The Ignorant Donor: A Radical Reimagination of International Aid, Development, and EducationReport as inadecuate

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Current Issues in Comparative Education, v13 n1 p29-36 Fall 2010

The logic behind international aid to development has typically centered on economics. Notwithstanding the variation in focus--from macroeconomic monetary and trade policies, to economic wealth programs aimed at creating jobs, to supply- and demand-side reforms--the central discourse on international aid has been dominated by a political economist's viewpoint. Steven Klees' article, Aid, Development, and Education continues to use an economic perspective by challenging some of the neoliberal economic assumptions made within the development industry since the 1970s. He offers a refreshing progressive alternative to the dominant neoliberal agenda and its institutions. His initial question--has such aid helped?--has a clear answer in all of the literature he reviews: no, aid has not been as effective as it could have been. But his call for a new architecture of international development derives from old foundations, reinforcing the established pillars of the economic development continuum--neoliberal, liberal, and progressive. Will a progressive development architecture produce a different outcome than that of (neo)liberalism without rebuilding the philosophical foundations of international aid? Is a reimagination of international aid along radically new philosophical lines possible? If so, what would it look like? As the development industry is becoming increasingly institutionalized as a science, business, and fashion--after all, anyone can now become development experts--these authors would like to challenge the very foundation on which the contemporary development architecture rests. Turning to an 18th-century French teacher named Joseph Jacotot, who attempted (albeit unsuccessfully) to reconceptualize education as an intellectual emancipation by implicating teacher expertise in perpetuating inequality, the authors ponder the possibility of a radical reimagination of international aid along similar lines. Instead of reinforcing the edifice of Western development expertise (seeking better best practices, identifying more efficient development methods, or mobilizing additional resources for international aid), perhaps what is really needed is an ignorant donor--a donor who enters the development scene without the baggage of international aid politics and the concerns of economic progress; who assumes an equality of intelligence in all stakeholders; and who sees empowerment, participation, and education as the ends in the process of international (and national) aid. (Contains 5 endnotes.)

Descriptors: Expertise, Economic Progress, Educational Change, Political Attitudes, Economic Development, Global Approach, Models

Teachers College, Columbia University. International and Transcultural Studies, P.O. Box 211, 525 West 120th Street, New York, NY 10027. e-mail: info[at]; Web site:

Author: Brehm, William C.; Silova, Iveta


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