International Aid Activities in Mathematics Education in Developing Countries: A Call for Further Research

Year: 2003

Author: Atweh, Bill

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Elsewhere (Atweh, Clarkson & Nebres, in press), I have argued how Australia’s stance on education and international relations has changed considerably during the last 50 years of the 20th century. In the 1950s and perhaps 1960s, most international students were on Australian government scholarships of one type or another. One prominent source of scholarships was the Colombo Plan for Cooperative Development in South and South East Asia (now extended to the Pacific). This role included the sponsorship by the Australian government of international students to study at Australian universities. As the number of both sponsored and private international students studying in Australia increased, the government introduced a fee for international private students. This commenced at a rate of 10% of the cost of the tuition, and gradually escalated to reach about 55% of the cost of tuition by the late 1980s. However, in the mid-1980s there was an increased emphasis on the role of higher education as an income generator for Australia. Back, Davis and Olsen (1996) described this as a shift from “educational aid” to “educational trade” (p. 7). By 1990, the educational subsidies had all but ceased. Currently, there is an ever-increasing dependency in many Australian universities on international full-fee paying students and overseas consultancies as important contributors to their revenue.

However, the Australian government has maintained a limited commitment to aid to some Asian countries administered by AusAID. In a policy statement issued by the Minister for Foreign affairs (AusAID, 1996), Australian foreign aid will have an “increased emphasis on the development of the education sector in partner countries, particularly in the area of basic education and vocational and technical education” (p. 3). The policy acknowledges that: “[e]qual access to primary education is a fundamental human right” (p. 8) and that “primary education is a sound economic investment in both the interests of the individual and the nation” (p. 8).

Of interest here is that often these sometimes multimillion dollar projects have an internal component for their evaluation. However, very little academic research is conducted on this aspect and reported in the international literature. This perhaps illustrates the practice and discourse in many universities in Australia of separating research, as a means for generating theory and knowledge, and consultancies, mainly for generating income or as redistribution of knowledge.

Here I argue that, given the ever-increasing international collaborations and widening phenomena of globalisations (Atweh & Clarkson, 2001) of many areas in mathematics education, it is essential that these programs are critically reflected upon and are put under the critical gaze of research. Further, they should be analysed in conjunction with the views, expectations and values of the local mathematics educators if such collaborations are to avoid becoming another form of cultural imperialism that do not contribute to the capacity building of the recipient countries. This paper discusses findings of the conduct of a study in the Philippines during the early months of 2003. It discusses some views and reflections by a group of leading mathematics educators in the Philippines about the patterns and effects of international and global activities in mathematics education in their country. It also discusses two types of international collaborations between the Philippines and overseas countries. It is not the intention here to evaluate the two projects, but to use them to raise some questions for further research.