Transnational Education
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Thoughts, research, current events, and instructional models -- for accredited degree programs delivered internationally

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

50 Metric Tons of Learning, Part III

In its request for bids, USAID said the educational system in a post-war Iraq must "lay a foundation for democratic practices and attitudes among children and educators."

Creative Associates International. Inc. (CAII), which was the sole bidder (please see Part I) and will thus be laying that foundation, (please see Part II). This is what CAII does -- stabilization of post-conflict environments, with a focus on primary and secondary education.

How exactly does one get into that line of work, I wonder?

This is Transnational Ed at the highest level. Professionals from one country rebuilding the educational system of another country. I am certain that there is a helpful way to do this, an approach which facilitates and does not impose. I also have no doubt that there is a way to do it which controls the process by eliminating options and steering it in a preferred direction with money.

I don't know which way Creative Associates International, Inc. plays it. But I do know that the company is a survivor. According to the CAII Fact page, they have administered 400 contracts over more than two decades. They have handled major projects in the conflict or turmoil of Angola, El Salvador, Guatemala, Lebanon, Liberia, Montenegro, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Peru, Serbia, and South Africa. CAII has security clearance to handle classified work/information; no surprise there. If they are not intelligence agents themselves, CAII personnel must be accustomed to working closely with them.

CAII put itself in the position to win large government contracts with no competition by reliably serving the agenda of the people who hired them.

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A Green publication from Australia claims that, "CAI's past clients include the military junta that overthrew the elected government of Haiti in 1991, in a US-backed coup." If this is true, it raises questions about CAII's fundamental commitment to democracy, as opposed to a more narrowly conceived support for U.S. interests. Before examining the claim further, let's do a quick backgrounder on the early 90s in Haiti, starting with facts which can verified anywhere:

- December 16, 1990, Haiti held the first democratic elections in the country's history. Jean Bertrand Aristide, a Catholic priest, received 67 percent of the vote and assumed office on February 7, 1991.

- September, 1991, military personnel with financial backing from neo-Duvalierist sectors and led by Lieutenant General Raoul Cedras and Colonel Michel Francois surrounded the presidential palace, seized Aristide and sent him into exile.

- After he was expelled him from the country, Aristide's diaries and personal effects were searched, and the military investigation concluded that Aristide was a "psychotic manic-depressive with homicidal and necrophiliac tendencies."

It is not a verifiable fact, but most journalists regarded these charges as part of smear campaign conducted by the Junta in order to help legitimize their power grab.

Now for a far more speculative step. According to John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton, in their book "Toxic Sludge Is Good For You: Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry,"The junta transmitted these charges [i.e., the charges about Aristide] to the US news media through an array of hired lobbyists and PR representatives, including George Demougeot, who also represented a US apparel firm with an assembly plant in Haiti, and Stephen A. Horblitt and Walter E. Faunteroy of Creative Associates International Inc." CAII does have an office in Haiti and did in 1991. The company has been actively involved in projects there for years. None of this means that CAII participated in a character assassination campaign conducted by an illegal military government. It only means that it is possible and that it bears further research. And that maybe we shouldn't be giving out big no-bid contracts until we understand a little more about Creative Associates International, Inc.

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The Bush Doctrine, otherwise known as The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, takes the perspective that the best defense is a good offense. For all sorts of good-sounding reasons, the Doctrine allows the US and the US alone to take pre-emptive military action anywhere in the world. In this regard, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is a well-known advocate of "new military thinking" which relies on surprise, flexibility and precise munitions, to paraphrase U.S. General Tommy Franks, rather than overwhelming force. Win fast and start rebuilding immediately, in a manner which fits within parameters established by the victor.

Creative Associates International, Inc, is an enabler. Regardless of what you think about using this form of warfare as an explicit instrument of foreign policy, it is obvious that the overall package must include the right sort of folks to clean up after the main fighting is done. Why invade some place without a strong interest in a specific post-war scenario? Helping to achieve that scenario, which may or may not be democracy, is CAII's mission.

But it is also a humanitarian mission, even if some of the prevailing misery was created by the people who hire the humanitarian missionaries. I have had a hard time with this series of posts, because there is still a part of me that wonders why I can't just accept CAII as a successful and hardworking relief organization with its heart in the right place?

In the end, I think it is the audacity of the social engineering which most concerns me. Wars can be fought when the US wants to and can be won quickly and nearly painlessly. Then bridges are re-built (Bechtel), ports are re-opened (Stevedoring Services of America) -- why can't educational systems be hammered into place on the same fast track? Just draw up the work plan, have a crack Procurement Services Agency at your side, and do it.

This is the language of the RFP, note how blandly these monumental undertakings are stated:

- facilitate rapid universal enrollment and retention through quality improvement at the primary and secondary levels.

Universal enrollment and retention! They'd be leading the world.

- produce more positive attitudes and behaviors toward schooling and improved practices in basic education

- put in place a series of short-term interventions that will stabilize Iraq?s education system and get all children back in school

- coordinate with other entities engaged in textbook production, needs assessments, teacher training, and distribution of materials and school kits with textbooks.

I don't think educational systems are like bridges. I think that the industrial view of education reflected in these fast-track rebuilding programs is designed to turn out a product, a generic worker capable of gaining employment in the new info-tech world.

This is where I acknowledge that Jan Oberg came to similar conclusions before I did. I tried hard not to let his earlier writing influence me, but it's inevitable.

I liked it when he wrote: "It's not that I expect the American occupiers to introduce Paolo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed or the convivial de-schooling thinking of Ivan Illich. But there could have been a hint (about the underlying philosophy of learning) - provided, of course, that CAII does not see education as a purely technical, tooling problem, a standard package that can be air-dropped anywhere American interests are at stake and USAID funding therefore available.

CAII does see education as a purely technical, tooling problem. Maybe in the world they work in, it has to be that way. How can I talk about teaching models best employed after a civil war when I've never been anywhere near a civil war? For 62.7 million bucks I think the responsibility is CAII's to be considerably more transparent. What is Accelerated Learning and how is it actually implemented? Why don't they publish and share their methodologies with the instructional design community?

According to the Pew Foundation's Global Attitudes Project, distrust of the United States is increasing all over the world, especially in Islamic countries. You'd think that a transnational education company coming from a country that recently invaded their new clients would see that the burden is on them to demonstrate how their models work and how they show respect for the culture and values of their customers. Especially when they win big non-competitive contracts.

Hey, CAII! Are you creating something which is substantive and sustainable? Or are you dealing out lots of trivial learning objects that can be measured easily and represent through-put masquerading as results. Textbooks can be measured in metric tons, but learning cannot. What are you doing?

I issue you an invitation to The Instructional Technology Institute at Utah State University in late August. It is an international conference with distinguished academic and corporate representation. Come and present your pedagogy.

Help us make informed judgments.

posted by Dr. Nickel at 9:00 AM | Link | Comments

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Tom Nickel
TNE Lead Blogger
Guangzhou, PRC
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