021). Other authors cite country and school contextual factors to explain differences in learning outcomes for children in different African countries (Carnoy et al 2014). Studies show that a large proportion of students across Africa are 3 years behind where the curriculum expects them to be in terms of literacy and numeracy (The World Bank 2017).

Because of this perceived poor quality in public education many families have turned to the private sector. The education systems of low-income countries have witnessed increased privatization and the creation of education markets, through the rise of LFPS and an increase in Public-Private-Partnerships (Unterhalter et al 2020). Many authors have documented this trend (Tooley 2009, Härmä 2020) and there have been some large-scale studies examining the evidence of the effectiveness of private schooling (Day Ashley et al 2014). This is a global trend that affects many low-income contexts. Added to this learning crisis there has been an increase in the middle class of the Global South in recent decades who have been clamouring for more and higher quality education (Gardner-McTaggart 2014, Härmä 2016). One of the ways this demand for private schooling from an emerging middle class in Africa is being met is by private actors through for-profit education companies like Enko Education.

Enko Education is a for-profit educational company, inspired through the meeting of Cyrille Nkontchou, from Cameroon, and Eric Pignot, from France, at MIT Sloan School of Business in 2012. It has been funded by private and institutional investment finance from both inside and outside Africa including Proparco, Oiko Credit and Enko Capital (Materia 2021). The founders of the company worked in Management Consultancy and Finance in Europe before starting the company (according to their LinkedIn profiles). The founders were puzzled by the seeming lack of African students at their university, relative to students from other comparable regions like India (Allen 2020). Enko education was established with the mission to:

increase access to the world’s leading universities through high-quality international education.’ (Enko 2021).

To illustrate what Enko means by high quality international education, most Enko schools offer IB programmes as well as Cambridge International programmes. ‘World leading’ is an ambiguous phrase, but the fact that in 2017 a student from their first cohort gained a scholarship to study at Yale in the US (Allen 2020) serves to illustrate the company’s intent. Their aim is quite simply to help African students go to university in the Global North as this is where most world leading universities are located according to international ranking criteria. At an estimated 3000 USD cost per year in fees, Enko schools are catering for a growing middle class in Sub Saharan African countries. Currently they operate 16 schools across Africa with nearly 3000 students, with the first school being founded in Yaounde, Cameroon in 2014 (Enko 2021). Currently Enko has three schools in Mozambique: Enko Riverside which offers the IB DP; Enko Sekeleka which offers international A levels and Enko Benga which will offer programmes to both local and international students.

Section three: The IB

Whilst there are a variety of international curriculums available, here I will examine the IB which was officially founded in 1968. Its first programme, the DP aimed to provide a broad, balanced and challenging education that could promote international mobility by providing an internationally recognised university-entrance examination. The first DP exams were delivered in 1970, but its philosophical roots go back further (IB 2021b). The ideas that were embryonic to the IB can be traced back to the publication of a UNESCO booklet entitled “Do Education Techniques or Peace Exist?”by Marie-Thérèse Maurette (1948) who was the director of the International School of Geneva at that time. The concern for promoting peace continues to be reflected in the mission statement of the IB:

“The International Baccalaureate® aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.”

           (IB 2021c)

LanguageNumber of students taking exams
1st language exams2nd language exams
Table 1: African Language examinations taken by students in the May 2020 global IBDP Exams. Source IB Statistical Bulletin:

Today the IB provides four educational programmes for children from primary age all the way through to pre-university secondary level. All programmes are underpinned by a similar educational philosophy. At the time of writing there are 5,500 schools across 159 countries delivering educational programmes to nearly a million children (IB 2021a). Of these around 80 are in Africa or 1.5% of the total IB schools worldwide (Hill 2018). As of 2018 there were no government or state schools offering any IB programs in Africa despite attempts throughout the history of the organization for it to work with governments across Africa notably in Senegal and Ghana (Hill 2018). Uptake of the IB by African schools since the 1970s has been slow and not in line with the early vision of the founders who felt that the IB had something to offer the education systems of newly independent states in Africa (Bunnell 2016). Cost is identified as one factor for this slow growth (Bunnell 2016). IB programmes are expensive for schools to run and therefore most schools that offer the program are catering to communities that can afford this type of global education, so called traditional Type A international schools (Hayden & Thompson 2013). Other barriers to adoption of the IB by schools in Africa are cited as: lack of IB conferences and teacher support on the continent; the fact that the IB in Africa is managed from the Netherlands; and a Eurocentric bias in its pedagogical outlook and philosophy (Blunnel 2016).

The IB emphasises constructivist, learner-centred, and inquiry-based pedagogy being heavily influenced by the pedagogical approaches of John Dewey, A.S. Neil, Jean Piaget, Jerome Bruner, all of whom were influential educationalists in the early to mid-20th century (IB 2021b). These principles are at the core of all IB programmes and are highly aligned to current global education policies. In addition to its core pedagogy IB programmes aim to be broad and have strong focus on languages. Students from around the world can take their DP subject exams (like maths, history or science) in English, French or Spanish and can study a variety of world languages as a first or second language. It is also possible for schools to request language exams for languages that may not have a large representation globally. Table 1 shows the number of students who took first or second language exams in each African language available in the May 2020 DP exams.

Section four: Underdevelopment

In the first three sections I have examined the colonial and post-colonial education system, the rise of private education in low-income contexts and the IB. In this section I will use the theoretical framework of underdevelopment as described by Rodney (2018) to analyse these trends.

Africa, taken as a whole, has been drastically underdeveloped by its historical interactions with Europe, according to Rodney (2018), who describes how the pre-colonial trading relationships between Europe and Africa, served to widen what was only a narrow economic gap initially around 1500 into a chasm by 1870. It is claimed that these trading relationships, which were focussed on the exportation of human beings from Africa, served, in the main, to stall the development of African societies from this point on. Several reasons for this stalling are claimed, but primarily it was the forced exportation of human labour, which is the foundation of development, that was the keystone of underdevelopment. These relationships also corroded social relationships within African societies.

Rodney (2018) contends that because of the stagnation of development in Africa through pre-colonial trade, European imperialists were able to invade and dominate the African nations in the colonial period. Education was seen as necessary to change the population to accept colonial administration, as discussed earlier. Education during colonial times, developed an administrative middle class in many countries, who had vested personal economic interests in keeping the economic relationships established between the colony and mother country intact. As Wa Thiong’o (1986) writes: ‘By education children are brought up in the culture, values and world outlook of the dominant class which may or may not be the same as the class of their birth and family. By choice they may opt for one or the other side in the class struggles of their day’ (ibid pp 104). This policy has been documented in Mozambique by the creation of assimilados despite the Portuguese being less successful in this than the British or the French. Writers like Fanon (1961) described how, following the liberation movements across Africa, the stage would be set for a new relationship: neocolonialism. In neocolonialism Fanon (ibid) describes how ‘the former dominated country becomes an economically dependent country’(ibid pp 77). He goes on to write that ‘the colonies have become a marketthe important thing is not whether such-and-such a region in Africa is under French or Belgian sovereignty, but rather that the economic zones are respected’ (ibid pp 51). After independence and in the neocolonial period, the ruling political elites who have been educated under the colonial system have more in common with European interests and less with their countrymen. Fanon describes these political elites as ‘spoilt children of yesterday’s colonialism and of today’s national governments, they organise the loot of whatever national resources exist’ (ibid pp 37).

The adoption of the IB by Enko schools in Mozambique sits in this historical narrative and has implications that need to be considered in this light. From this starting point we will examine first how the Enko model of education fits into this narrative followed by the role of IB in supporting decolonization in societies like Mozambique.

Section 4.1 The Enko model

As presented, the Enko model of education, provides access to international education programmes, at a fraction of their normal cost, to African students to enable them access to universities in the Global North. International education programmes are adopted as these are seen to be of higher quality than the state education system and easily recognisable by admissions officers at universities in the Global North. Although there is a focus of getting access to university more broadly (not every African student in the schools can win scholarships to Yale), the stated intention is to gain admittance to ‘world leading’ universities. Although the term ‘world leading’ is appropriately ambiguous for marketing by implication this means access to universities outside of Africa. Afterall, according to data, only four African universities make it into the top 500 global universities, with highest placed being at number 226 (QS 2021). For the sake of this paper, I assume that by world leading, Enko means ‘outside Africa’. This model when analysed by the underdevelopment framework presents several issues.

The model of European finance providing investment to African children to attend universities in the Global North is reminiscent of situations described by Rodney (2018 pp 258) where colonial governments provided investment opportunities for their businesses, seemingly to develop Africa but which ultimately benefited the colonial state. In similar fashion with the Enko model, investment is provided to Africans to ultimately pay very high international student fees to relatively expensive universities in the Global North. Thus, investment ultimately goes to providing income for the education industry of the Global North. During the colonial period, trade from Africa to Europe and America was encouraged to the exclusion of trade between Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Colonial powers blocked development of machinery and skills within Africa in the colonial period to ensure that African industry did not compete with European industry. By focussing on world leading universities (as measured by western metrics) history is in danger of being repeated through modern trade in educational markets. This situation potentially leads to further underdevelopment of African universities and is in danger of creating educational dependency on Northern educational institutions. Dependency is increased because more Mozambicans become dependent on the northern education institutions.  In time these individuals may have a vested interest in maintaining this economic status quo.

Clearly capital is needed to run schools, but the profit motive shifts the overall aim of education away from the needs of individuals and their communities and to the needs of shareholders keen to recoup their investment. Afterall, these schools are creating and exploiting an education market, and aiming to make a profit; any excess that is made is not necessarily entirely reinvested back into them, as would be the case in a not-for-profit private school. For-profit schools have been known to close at short notice when the profits do not materialise, putting children, who may be halfway through a program, at a severe disadvantage, particularly if there is no alternative provider of the same program (Jones-Nerzic 2020). Making a profit is therefore the primary aim, education is secondary.

The financing of these schools through investment by Global Northern finance illustrates Fanon’s markets as quoted above and means that ultimately any profits made by these schools are taken out of Africa and back into the Global North. This clearly serves to underdevelop the community as money that is made by families in Mozambique for example, is used to pay schools fees, some of which goes into paying teacher salaries and other administrative costs but some of which finds its way back into the Global North via the repayment of loans and profits to non-African shareholders and finance. This ultimately leaves fewer financial resources available for the local communities than if these schools were run by the government or as not-for-profit entities. It could be argued that without the profit motive, investment would not be available to run these schools which provide education and employment. I would argue that every government has an obligation to provide quality education for all its citizens and investment in education should be provided through these channels for the ultimate benefit of society.

International education of this type may bring benefits to the individual, but the benefit to the wider Mozambican society is harder to ascertain. Individuals who reap the benefit of this education and move abroad are not likely return unless there are suitable jobs and opportunities for them to do so, a problem that schools like Enko do not seem to address in their mission. This model potentially serves to increase inequality in Mozambican society as the very poorest are excluded from these opportunities. By overlooking this, these schools could potentially contribute to continued underdevelopment of the society by encouraging the removal of human resources from Mozambique, creating an additional problem for the government: providing suitable opportunities to encourage diaspora to return and loss of intellectual talent needed in society. It seems unlikely that this model of schooling will help to provide Mozambique with more Doctors, nurses, and teachers. Here we see the tension between the needs of developing individuals and the need to develop a society. I argue that education of this sort is not helping to create a socially just society and will continue the legacy of European interaction with Mozambique as highlighted in the quote at the beginning of the essay.

Section 4.2 An international education

Some writers have highlighted the problems arising from transplanting IB programmes into non-Eurocentric cultural contexts. Drake (2004) examines the cultural dissonance and tensions that arises from the implementation of the IB in Hong Kong for example. The pedagogical approaches that the IB favours were developed in the context of liberal democracies where individual freedom is stressed. These educational philosophies reflect the societies that they were gestated in and may not always be appropriate in all cultural contexts.

Liberal individualism runs to the core of IB philosophy and educational approach, not surprising considering that the key educational thinkers who the IB based its approaches on were all European or American men and were developing their theories within the liberal culture of those societies. Thus, the drive for learner-centred, inquiry-based education where the individual student takes control of their learning has roots in this Eurocentric way of understanding the world. Not all societies place such emphasis on the individual and it is documented that pre-colonial education within African societies was generally based on the needs of the society not the individual. Education may be beneficial for the individual but if there are no jobs suitable for the individual to come back to then it won’t benefit society but instead continue its underdevelopment.

Not only is the IB Eurocentric in its educational philosophy but it is also Eurocentric in its content. There is some scope for African study in history and through African languages, but as a science teacher of IB curriculums I know there is little to no mention of African scholarship in these curriculums. The narrative of these subjects is firmly outside Africa. In the IB DP biology curriculum there is no mention of any African scientist or the contributions of Africa to the advancement of scientific knowledge. In fact, the guide for DP biology only mentions Africa once as, a side note. This lack of African perspective demonstrates a possible lack of involvement by Africans in the development of the content. For biology alone it is possible to find examples of content that could link well to the African context for example the development of knowledge in biochemistry from foodstuffs derived from Africa.

African writers have provided ample examples of the misfit of European based education programs under colonialism being imposed on African society (See Wa Thiong’o 1986, Rodney 2018 pp 300-304) and I do not have space to include them here. But these programs served to Europeanise the indigenous population and ‘it followed that those that were Europeanized were to that extent de-Africanized, as a consequence of the colonial education and the general atmosphere of colonial life’ (Rodney 2018 pp 304). If international education is really going to serve the interests of African societies, then it needs to become more culturally sensitive in terms of its philosophy and content, allowing more flexibility to and representation of local needs and wants in its educational approaches and providing more input from African scholarship across its content. Even in Enko schools which employ African teachers (not necessarily local teachers) the head of school is normally from the Global North. This individual is likely to have limited sensitivity to the issues raised here and will be steeped in the cultural atmosphere of international education as described above.

Finally, the IB provides access to its curriculum in the colonial languages of English, French, and Spanish, so that students can study their entire DP in either of these languages if they wish. It is interesting to note that even in Mozambique, FRELIMO decided on using the language of the coloniser in its educational system with the aim of uniting different groups. Other African writers have criticised the adoption of European languages as national languages by independent governments and emphasised the need to adopt local African languages. While the use of European language by governments may have been pragmatic, it is a symptom of the neocolonial relationship. If this is the case, the IB would do well to adopt an African language more broadly in its African schools.


I set out to explore the question “To what extent can low fee international education programmes, aid the process of decolonization in post-colonial Mozambique?”. My argument suggests that the model of for-profit low-fee international education programs risks continuing the process of underdevelopment and increasing dependency. It potentially does this is by making the better off and more educated members of Mozambican society dependent on higher education institutions located in the Global North. Society in Mozambique cannot fully decolonise until Higher Education institutions of quality are developed and economic opportunities for skilled individuals become available in the country. This requires investment from the government. In a sense we are witnessing the creation of education markets in Mozambique. It is my contention that these markets serve to strengthen the position of northern higher education institutions.

 Another way dependency is increased is through the removal of capital from Mozambique back to institutions outside of Africa. The for-profit model does not ensure that finance is contained within the communities the schools serve and it promotes loss of intellectual talent. If those individuals that can access higher quality education ultimately leave the country, then developing a robust, independent society in the long run is potentially hampered. These relationships mirror many of the situations of the colonial period of Africa as described by Rodney (2018). Ultimately the exportation of finance and human capital to the Global North from the Global South will not serve to build an independent Mozambican society in the long run.

Finally, the pedagogies encouraged by the IB are Eurocentric in philosophy and origin, while the content taught in many courses could be developed further to encompass more of the African local experience and context; I provided one example for one course but there is scope that this could be the case in other subjects. The involvement of more diverse viewpoints in the development of IB content would be one way that this organisation could aid the decolonisation process.


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  • Unterhalter, E, Ron Balsera, M, Dorsi, D (2020) What can be done? The Abidjan Principles as a human rights framework to evaluate PPPs in education in Critical reflections on Public Private Partnerships Gideon, J & Unterhalter, E Editors. Routledge.
  • Vincent, W. (2021a) To What Extent Could Low Fee Private Schools Aid Development in The Republic of South Sudan. EDPS0057: Education and International Development: Concepts, Theories and Issues. UCL IOE. Unpublished Essay.
  • Vincent, W. (2021b) Can The Expansion of Private Schooling in Developing Countries Serve To Improve Access, Efficiency, Quality and Equity in Basic Education: The Case of Primary Education in The Republic of South Sudan. SOCS0020: Economic perspectives on education policy. UCL IOE. Unpublished Essay

Developing a school wide Academic Honesty Policy II

Originally posted on January 14, 2019 @ 8:10 pm

In November I shared the first stages of my thinking about developing our academic honesty policy. In this post I want to follow-up, to document the most recent steps.

Last Monday, while trying to find my mind, which I appeared to have left somewhere between the UK and China, I lead the second inset session on academic honesty. Running inset when you are jet lagged isn’t fun – especially when all the team is equally as tired!

During this session, I followed a very similar model to October’s inset, using chalk talk as a way to elicit thoughts and ideas about the academic honesty policy.

I am keen not to simply impose my ideas about academic honesty on the teaching body but to encourage by in, I want to grow a policy as a team. It may seem like this is a little esoteric, but having a shared understanding of the why’s, what’s and how’s of teaching academic honesty is a really important part of what we do as educators. Understanding the issues of good practice in this area impacts on many other aspects of classroom practice and should engender a change in the way that we approach planning of units, lessons and tasks.

We started the session with a Quizlet live game of academic honesty terminology before moving on to practice the chalk talk again. I was inspired by my Christmas reading of Martin Robinson’s Trivium 21C and so started with the question:

–What is more important:

–developing students knowledge of facts or ability to critique and discuss facts?

Following from that we rotated around the three questions of:

  1. Why teach academic honesty
  2. How teach academic honesty
  3. When teach academic honesty

Finally, the team was asked to present the discussion points and ideas on the question sheets that they started with to the rest of the group.

Before ending the session with a call for volunteers to join a working party, I shared the results from the staff citation survey that I conducted in November. These results certainly gave me some food for thought as there were some good arguments presented for not having a centralised citation policy. Most staff thought it would be a good idea to have a centralised policy but the arguments against it were that essential that students should be exposed to a variety of different ways, no one way is right, students joining the school may have learned different systems and should be allowed to demonstrate that learning. All valid points and I must have admit shifted my thinking on this one a little.

Another advantage of decentralising the policy could be that departments take responsibility for agreeing a policy together and therefore think about and implement a procedure that is useful for them. Considering that only one member of staff has taken me up on my offer to form a working party to develop a policy, this could be another avenue for ensuring buy in to the new policy. I may ask HODs to formulate a policy and to let me know what system they are going to teach to ensure that we avoid the attitude of “let some other department deal with it”.

Now I need to think about how to take this forward so that we can launch a policy next August. I have now had staff contribute to the triage of where the school is at. Now we need to decide what to put in the policy and write it and I need to think of how best to achieve this, if teachers don’t volunteer to join the working group?


Learning in the age of Dataism

Originally posted on December 8, 2018 @ 8:15 am

Last week, I outlined in this post how modern schools and the modern western education system are built on the principles of humanism, showing how many of the modern assumptions in education are based on humanist claims. For example the roots of what is termed progressive education are based on post-romantic ideas about the beauty of individual experience, an idea that is also the underpinning of capitalism and democracy; two ideas that are practical manifestations liberalism, a creed of humanism. On the other hand ideas within the modern traditional approach to education are rooted in the idea that all humans are created equal and as such have rights to an equal education; an idea that has its roots in Communism, another humanist tradition. In this post I want to explore how the ideas of Noah Harari, written in Homo deus, may relate to the modern education system.

Harari contends that society at large may soon be leaving the age of humanism and entering an age of dataism. Dataism is defined as an emerging ideology in which information flow is seen as the supreme value. It is used to describe the mindset created by the emerging significance of big data.

Harari goes on to argue that Dataism, like any other religion, has practical commandments. A Dataist should want to “maximise dataflow by connecting to more and more media”[8], and believes that freedom of information is “the greatest good of all”. Harari also argues that Aaron Swartz, who took his life in 2013 after being prosecuted for releasing hundreds of thousands of scientific papers from the JSTOR archive online for free, could be called the “first martyr” of Dataism

Big data is only just beginning to make inroads in education and yet already we are seeing its potential. One of the areas that I have begun to witness this is in university guidance. All ready platforms are springing up that aim to utilize big data to help students make sense of the options available to them. Companies like BridgeU use algorithms to help locate universities and courses based on student preferences. Information flow here is already quickly becoming the supreme value and will allow individuals to make slicker, more efficient, choices, perhaps with a lot of time saved to boot. On one hand, this appears to be at odds with the individual focus of human university counseling. Indeed some colleagues have told me that they prefer the platforms, like Unifrog, that have less of a data driven, algorithmic, inhuman agenda. But I actually think that these systems have the potential to improve the lot of many individuals by freeing up time and making research on an overwhelming range of options more focussed. Sometimes less is more.

Elsewhere, big data is behind standardised testing programmes like those administered by CEM and the success of many new pedagogical applications that aim to help to apply scientific findings of learning to course material like the textbooks developed by Kognity.

On the face of it, information flow as a supreme value could seem to be at odds with the current paradigm of education: humanism. Isn’t it the love of more data that can drive poor interventions in schools, like when schools require more frequent testing and measurement of progress, so that students and teachers alike are pressured into making decisions to maximise progress? Often these interventions come at the demise of learning, causing poor behaviours like teaching to the test and cramming. Or how about when teacher spend hours agonising over data collection and data entry instead of planning the next teaching sequence?

Schools love data. Whether it is data on student progress or on student performance, teachers and senior managers love it. However, in some ways many schools have gone through the dataism paradigm already, and come out the other side. The debate, in the UK at least, is shifting away from purely data driven measures of progress to measuring quality of education, by including curriculum measures, something far more qualitative than quantitive. While schools love data they are also fundamentally humanistic in nature. Whatever the motivations of educators have been historically, education is an affair of the human experience. It is a someone who is being educated. It is a someone who is having their mind and thinking patterns altered in someway.

In a sense, though, knowing is data flow. While information and knowledge are not the same thing, knowing relies on using information. It is how the mind works with information that results in knowing. And so, if society were to progress into an age where data would reign as the supreme good, education would still be able to maintain its focus on the individual experience.

Harari analyses human history through the idea of dataflow, the new emerging modern value. He  writes that “the crippling thing about religion is that it reduces data flow“. By this he means that modern religions, are not innovators in religious experience. They are conservative and restricted by holding onto old and outdated traditions and values. I know this first hand. Growing up in my evangelical family I was not allowed to read books by David Hume because he was a “humanist”. This conservatism restricts knowledge transfer to and development within the individual, thus from a dataist point of view: religion restricts dataflow.

Schools, then, could well be institutions that, through learning of knowledge, promote dataflow. Education could develop a dual purpose, the traditional humanist purpose of educating the individual for their benefit or societies, and the modern purpose of ensuring that dataflow is maximised and made efficient through the education of individuals as producers and consumers of data.

If this is right, perhaps this is more cause to be concerned with the fad of 21st century skills. In this previous post I partially outlined why there is no such thing as generic skill acquisition. Real 21st century skills will require lateral thinking, stress management and an ability to see the big picture as well as know the details and have expertise. All of this requires knowing. The more you know, the easier it is to learn more. Yes, humans may never be able to outcompete computers for what they can know but that doesn’t mean we should give up learning. Actually we need to give more careful thought to what our students do know.

One of the areas where dataism and big data may well come to play a larger role in the education system and also benefit the liberal philosophy of many schools is through personalised learning. The ability of big data, algorithms and artificial intelligence to tailor learning experiences to individual needs to is already being seen in a plethora of learning applications and websites that are adaptive in formative assessment and tailoring of content. I imagine that we will see a lot more of these tools becoming available in mainstream schools as we progress through this century.


Post 100: Learning in the age of Humanism

Originally posted on December 1, 2018 @ 10:30 am

In the UK, prior to the Renaissance, learning in schools mainly consisted of the trivium of grammar, rhetoric, and logic and the quadrivium of music, astronomy, arithmetic and geometry. Pupils were taught these to prepare them to progress on to the study of theology, law and medicine and education primarily served the church and state.

Following this, the ideas of humanism, the religion that replaces god with the experience of mankind, began to take their root in the philosophy of education, leading to the idea that education is a right for all and that is should be administered by the state to ensure that that right is gained by all. In the 19th century the three great humanist projects of Communism, Facism and Liberalism were born and in some way each has contributed to the modern humanist education agenda. In this century we are at the zenith of the age of humanism, with even modern religions adopting a humanistic outlook, according to the work of Noah Harari.

Modern schools and the modern western education system were built on the principles of humanism and many of the ideas in education make humanist assumptions about the individual. For example the roots of progressive education are based on post-romantic ideas about the beauty of individual experience, an idea that is also the underpinning of capitalism and democracy; two ideas that are practical manifestations of the philosophy of liberalism. On the other hand ideas within the traditional approach to education appear to be rooted in the idea that all humans are created equal; an idea that has its roots in Communism, another humanist tradition.

Schools today are very much humanist institutions. But many educators today are confused on this front. Hence some fight against factory schooling, using the factory as a metaphor for an education system that is dehumanised. It was humanist ideas that led to an education system that prepared indivduals for an industrial society. It was humanist ideas that demanded that everyone had the right to an education. It was humanism that led to the organisation of state run schools. Factory-like in that they were exposing lots of different people to ideas that generations before had not had the luck or rights to access. Factory-like, in that this is an efficient model of mass production. Mass production of more (compared to their parents) knowledgable citizens. The irony here shouldn’t be lost on you. It’s ironic that it was ideas tied to liberalism that made the industrial revolution possible (Governments and Businesses needed to care about the individual in a way that they just didn’t need to before) now serve as a metaphor as to why schools are perceived by some as being dehumanising.

Really, the confusion here is due to a misunderstanding of history and ideas. Educators who use the factory as a metaphor don’t understand their history and the world view is informed more by liberal humanism the communist or fascist humanism.

Educators also get their modern politics confused. It surprises some that teachers who self-identify as being “trad” are labour voters. See this blog. They mistakenly think that anyone who advocates for traditional teaching must be a conservative. In his book Why Knowledge Matters E.D. Hirsch, draws a distinction between, community and knowledge centered education versus individual and skills centered education, arguing that the former acts to reduce inequality, while the latter cherishes the individual experience of the learner. Both are fundamentally humanist in their paradigm.

If the aim of traditional education is to reduce inequality by ensuring that ALL students receive the same knowledge centered education then it is easy to see why this is left leaning idea. Traditionally the left leans towards communist humanism, valuing equality over freedom, while the right leans towards liberal humanism valuing  individual freedom over equality. That is, of course, an oversimplification but it roughly works.

If you spend anytime on edutwitter or reading about educational history you won’t have missed this tension at the heart of the philosophy of education. This debate is often personal and vitriolic. Writers come down hard on each other, often forgetting that their opponent want the same thing as them: the best outcomes for the individual. In this sense both of these opponents are humanist and believe in the humanist agenda. But a bit like the schisms in the Christian church that saw Catholics and Protestants burn each other at the stake over their differing interpretations of the same creed, modern day “philosophers” of education are happy to figuratively hang, draw and quarter their opponents for having slightly different views. Understanding this should be the basis of finding points of convergence in a debate.

The modern drive for personalised education is a manifestation of the principles of humanist liberalism and, in its present form, appears to conflict with the ideas of a community-centered education system whose aim is to reduce inequality. To my mind it is educational equivalent of “organic” farming, it market’s itself very well but is hard to scale up and is incredibly inefficient in its resource consumption.

In my next post I want to explore how personalised education may fare as we move deeper into the 21st century. Everyone assumes that this is the way we are going as an education system, but is it. In his books Harari writes about Dataism, and how this new philosophy may end up replacing humanism. I am interested in thinking about what this may mean for the modern education system.

Teaching & Learning

Developing a progression model for IBDP biology

Originally posted on November 24, 2018 @ 4:00 pm

I recently completed Daisy Christodolou’s “Making good progress?”. You can see my notes here. In the final chapters, after presenting an argument building up to this, she outlines the key aspects of what she terms a “progression model”. In this post I want to line up some ideas about what this may look like in delivering the IB DP Biology course.

In her book Christodoulou suggests, and I agree, that to effectively help students make progress we have to break down the skills required to be successful in the final assessments into sub-skills and practice these. This is a bit analogous to a football team practicing dribbling, striking or defending in order to make progress in the main game.

In the book she also stresses the difference between formative and summative assessments, what they can and can’t be used for respectively and why one assessment can’t necessarily be used for both.

A progression model for biology

A progression model would clearly map out how to get from the start to the finish of any given course, and make progress in mastering the skills and concepts associated with that domain. In order to do this we need to think carefully about:

  1. What are the key skills being assessed in the final summative tasks (don’t forget that language or maths skills might be a large component of this)?
  2. What sub-components make up these skills?
  3. What tasks can be designed to appropriately formatively assess the development of these sub-skills or, in other words, What does deliberate practice look like in biology?
  4. What would be our formative item bank?
  5. What could be our standardised assessment bank?
  6. What are appropriate summative assessment tasks throughout that would allow us to measure progress throughout the course?
  7. What could be our summative item bank?
  8. How often should progress to the final summative task be measured i.e. how often should we set summative assessments in an academic year that track progress?

Key skills in biology

This is quite a tricky concept to pin down in biology specifically and in the sciences in general. What skills exactly are kids being assessed on in those final summative IGCSE or IBDP/A Level exams. I haven’t done a thorough literature review here so currently I am not sure what previous work has been in this area.

However,  I would contend that most final written summative exams are assessing students conceptual understanding of the domain. If this is the case then the skill is really, thinking and understanding about and with the material of the domain. Students who have a deeper understanding of the links between concepts are likely to do better.

In addition, those courses with a practical component, like the IBDP group 4 internal assessment are assessing a students understanding of the scientific process. While it may seem like these components are assessing practical skills per se, they only do this indirectly, as it is the actual written report that is assessed and moderated. To do well the student is actually demonstrating an understanding of the process, regardless of where their practical skills are in terms of development.

Indeed if we look at the assessment objectives of IBDP biology we see that this is very much the case. Students are assessed on their ability to: demonstrate knowledge and understanding and apply that understanding of facts, concepts and terminology; methodologies and communication in science etc.


How can we move students to a place where they can competently demonstrate knowledge and understanding, apply that understanding as well as formulate, analyse and evaluate aspects of the scientific method and communication.

The literature on the psychology of learning would suggest breaking down these skills into their subcomponents. This means we need to look at methods that develop knowledge and understanding from knowledge. Organising our units in ways that help students see the bigger concepts and connections between concepts within the domain will also help. For more on this see my previous post here. I think that understanding develops from knowledge.

I recently read that Thomas Khun claimed that expertise in science was achieved by the studying of exemplars. Scientific experts are experts because they have learned to draw the general concepts of the specific examples.

Useful sub-skills would be:

  • Fluency with the terminology of the domain
  • Ability to read graphs and data
  • Explicit knowledge of very specific examples
  • Explicit knowledge of abstract concepts illustrated by the specific examples
  • Ability to generate hypothesis and construct controlled experiments

Deliberate practice in biology

Thinking about these sub-skills, then, we can see what may constitute deliberate practice in biology and thus what would make useful formative assessments within the subject.

Fluency with the terminology can be gained through the studying of terminology decks like those available on quizlet. In addition, the work of Isabel Beck. Suggests that learning words isolated from text is not that helpful to gaining an understanding of those terms. To gain this, students need to be exposed to these words in context. Therefore there is a lot to be said for tasks and formative assessments that get students reading. Formative assessments could then consist of vocab tests and reading comprehension exercises of selected texts.

Reading and interpreting data can be improved through practice of these skills. This is an area where inquiry alone won’t help students make progress. Students need to be shown how to interpret data and read tables and graphs before making judgements. Ideally, in my opinion they should do this once they have learned the relevant factual knowledge of a related topic. Formative assessments focussing on data interpretation should therefore come a little later once students have covered a bulk of the content.

To build up conceptual understanding, students need to be exposed to specific examples related to those topics as I outlined in this post. Tests (MCQs) that assess how well students know the specific details of an example could be useful here to guide learners to which parts they know and those they don’t.

Following this we can begin to link examples together to build knowledge of a more abstract concept. Concepts can then be knitted together to develop the domain specific thinking skills: thinking like a biologist.

Formative assessments

Formative assessments could take the form of MCQs but as outlined above, vocab tests, reading comprehension activities, and other tasks may well have their place here.

Summative assessments for measuring progress

I am now thinking that to truly assess student progress against the domain, individual unit tests just won’t cut it. As Christodolou argues, summative tests exists to create shared meaning and do that need to be valid and reliable. Does scoring a 7 in a unit test on one topic of an 11 topic syllabus mean that the student is on track to score a 7? Not necessarily. Not only is the unit test not comparable to the IB 7 because it is only sampling a tiny portion of the full domain, but the construction and administration of the test may not be as rigorous as that of the actual IB papers.

Clearly it isn’t ideal to use the formative assessments described above as these are nothing like the final summative assessment of the course, plus their purpose is to guide teaching and learning, not to measure progress.

I would argue that summative assessments over the two-year course should use entire past papers. These past papers sample the entire domain of the course and performance against them is the best method of progress in the domain. A past paper could be administered right at the start of the course to establish a base line. Subsequent, infrequent, summative tests, also composed of past papers could then measure progress against this baseline.

Why should summative assessments use past papers? What not use unit tests? Unit tests, aggregated, is not the same thing as performance on a single assessment sampling the whole domain. They cannot produce the same shared meaning as an assessment that samples the entire domain. In addition the use of many single unit, high stakes tests will cause teaching to the test as well as much more student anxiety. Instead lots of formative testing and practice of recall should help to build students confidence in themselves.