Commonwealth Ministers Reference Book
 
 


Capacity building: tool for strengthening institutions
Fay Chung, Director of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) International Institute for Capacity Building in Africa (IICBA)

Definition of capacity building
Capacity building has been a key area of work over the past four or five decades in the Commonwealth. However, despite the monumental efforts to build up capacities, it is evident that in some countries, capacities are still low and the institutions responsible for professional training and for education may be woefully weak.

One of the reasons for this has been the concentration on training individuals rather than on strengthening institutions. Hundreds of thousands of individuals from developing countries have been trained both within their own countries and overseas in the past decades. A large proportion of these have migrated to industrialised countries. An estimated 21,000 Nigerian medical doctors are said to be in the United States for example.(1) Those who have remained at home may be unable to make a difference, and may in frustration join the brain-drain sooner or later. The reasons for the impotence of the intelligentsia and professional classes in many developing country are complex and cannot be properly analysed in this paper, but one common reason is the politicisation of appointments so that key positions are retained by party loyalists. By concentrating on the institutions charged with the tasks rather than on individuals, whatever their political loyalties, capacity building can ensure that the institutions themselves are strengthened.

Another reason for the weakness of institutions has been the emphasis by both countries and donors on capacity building as physical capacity, in particular in terms of construction of buildings and the provision of equipment. Many fine buildings have been constructed; obsolete and little used equipment can be found all over the developing world, but the activities and functions of the institutions may have been ignored. This emphasis on the hardware rather than on the software of institution building comprises another of the reasons why capacities remain weak.

Definition of institutions
Since this paper places emphasis on institutions, I shall try and define what is meant by the term. Institutions can be defined in two ways: firstly as the underlying and established objectives, values, processes, and procedures that are usually followed in the implementation of programmes; and secondly as the actual establishments in charge of the implementation of programmes, consisting of the personnel, their skills and experiences, their mission and activities.

'Institution' defined as conceptual and cultural superstructure
'Institution' as understood in the first sense covers the area of human institutions and their underlying values such as marriage, justice, human rights, property ownership, etc. These are the 'superstructure' of society embodying the cultural values of a society, and the established norms to be followed in both day-to-day functions as well as in longer term goals. 'Institutions' in this first sense are, on the one hand very stable, with the survival of customs and values for centuries, and on the other hand, always dynamic in that they are always adjusting to political, social and economic changes within the society. Moreover sometimes customs appear to be the same as centuries ago, but may have in reality totally changed their functions. An example of this is the bride price in traditional African society, with the passage of cattle being a way of cementing social relations. Today the bride price has acquired a more commercial value, linked to the legal and economic position of women.

'Institutions' defined as establishments
Institutions defined as 'establishments' include political institutions such as political parties and parliament; economic institutions such as banks, farms, industries and companies; religious institutions; educational institutions such as universities, colleges, and schools; and community institutions such as families and communities. These "establishments" have physical facilities, staff and functions. One of the most important of these institutions is government itself.

Combining both forms of institutions
Institutions usually incorporate both meanings of the word. Thus a parliamentary democracy has a physical existence, with personnel and functions clearly defined. But at the same time the institution of parliamentary democracy covers the underlying values and processes which are accepted by all those working within the system. Institutions become dysfunctional when there is no foundation of shared values and procedures, for example where feudal value systems are combined with a political democracy. Feudalism and parliamentary democracy are in fact contradictory institutions. These contradictions become evident when landless tenants are constrained to vote for their landlord in parliamentary elections. Because the tenants depend on the land for their livelihoods, they cannot afford to offend their landlord, even though the landlord does not represent their interests. This is one reason why parliamentary elections in Pakistan, for example, turn out to be less democratic than military dictatorships.

Education can also be seen as an institution in both senses: education comprises certain objectives, values, processes and outcomes. It can take place under a tree or through the internet. Educational institutions, in the second definition, are the actual establishments such as schools, colleges, universities, curriculum development centres, supervisory departments, etc.

Capacity building as institutional strengthening
Capacity building on the foundation of the two definitions of institutions would require an in-depth analysis of the underlying values as well as of the more technical processes. A purely technical solution, however excellent, will fail if it does not take into account the objectives and relationships which form both the foundation and the cement of that society.

Moreover individuals function within their institutional systems. Unless those systems value the new knowledge and skills that the individual brings home, the newly acquired capacities cannot be put into practice. Thus in building up capacities it is essential to look at the institutions themselves.

Moreover, the institutions themselves are dynamic. Individuals or groups of individuals may be able to transform their institution. However they may only be able to do so if they can persuade the majority of participants that change is beneficial. And they would need the moral, technical and physical capacities to bring about this transformation.

Building up critical mass within the institution, whether this critical mass is in terms of moral support or in terms of shared technical skills, is of critical importance in capacity building. Institution building and institution strengthening are therefore the keys to capacity building.

Capacity building of educational institutions
The UNESCO International Institute for Capacity Building in Africa (IICBA) was established to strengthen educational institutions working in teacher education, curriculum development, educational planning and educational management in Africa. It has begun its tasks by concentrating on teacher education institutions. Teachers are key personnel in any education system. They can provide either an archaic or an up-to-date form of education. They can foster traditional values or modern values. They can be technologically obsolete or on the cutting edge of technological innovation. The institutions in which they are trained are therefore key institutions.

Teacher education institutions in Africa vary in quality and experience. Some primary school teacher training colleges may concentrate on mother tongue literacy and numeracy. Teacher trainees may only have primary education or two years of secondary education. On the other extreme, some secondary school teacher training colleges may be offering university level courses which may have little link to the real life situation of their pupils. This may have been relevant at a time when perhaps four per cent of the age group had access to secondary education, but may be unsuitable at a time when countries have realised that modern forms of development require a much larger percentage at secondary school level.(2) Colleges may have limited access to up-to-date research and development in their disciplines. They may have little access to information and communication technologies.

Following a needs assessment of participating institutions, teacher education establishments have been linked through an internet based network. This network offers degree and non-degree level courses, mainly through distance education and short institutes. The intention is that colleges which wish to update in a particular area would allow all their staff to update over a period of five to ten years. Distance education offers the opportunity of massification of training, thus attaining critical mass within an institution. Moreover, combined with information and communication technology and short face-to-face sessions, distance education has the potential for improving the quality of the curriculum. In addition IICBA seeks to provide courses on CD-rom, the idea being that all the teachers in a school can participate in a course which they think is valuable.

Access to library materials is limited by high cost and low budgets in the majority of educational institutions in Africa. However at the age of the internet becoming a huge library, it is possible to provide access to public information through simple technologies such as videos, diskettes and CD-roms. The internet itself cannot presently be accessed by most educational institutions because of the low level of connectivity combined with high cost in Africa. However technological changes which will make internet affordable are likely to change the situation over the next decade.

Finally there are islands of excellence all over Africa and worldwide. These centres of excellence can, through the establishment of networks, provide services to sister institutions. An example of this is the use of the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) courses on distance education by Commonwealth universities through the Commonwealth of Learning in Vancouver. IICBA is also making these courses available to non-Commonwealth countries in Africa.

Electronic networks also allow joint programmes to be undertaken by institutions across the world. Thus laboratories in a developing country faced with the tremendous challenge of doing groundbreaking research without access to the sophisticated laboratories available in industrialised countries, can today work jointly to solve problems. The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Addis Ababa has, with the help of UNESCO, initiated an exciting partnership on agricultural research. Capacities in developing and industrialized countries can thus be improved, with research work becoming more relevant to real life problem solving.

Conclusion
Capacity building today needs to emphasise institution building and strengthening. It needs to aim as developing critical mass in order to be effective. It needs also to link up with sister organisations across the world in order to benefit from comparative advantages and up-to-date research and development. Electronic media offers the possibilities not only of electronic libraries but also of virtual laboratories.

Capacity building as strengthening institutions
Fay Chung, Director of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) International Institute for Capacity Building in Africa (IICBA)

A definition of capacity building
Capacity building has been a key area of work over the past four or five decades in the Commonwealth. However, despite the monumental efforts to build up capacities, it is evident that in some countries, capacities are still low and the institutions responsible for professional training and for education may be woefully weak.

One of the reasons for this has been the concentration on training individuals rather than on strengthening institutions. Hundreds of thousands of individuals from developing countries have been trained both within their own countries and overseas in the past decades. A large proportion of these have migrated to industrialised countries. An estimated 21,000 Nigerian medical doctors are said to be in the United States for example.(1) Those who have remained at home may be unable to make a difference, and may in frustration join the brain-drain sooner or later. The reasons for the impotence of the intelligentsia and professional classes in many developing country are complex and cannot be properly analysed in this paper, but one common reason is the politicisation of appointments so that key positions are retained by party loyalists. By concentrating on the institutions charged with the tasks rather than on individuals, whatever their political loyalties, capacity building can ensure that the institutions themselves are strengthened.

Another reason for the weakness of institutions has been the emphasis by both countries and donors on capacity building as physical capacity, in particular in terms of construction of buildings and the provision of equipment. Many fine buildings have been constructed; obsolete and little used equipment can be found all over the developing world, but the activities and functions of the institutions may have been ignored. This emphasis on the hardware rather than on the software of institution building comprises another of the reasons why capacities remain weak.

Definition of institutions
Since this paper places emphasis on institutions, I shall try and define what is meant by the term. Institutions can be defined in two ways: firstly as the underlying and established objectives, values, processes, and procedures that are usually followed in the implementation of programmes; and secondly as the actual establishments in charge of the implementation of programmes, consisting of the personnel, their skills and experiences, their mission and activities.

'Institution' defined as conceptual and cultural superstructure
'Institution' as understood in the first sense covers the area of human institutions and their underlying values such as marriage, justice, human rights, property ownership, etc. These are the 'superstructure' of society embodying the cultural values of a society, and the established norms to be followed in both day-to-day functions as well as in longer term goals. 'Institutions' in this first sense are, on the one hand very stable, with the survival of customs and values for centuries, and on the other hand, always dynamic in that they are always adjusting to political, social and economic changes within the society. Moreover sometimes customs appear to be the same as centuries ago, but may have in reality totally changed their functions. An example of this is the bride price in traditional African society, with the passage of cattle being a way of cementing social relations. Today the bride price has acquired a more commercial value, linked to the legal and economic position of women.

'Institutions' defined as establishments
Institutions defined as 'establishments' include political institutions such as political parties and parliament; economic institutions such as banks, farms, industries and companies; religious institutions; educational institutions such as universities, colleges, and schools; and community institutions such as families and communities. These "establishments" have physical facilities, staff and functions. One of the most important of these institutions is government itself.

Combining both forms of institutions
Institutions usually incorporate both meanings of the word. Thus a parliamentary democracy has a physical existence, with personnel and functions clearly defined. But at the same time the institution of parliamentary democracy covers the underlying values and processes which are accepted by all those working within the system. Institutions become dysfunctional when there is no foundation of shared values and procedures, for example where feudal value systems are combined with a political democracy. Feudalism and parliamentary democracy are in fact contradictory institutions. These contradictions become evident when landless tenants are constrained to vote for their landlord in parliamentary elections. Because the tenants depend on the land for their livelihoods, they cannot afford to offend their landlord, even though the landlord does not represent their interests. This is one reason why parliamentary elections in Pakistan, for example, turn out to be less democratic than military dictatorships.

Education can also be seen as an institution in both senses: education comprises certain objectives, values, processes and outcomes. It can take place under a tree or through the internet. Educational institutions, in the second definition, are the actual establishments such as schools, colleges, universities, curriculum development centres, supervisory departments, etc.

Capacity building as institutional strengthening
Capacity building on the foundation of the two definitions of institutions would require an in-depth analysis of the underlying values as well as of the more technical processes. A purely technical solution, however excellent, will fail if it does not take into account the objectives and relationships which form both the foundation and the cement of that society.

Moreover individuals function within their institutional systems. Unless those systems value the new knowledge and skills that the individual brings home, the newly acquired capacities cannot be put into practice. Thus in building up capacities it is essential to look at the institutions themselves.

Moreover, the institutions themselves are dynamic. Individuals or groups of individuals may be able to transform their institution. However they may only be able to do so if they can persuade the majority of participants that change is beneficial. And they would need the moral, technical and physical capacities to bring about this transformation.

Building up critical mass within the institution, whether this critical mass is in terms of moral support or in terms of shared technical skills, is of critical importance in capacity building. Institution building and institution strengthening are therefore the keys to capacity building.

Capacity building of educational institutions
The UNESCO International Institute for Capacity Building in Africa (IICBA) was established to strengthen educational institutions working in teacher education, curriculum development, educational planning and educational management in Africa. It has begun its tasks by concentrating on teacher education institutions. Teachers are key personnel in any education system. They can provide either an archaic or an up-to-date form of education. They can foster traditional values or modern values. They can be technologically obsolete or on the cutting edge of technological innovation. The institutions in which they are trained are therefore key institutions.

Teacher education institutions in Africa vary in quality and experience. Some primary school teacher training colleges may concentrate on mother tongue literacy and numeracy. Teacher trainees may only have primary education or two years of secondary education. On the other extreme, some secondary school teacher training colleges may be offering university level courses which may have little link to the real life situation of their pupils. This may have been relevant at a time when perhaps four per cent of the age group had access to secondary education, but may be unsuitable at a time when countries have realised that modern forms of development require a much larger percentage at secondary school level.(2) Colleges may have limited access to up-to-date research and development in their disciplines. They may have little access to information and communication technologies.

Following a needs assessment of participating institutions, teacher education establishments have been linked through an internet based network. This network offers degree and non-degree level courses, mainly through distance education and short institutes. The intention is that colleges which wish to update in a particular area would allow all their staff to update over a period of five to ten years. Distance education offers the opportunity of massification of training, thus attaining critical mass within an institution. Moreover, combined with information and communication technology and short face-to-face sessions, distance education has the potential for improving the quality of the curriculum. In addition IICBA seeks to provide courses on CD-rom, the idea being that all the teachers in a school can participate in a course which they think is valuable.

Access to library materials is limited by high cost and low budgets in the majority of educational institutions in Africa. However at the age of the internet becoming a huge library, it is possible to provide access to public information through simple technologies such as videos, diskettes and CD-roms. The internet itself cannot presently be accessed by most educational institutions because of the low level of connectivity combined with high cost in Africa. However technological changes which will make internet affordable are likely to change the situation over the next decade.

Finally there are islands of excellence all over Africa and worldwide. These centres of excellence can, through the establishment of networks, provide services to sister institutions. An example of this is the use of the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) courses on distance education by Commonwealth universities through the Commonwealth of Learning in Vancouver. IICBA is also making these courses available to non-Commonwealth countries in Africa.

Electronic networks also allow joint programmes to be undertaken by institutions across the world. Thus laboratories in a developing country faced with the tremendous challenge of doing groundbreaking research without access to the sophisticated laboratories available in industrialised countries, can today work jointly to solve problems. The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Addis Ababa has, with the help of UNESCO, initiated an exciting partnership on agricultural research. Capacities in developing and industrialized countries can thus be improved, with research work becoming more relevant to real life problem solving.

Conclusion
Capacity building today needs to emphasise institution building and strengthening. It needs to aim as developing critical mass in order to be effective. It needs also to link up with sister organisations across the world in order to benefit from comparative advantages and up-to-date research and development. Electronic media offers the possibilities not only of electronic libraries but also of virtual laboratories.


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