Worlds of Education

Photo: Alberto César Araújo/Amazônia Real | Indigenous peoples of the Amazon march in Manaus, Brazil
Photo: Alberto César Araújo/Amazônia Real | Indigenous peoples of the Amazon march in Manaus, Brazil

Decolonising education: sovereign and fiscally-just budgets for public education

published 26 June 2023 updated 29 June 2023
written by:

Decolonising education financing – the theme of this year’s Global Action Week for Education – rests on decolonising the very concepts of development, state management, public policy, working relationships, pedagogical approaches and collaboration between peoples and their governments.

For education unions in Latin America, education must be financed from the public coffers, with resources that are free from conditionalities and pressures from non-education interests, such as groups that trade in education, financial speculators and non-state bodies or for-profit organisations.

Why is the education union movement a decolonial movement?

Colonialism is part and parcel of the capitalist, patriarchal and unequal system we are fighting against. It is power politics based on extraction, exploitation and racism. Colonialism is not limited to establishing political, economic and military control over a nation or country but also establishes a ‘hierarchy’ of knowledge and beliefs, disregarding the productive, socioeconomic, cultural, religious, spiritual or sexual knowledge and practices, etc., of the countries and peoples it oppresses.

Epistemic hierarchy, or knowledge colonialism, is the belief that the knowledge of one nation or society is superior to that of another, and that it can therefore exploit and trample on other peoples and their territories, stamp out their social practices and shape their destinies. This knowledge supremacy is used to justify the horrors committed. It permeates every aspect of life – from governance to individual identity – and can be established as an accepted truth among the people who are oppressed, leading to their alienation and creating barriers to their recognition as people with rights.

"The Latin American Pedagogical Movement, backed by Education International Latin America, has been clear in denouncing that when an ‘assistentialist’ approach is taken to education policy, a colonial outlook is adopted, as students are not seen as people with a right to education but as beneficiaries of social assistance or charitable services."

Colonialism and neocolonialism are not only practices of the global North. They are also reproduced by the political and economic elites of the global South, who repeatedly accept and invite actors from the global North to define and design policies for the South, governing with what Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has called a “vocation to be a colony” (CFK, 2023).

One of the trade union movement’s constant tasks is therefore to deconstruct the prejudices and inequalities based on ethnicity, class and gender, as well as to continually put forward development proposals that are relevant to our contexts.

Neocolonialism in education?

The epistemic hierarchy that prioritises certain forms of knowledge and concepts of development over others is one of the main threats to strengthening public education. One only has to look at the plethora of loans for education reforms promoted by the World Bank, with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the recommendations of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the invasion of think tanks and consulting groups from European countries that ‘advise’ the governments of the global South about which teaching practices to favour or what content to cover in the syllabus and, not least, how to finance education systems. As with extractivist colonialism, in the field of education policy, single format and developmentalist approaches, dishing out the same educational and pedagogical ‘prescriptions’ for the whole of the Global South, are repeatedly imposed – and accepted, by some.

In Latin America, these single formula solutions have come with high levels of debt issued by the World Bank and the IDB to finance one and the same type of education reform. From curriculums limited to language and mathematics, standardised teacher and student assessments, the transfer of ministerial powers to private groups and ‘civil society’, performance-based budgeting and, more recently, the introduction of hybrid or blended learning, even in early childhood education. These same reforms are being replicated all the way from Mexico to Tierra del Fuego.

The World Bank is the world’s largest lender for education. In 2018, Latin America was the region with the highest level of education debt, receiving 43% of all funds credited to education (OLPE, 2018, P.41). Some of the key questions raised by this level of debt and the reforms implemented are: Who designed these reforms and how? Based on what knowledge and what concepts of development? Why have some ways of measuring achievements been prioritised over others? Is a rights-based approach being guaranteed with these reforms?

The Latin American Pedagogical Movement, backed by Education International Latin America, has been clear in denouncing that when an ‘assistentialist’ approach is taken to education policy, a colonial outlook is adopted, as students are not seen as people with a right to education but as beneficiaries of social assistance or charitable services [1].

The global North insists that mobilising resources, whether through grants or debt, is the solution for education. In 2000, in Dakar, it was calculated that an increase of US$8 billion a year was needed to meet the education targets of the Sustainable Development Goals. Fifteen years later, in Incheon, the Education Commission recommended mobilising US$71 billion between 2020 and 2030 to achieve the education targets of the 2030 Agenda.

But these monies seem to have driven reforms that were not relevant: in 1990, at the Jomtien conference, it was estimated that 80 million children were excluded from primary school; in 2000, the Dakar forum reported that 113 million students were not in the system, and, in 2015, Incheon acknowledged that the number of children without access to primary education had risen to 158 million (OLPE, 2018, b).

Why do we need a decolonial approach to education financing?

These cycles of reform and indebtedness that fail to respond to millions of children and young people excluded from the right to education may be the product of an epistemic hierarchy: the education authorities continue to follow uniform approaches that do not seem to address the need for educational inclusion.

A decolonial approach to education financing must support decolonial pedagogy and provide the education community, trade unions and governments with the tools needed to dismantle the structures, norms and values that serve Western colonialism and that, to date, have fuelled the economic drivers of inequality.

Decolonising education financing rests on ensuring that both the origin of the resources and their destination break with the cycle of colonial oppression and do not produce new cycles of racial, class, gender and knowledge hierarchies.

To meet these requirements, these resources must be generated by a fiscally-just tax system or solidarity funds that are free from conditionalities and control agendas. These resources must also support decolonial education policies, shaped by the knowledge and proposals of the peoples who hold the right to education.

For all these reasons, a decolonial approach to education financing must support a feminist, egalitarian educational policy that dismantles the extractivist economy and promotes peace, sovereignty and solidarity among peoples.


Education Commission. March 2022. Greater Share: A new fund investing in learning teams for learning transformation.

Escobar, Arturo. (2005). “Worlds and Knowledges Otherwise: The Latin American Modernity/Coloniality Research Program”.

Quijano, Aníbal. (2000). “Coloniality of Power, Ethnocentrism and Latin America”. Nepantla. Views from South, 1, 3, 533-580.

OLPE. (2022). Presupuestos educativos como nichos para la especulación financiera.

OLPE. (2018). Trends in Education.

OLPE. (2018). De Jomtien 1990 a Incheon 2015: 28 años desandando un derecho.

El giro decolonial: reflexiones para una diversidad epistémica más allá del capitalismo global / Santiago Castro-Gómez and Ramón Grosfoguel. – Bogotá: Siglo del Hombre Editores; Universidad Central, Instituto de Estudios Sociales Contemporáneos and Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Instituto Pensar, 2007.

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The Latin American Pedagogical Movement promoted by Education International Latin America has argued for trade union participation in the design of education policy, education management and the formulation of education budgets.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.