New directions in educational planning: Looking back, and looking ahead

05 June 2023


Marc Bray, former director of IIEP and Raymond Wanner, fomer Chairperson of the IIEP Governing Board in 2007.

This article was written by former IIEP Director Mark Bray. 

Reflecting on IIEP's 60th anniversary causes me to look back, particularly to revisit the 2011 book published by IIEP that I co-edited with NV Varghese. It is entitled Directions in Educational Planning: International Experiences and Perspectives. The book drew on papers presented at a 2008 symposium organized in honor of the work of Françoise Caillods, who after nearly four decades of service in and from IIEP retired in 2008. The symposium was an opportunity to reflect on past developments in educational planning, analyze changes in the present, and learn lessons for the future. Now this 60th anniversary stimulates a similar and updated reflection.

The Preface to the 2011 book recalled Volume 1 in the IIEP series Fundamentals of Educational Planning . That volume was written by the Institute's founding Director, Philip H. Coombs, and entitled What is Educational Planning? . Coombs had noted that educational planning was far too complex to be encased in a definition valid for all time. Even in that era, Coombs remarked (p.24):

“Planning that merely serves as a strategy of linear expansion will no longer do.” He added that “planning must now serve a strategy of educational change and adaptation”, and that this required “new types of planning concepts and tools that are only now taking place”.

Within the 2011 book, Françoise Caillods recalled a 1988 workshop in which she had played the lead role. The event was organized for IIEP's 25th anniversary and focused on the prospects of educational planning. During that era, Caillods noted in the 2011 reflection, the role of the state was challenged, new management paradigms were strengthening, and revolutions in communication technology were radically affecting levels and structures of employment. These factors, she observed, contributed in that era to a “loss of faith in educational planning.”

Yet Caillods then highlighted adaptations and evolutions, noting especially the impact of the 1990 World Conference on Education for All (WCEFA) in Jomtien, Thailand, and the 2000 World Education Forum (WEF) in Dakar, Senegal. These and associated international interventions and commitments, she stated (p.292), “helped considerably in restoring the status of educational planning.” Never before had so many plans been prepared, and planning processes became much more participatory.

However, in the least developed countries, Caillods suggested (p.294), the shift was “from no planning to too many plans”; and in more advanced countries, national plans had been replaced by multi-year programs and projects. Indeed, Caillods added (p.295), in that context “it looks as if the market prevails with minimal strategic operation at the national level”, although educational strategies were being developed at supranational levels by such bodies as the European Union.

The calendar has advanced a dozen years since the 2011 book, raising the question what the years have brought. Particularly striking for the IIEP mandate have been the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set in 2015. The SDGs have a target date of 2030, which places us currently at the mid-point with awareness of both advances and shortfalls in progress.

Alongside have been the disruptions of COVID-19, political shifts of various kinds, stronger awareness of climate change, and further technological advances that have significantly altered channels for communication and will further re-engineer dimensions of employment.

Within this evolving scenario, the concluding remarks (p.307) of the 2011 book remain valid. The book noted that “probably the strongest certainty is that the nature of educational planning will continue to change.” The paragraph continues by observing that at a technical level, new tools would become available and that at a conceptual level new opportunities and challenges would arise. “However, the field is likely also to have strong continuities, and to build on the foundation set by IIEP as an institution together with its counterparts in different international, national and sub-national locations.”

Ending on a personal as well as historical note, I add a picture of myself (left) with Raymond Wanner (right), who was then Chairperson of the IIEP Governing Board. The occasion was the 2007 naming of the Coombs Room on the top floor of the IIEP Paris office. Coombs' photograph is in the center of the picture. He would be rightly proud of the way that the Institute has contributed over the decades to international, national, and sub-national development; and the Institute can be proud of the way that it has led and adapted in evolving circumstances to fulfill and extend the vision that Coombs had in mind. 

This article was written by Mark Bray,  whose personal contact with IIEP dates from 1975 when he was a Master's student at the University of Edinburgh (UK), researching universalization of primary education in Nigeria. His IIEP links developed in the 1980s and 1990s, and in 2006 he became the Institute's eighth Director. He held the post until 2010, on leave from the University of Hong Kong (HKU). Since his return to Hong Kong, he has held the UNESCO Chair in Comparative Education at the University of Hong Kong