UNESCO: United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization

The Organisation


Héctor Lindo-Fuentes

Héctor Lindo-Fuentes (Ph.D. Chicago, 1984). Professor of History and Associate Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Fordham University.
President of the Commission of Accreditation of Higher Education Institutions of El Salvador.

- Weak Foundations: The Economy of El Salvador in the Nineteenth Century, (1990); (Choice “Outstanding Academic Book” 1991).
- Co-author (with Lowell Gudmundson) of Central America 1821-71: Liberalism before Reform, (1995).
- Co-editor (with Knut Walter), Historia de El Salvador, (1994);
- Comunidad, Participación y Escuelas en El Salvador, (2001);
- La Economia de El Salvador en el Siglo XIX (2004).

Selected articles and chapters:
- “Participación de la Comunidad y Capital Social en las escuelas” in Juan Carlos Navarro et al. eds. Perspectivas sobre la Reforma Educativa, (2000);
- “Balancing memory and ‘culture of peace’: writing a history textbook in El Salvador after a civil war” Internationale Schulbuchforschung, (1999);
- "Reflexiones sobre el Texto Historia de El Salvador", in Gustavo Palma, ed. Los Contenidos de los cursos de Estudios Sociales en el contexto de la Reforma Educativa. Aportes para el debate. Ponencias, (1999);
- “Community Organization, Values, and Social Capital in Panama,” with Maria-Valeria Junho Peña in the series “Economic Notes,” (1998);
- “Las primeras etapas del sistema escolar salvadoreño en el siglo XIX.” in Margarita Vannini and Frances Kinloch, eds. Política Cultura y Sociedad en Centroamérica Siglos XVIII-XX, (1998).

Professor Lindo-Fuentes has taught at the Universidad Centroamericana Jose Simeon Canas, El Salvador, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of California, Santa Barbara.
He is currently working in a book on the introduction of educational television in El Salvador.
“Educational Television in El Salvador: UNESCO and Modernization Theory in Action”

As poor countries are lured by promises of revolutionizing their educational systems by placing computers in every classroom, it is worth looking back at a previous effort to use the latest technology to boost education and modernize a so-called developing nation. In 1968, the government of El Salvador instituted an educational reform that had as its centerpiece the use of educational television. As students in every corner of the country received their math, science, social studies, Spanish and English lessons in the form of a centrally broadcast television program, classrooms teachers found themselves as partners of a television monitor. The partnership was seldom happy and the alienation of teachers was one of the causes of two major teacher strikes. The leaders of the strikes and the most combative union members played a prominent role in the country’s civil war of the 1980s. This paper analyzes the role of UNESCO in promoting educational television in El Salvador and the broader context in which the Salvadoran government decided to use television as a privileged tool in its educational reform program.

The Salvadoran educational television project was the sort of policy that UNESCO tirelessly promoted in the Third World in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Yet, it would be highly simplistic to assert that El Salvador adopted the new educational technology merely as a result of a persuasive effort from experts spreading best educational practices. The paper will analyze how UNESCO interacted with national and other international actors to implement the reform.

The adoption of educational television in El Salvador offers a case study in what Frederick Cooper and Randall Packard have called the “history and politics of knowledge.” It is the case of a social science theory that was sold to and implemented in a Third World country in the context of a highly complex sociopolitical reality. The paper shows how UNESCO’s conviction that educational television was a project worthy of promotion was based on the ideas (or ideology, as Michael Latham would say ) of the Modernization Theory promoted by intellectuals at Harvard’s Department of Social Relations and MIT’s Center for International Studies. Crucial in the link between Modernization Theory and Unesco advocacy of educational television were Henry Cassirer, who helped to shape UNESCO’s view on the promise of educational television, and Wilbur Schramm, a communications expert, prominent member of the network of intellectuals and policy makers that promoted Modernization Theory, and author of the famous “Memo to Educational Planners” that influenced UNESCO’s actions in the 1970s. At the same time that UNESCO was promoting educational planning and television all over Latin America and the rest of the Third World, John F. Kennedy’s foreign aid project for Latin America, the Alliance for Progress, child of the marriage between Modernization Theory and the Cold War, was willing to fund an educational television pilot project. El Salvador was chosen as the ideal site for the pilot project and U.S.A.I.D. hired Wilbur Schramm himself to lead a research team to measure the impact of the new technology on the Salvadoran educational system.

The project would not have been adopted without a local elite open to the idea. On their own, Walter Beneke, the powerful Minister of Education, and the President, General Fidel Sánchez Hernández, were already determined to give the highest priority to education and to use the newest technology to achieve their goals. While on the surface both foreign sponsors and local policy makers shared the same interest in modernization through education, their understanding of modernity was different. The view of modernity of the local actors owed little to the enlightenment ideas of the Declaration of Rights of Men and Citizen and much to the late nineteenth century order-and-progress Latin American liberals who promoted export agriculture and contrasted their modernity against the “backwardness” of the indigenous people, the very same individuals who harvested their crops. They were the heirs to the “civilization vs. barbarism” discourse that inspired Latin American leaders after independence from Spain. They represented an authoritarian state that imposed new ideas from above to force people out of their unproductive backwardness.

With U.S.A.I.D. funds and the advise of experts from UNESCO among others, the Salvadoran education reform of 1968 had educational television as its “star” project. Salvadoran authorities never had a higher commitment to education and never in the country’s history did the education share of the national budget was higher, yet, because of the very nature of the Salvadoran state and the way in which it was implemented, the educational reform confronted stiff opposition. The teachers that mobilized against the reform organized around a union that was radicalized by the government’s violent repression of any expression of disagreement against specific features of its efforts to modernize education. In the end, Wilbur Schramm’s studies never proved that there was a statistically significant difference between the classrooms that used educational television and those that didn’t. In a few years the T.V. monitors provided to schools went into disrepair and no one made an effort to replace them. The political mobilization fueled by the reform and the climate of confrontation had a much longer life than the educational television experiment.
The presentation will end with a discussion of the links between the social mobilization provoked by the educational reform of 1968 and the Civil War of the 1980s. The paper is based on research on UNESCO, Salvadoran, and U.S.A.I.D. archives, together with published reports, newspaper and journal articles, and interviews with Salvadoran teachers and students.

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