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The ABCs of Development: Conferences Focus on Decentralization; Markets, Governance and Equity


French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin

Panelists at the Europe ABCDE, including World Bank President James Wolfensohn, World Bank French Prime Minister Jospin, Europe VP Jean-Francois Rischard, and World Bank Sr. Vice President and Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz

World Bank Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz (r) confers with fellow panelist

Panelists leave the conference

Education is a high priority in Latin America

The current trends toward decentralization in Latin America could potentially have a positive impact on education. But while there has been some increase in access to schools, there is little evidence of improved quality of primary education, according to a report by the Bank's Human Development Specialist in the region, Donald Winkler. 

The report is part of a Bank paper, Beyond the Center–Decentralizing the State, presented at the Annual Bank Conference on Development in Latin America and the Caribbean, which concludes today. The meeting, in Valdivia, Chile, is co-sponsored by the Chilean Ministry of Finance.

Studies suggest that scholastic achievement in the region ranks below East Asian countries and slightly above those of sub-Saharan Africa. As the report points out, low quality is also reflected in high rates of repetition and dropout. (According to UNICEF, while net primary enrollment in the region is above 90 percent, around 75 percent of children do not reach grade five.) Poor basic education constrains the quality of higher education and threatens the region's capacity to compete economically with the rest of the world.

So far decentralization in the region has extended mostly to local government but not to the schools themselves, and decentralization efforts have been driven by politics. The report calls for more decisionmaking power, control over resources and accountability for school performance to be given to school directors and school councils, as well as for a basic shift in focus toward quality of primary schooling and an emphasis on evaluation of schools' performance.

"Establishing responsibility for results provides the incentives necessary for sustained educational improvement," says Winkler.

Meanwhile in Paris, economists and policymakers attending the first Annual Bank Conference on Development Economics to be held in Europe continued to look at issues of governance in an age of globalization, debt reduction and corporate governance reform.

On Monday, Bank President James D. Wolfensohn welcomed the Cologne debt relief agreement but stressed that there was much more to be done, both to ensure that the new initiative does not drain already low levels of development assistance and that any debt relief be effective in reducing poverty.

In his comments, Wolfensohn pointed out that traditional development policies are failing to reduce poverty and in recent financial crises have in some cases exacerbated the problems. He said that poverty is, in fact, on the increase, not the decrease, which necessitates a change in thinking that considers health, education and environmental issues equally along side financial ones.

Speaking to the press Tuesday, World Bank Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz also expressed concern that funding for debt relief not be diverted from other important development commitments, emphasizing in particular Bank support to agricultural research that is fundamental to maintaining the world's food supply.

For more on the ABCDE Paris conference, visit and for more on ABCD conference in Valdivia, click here.

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