Rethinking the future of educational planning: understanding the geopolitical and social context

23 June 2023

This article was written by Jacques Hallak, former Director of IIEP-UNESCO, and internationally recognized expert on educational planning. He has helped shape education policies and promote access to quality education worldwide. In an exclusive interview for the Institute’s 60th anniversary, Jacques Hallak shared his thoughts on IIEP’s milestones and the path ahead.

 The approach and methods of regulating the education sector are being called into question by the irruption of data into all sectors of social and educational life, and the governance of the education sector becoming more fragile".

When IIEP was founded, one of its essential missions was to help the newly independent Member States of UNESCO achieve the goal of universal primary education by planning their education systems. The aim was to train national officials in the techniques and methods of educational planning. The East/West conflicts between the Western and Soviet countries, as well as their allies, gave rise to debates at UNESCO, particularly within the Executive Board, concerning imperative planning (the Soviet model) and indicative planning (the Western model, and particularly French). 

IIEP’s Governing Bodies, Philip H. Coombs, and Raymond Poignant were able to reassure stakeholders by clearly positioning IIEP within the framework of indicative planning and by emphasizing training in methods (demographics, school statistics, expenditure analysis, cost estimates, projections, and evaluation of the financing needs of education plans) for both international experts and national civil servants.

Recognized for its expertise, IIEP was entrusted with its first observable responsibility at the international level: the preparation of the working document for the World Education Conference held in Williamsburg, Virginia, in the United States.

IIEP’s key international interventions 

There have been many, but I will limit myself to three:

  1. The report on the World Crisis in Education had a great impact for several years. It was translated into many languages and inspired political leaders in many countries.
  2. The book Planning the location of schools: an instrument of educational policy, which was published in many languages, articulated the relationship between methodology and the implementation of education policies. The methods presented continue to inspire many countries. Since its publication over 40 years ago, IIEP has never ceased to offer training in this field.
  3. The book, Corrupt schools, corrupt universities: what can be done?, also translated into many languages, goes beyond the traditional distinction between industrialized and developing countries. This work helped to present a new perspective on the ways in which education policies are defined and the obstacles to their implementation and brought the sensitive subject of corruption to the attention of the international community. 

What lessons can be drawn?

Although meetings and other events on the future of educational planning were important, they were of little interest to anyone other than specialists in the field. On the other hand, the examples cited above were of interest to a wider audience for two key reasons: they were explicitly about educational policy and political action, and they used planning to redefine the international agenda.

In this respect, I had suggested to Federico Mayor Zaragoza, former Director-General of UNESCO, that the name of the Institute be changed to "Institute for Educational Policies". Mayor agreed, but I was unable to implement this change, because while I continued to run IIEP, a few months later I was appointed interim Director of the International Bureau of Education (IBE).

  1. The first lesson is that the starting point for reflection on the future of planning – and of IIEP – should be a diagnosis of the evolving of the global, political, economic, social, and cultural context, considering elements such as the environment, totalitarian regimes, etc., rather than planning methods.
  2. Regarding the second lesson, I think it is also important to reflect on the political challenges facing the education sector at the global level. Admittedly, the familiar issues of combating illiteracy, fighting all forms of discrimination (linked to gender, socio-economic groups, and ethnic groups), equity, efficiency, etc. remain as relevant as ever. However, our profession and the international community are currently facing a very serious environment, which poses major challenges for educational planning. 

To sum up, the approach and methods of regulating the education sector are being called into question by the irruption of data into all sectors of social and educational life; and the governance of the education sector is becoming more fragile, even in the most advanced OECD countries. It is no longer just a question of 'top/down' (centralized systems) or 'bottom/up' (participative or decentralized systems).

The path forward 

Based on the above, I would like to make three suggestions for the future.

  • Firstly, I suggest that the issue of data be placed at the center of the IIEP's work, as it renders obsolete some of the usual distinctions such as public/private, content/management methods/administration, examinations-competitions/other modes of regulation, etc.
  • Secondly, I suggest the systematic inclusion of civil society and sub-state institutions, in particular cities, alongside IIEP's usual partners such as governments and aid and cooperation agencies.
  • Finally, a World Conference on the Education Crisis should be organized in 2025, including representatives specializing in the issue of data, including private companies.