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Change in the classroom

Can development banks reform education in their member countries?

Absolutely not, says Claudio de Moura Castro, a Brazilian economist and the IDB's chief education advisor.

Institutions such as the IDB and the World Bank can encourage reform, they can provide technical expertise, and they can finance reform projects. In short, they can add "kindling" to a reform "fire."

But only government, local officials, teachers and parents can actually light and sustain such fires, according to Castro.

During a recent speech at IDB headquarters, Castro reflected on lessons learned in two decades of observing and participating in education reform projects in several Latin American countries.

He said the failure of many education reform projects can be traced to a few basic mistakes that appear obvious in retrospect:

*Giving more priority to building schools than to structural reforms, teacher training and textbooks.

*Not providing strong, well-trained managers at the grassroots level and political support at the top of education ministry hierarchies.

*Carrying out overambitious reform projects, backed exclusively by the top management or the executive branch of governments, that attempt to "hammer through" changes without the support of mid-level bureaucrats and teachers' unions.

Education projects supported by development banks have succeeded in cases where the reform process was already getting under way, impelled by strong leadership and local participation. "Banks should bet on the winning horses," Castro said. "Unless the customers are committed, you don't go anywhere."

Despite these limitations, Castro said development banks such as the IDB still play a vital role in preparing the way for reform programs. They do so by giving visibility to politically sensitive reform issues that local elected officials are hesitant to address, by placing conditions on loans in order to encourage the adoption of reforms, and by serving as a conduit for technical expertise that is often not available to government officials.

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