Megabucks Education Contractor in a War Zone
Several months ago, a very specialized education service provider was awarded a $62M contract to rebuild Iraq's educational system. The project is known as the Revitalization of Iraqi Schools and Stabilization of Education (RISE) program and it could be extended for two more years into a $157M deal. The war is over, and the winners have decreed universal enrollment by next Fall. If anyone can do it, Creative Associates would seem to be the one -- which is good thing, because they were the only bidder on the US AID contract. The non-competitive nature of the award received some attention at the time, mostly thanks to Senator Joseph Lieberman. But this indiscretion was the only aspect of the story that was covered at all.
No one commented on the cavalier attitude reflected in the language of the RFP:
- facilitate rapid universal enrollment and retention through quality improvement at the primary and secondary levels.
- produce more positive attitudes and behaviors toward schooling and improved practices in basic education
The conceit of it. The sheer social engineering audacity.
I don't know, maybe I'm wrong.
Maybe an educational system is just the buildings and the desks and the books and any old instructor at the front of the classroom
Maybe you can just develop a work plan and implement it in the best Quality Management style, and Voila! Iraq learns!
I want to believe. I want to believe that Creative Associates is doing the best anyone could for the children of Iraq.
But I can't help but be skeptical.
Skeptical that the terms of the RISE contract are even do-able and that the intent isn't merely PR (at best) or cultural imperialism (at worst).
I finally noticed and became interested in the project in June and wrote 50 Metric Tons of Learning, Parts I, Part II, and Part III for this blog. The series traces my discovery process and adds substance to my skepticism.
I am an Instructional Technologist, involved in international distance education. I am not an expert in rebuilding school systems after disasters and wars. Creative Associates is. In fact, they're handling the Afghanistan system as well! Last year, they successfully procured and distributed 50 Metric tons of textbooks!
That's why I find the recent Reuters News Report a little strange. Frank Dall of Creative Associates claimed at a public briefing that the war was really getting in the way of their work: "There is aggressive behavior towards us. In one instance we had car windows removed and smashed by pupils after we had checked out a school."
It is so hard not to be Extremely Sarcastic here.
How about if I just say -- you would've thought they'd have anticipated that kind of stuff going in. Fair enough?
I don't think this is a story about politics or war. It's a story about how to build a public education system, starting at the primary and secondary levels. Is it just another civil engineering and staffing project? Through the contracts it gives out non-competitively, the Bush Administration is proceeding as if it is.
I think that it has to be woven into the fabric of Iraqi society, which could never happen through any work plan devised by an invading force, particularly with paramilitary activity continuing on a daily basis and increasing. However, it has been announced and reported that the war is over, so it must be over and it must be time to get the schools running. Except that the press release does not describe reality.