UNESCO and the Education Technology Industry: A Recipe for Making Public Education a Profiteering Enterprise. PART III



AUTHORS NOTE: Following the completion of this research (22 pages worth) I came across a document from UNESCO in 2002 that sums it up. Given this recent find, the ensuing research is not necessary to “prove” what I suspected: that UNESCO is steering the global ship of privatization. But enjoy the timeline of events and findings nevertheless—each slice of evidence simply further illustrates what is written in this 2002 document called Education Privatization: Causes, Consequences and Planning Implications. Well, the title says it all. This document promotes a slew of market-based reforms that might have well come from ALEC including: voucher programs, promotes charter schools, accountability, and data mining. The article states, “In general, the World Bank (and other supranational agencies) has encouraged reforms which lead toward privatization of public education” (p.32). At the conclusion of this trope, the authors recommend the reader visit a site called National Center for the Study of Privatization of Education at Teachers College, Columbia University.


How did we get from first mention of national standards 1984 published at UNESCO to the privatization of public education (of which standards and testing are a huge part) in 2014? The idea of national standards have been an academic and pedagogical exercise for decades if not centuries. What this paper illustrates are not the debatable premises put forth in academic treatise but how national standards as a practice and policy have emerged in the last half century and the ways in which CCSS merges with other related education reform policies all of which lead to one goal: a privatized, market driven and globalized transformation of education.

How did the likes of Lou Gerstner who created Achieve, created in 1996 (who was awarded the contract for CCSS) in 2008 connect with UNESCO? How did an international agency that claims dedication to promoting world peace, and ending of poverty also advocate for a total disruption of education by technology driven corporations?

Without conjecture as to motive or intent, I parallel the last 30 years of reform which are intertwined with UNESCO and find some documented parallels and relationships. The conjecture is left to my reader. My findings here reflect what appear to be the three premises of the last few decades upon which global accountability driven reform are driven, posited by Heinz-Dieter MeyerDaniel TröhlerDavid F. Labaree & Ethan L. Hutt (Teachers College Record Volume 116 Number 9, 2014):•

  • homogenizing the heterogeneous reality of education through increasingly abstract and context-indifferent standards and outcome metrics;
  • shifting centers of policy making influence from “local” education professionals embedded in institutions and narratives of national history and culture to a global elite of experts, committed with increasing single-mindedness to the narrative of market efficiency; and
  • moving from decentralized governance and soft guidelines to centralized governance and hard mandates.

2000 to 2014: The Neoliberal Flow of Market Ideas are Full Blown

Technology is becoming BIG BUSINESS and the education “industry” is now in its sites given the corporate demand for accountability, innovative disruption, and standardized testing articulated in the reports cited previously in this paper. With the birth of global “data banks” free market investments into education technology enterprises are a booming industry. A standard set of tests and curriculum plugged into standard platforms for measurement enable investors to make data driven investment decisions.

The anticipation of monies provided to technology companies for “educational” purposes has been made manifest. In the fiscal year 2011, the US Department of Education provided the following contracts: www2.ed.gov/fund/data/report/contracts/servicecontractinventoryappendix/fy11servicecontractinventory.x

Research triangle Institute 14 contracts (many post secondary contracts)

Educational Testing Service (ETS) 9 contracts

Westat 38 contracts to “study data”

Perot Systems 39 contracts for operations and maintenance of the virtual data center.

International Business Machine (IBM) 28 contracts for support of daily operations of central operated processing system,

The costs to schools and profits to technology corporations as a result of Common Core driven reforms can be illustrated here:

2000:   According to a report from Techknowlogia, “The United States (U.S.) is a special case in the educational technology research and development arena because of the scope, scale and continued commitment of the federal government to the use of educational technologies. Education in the United States is a large enterprise, accounting for more than a third of the global education and training market (Software Information Industry Association 2001). Public and private entities in the United States invested nearly $800 billion dollars on education and training in FY2000, and technology-related investments were also sizeable. The Federal government alone invested over $3 billion on technology for education in FY2000, including the e-rate program, and the private sector invested approximately $2.5 billion. $33 million designated to the research and development of educational technologies in FY2000.

2001: A report from Knowledge Enterprise Publishers reads as follows:

“Big businesses have discovered how important management is to be well run, efficient and competitive … they utilized the potential of technology to restructure their procedures and overhaul their processes of production, distribution, training, feedback, maintenance and administration. But the education systems have been slow in exploiting the power of technology. Many educational institutions and systems have introduced simple management and statistical information systems. But this should be only the beginning. Two inter-related measures are needed: First, education systems need to undergo a structural re-engineering of their processes and techniques and to modernize their procedures and applications — at different levels of decision-making and administration. Second, communication and information technologies must be an integral part of the restructuring design and application.

Recent reforms within the education enterprise have resulted in observable successes in making educational opportunities more accessible and equitable and the teaching/learning process more effective. Yet these successes are making a hardly manageable system even more complicated:

  • Accent on learning requires setting of reliable and measurable standards, and attending to individual differences.
  • The public sector, which until recently has had a monopoly on the delivery of educational services, is starting to feel the competition from private enterprises which have been entering the market in escalating numbers. In many cases, particularly at the tertiary level, these private entities are using the potential of information and communication technology to lower cost and improve efficiency. Competition will demand from the public sector better-managed and more efficient systems and institutions.

The report from Knowledge Enterprise was published in editorial partnership with UNESCO. In addition, the advisory board for Knowledge Enterprise consists of many members of UNESCO as well as the World Bank.

According to one Mother Jones article, “Bill Gates has built his fortune by taking a standardized platform—Windows—and crafting a platter of services to fit it. He compares Common Core to the electric socket—under the old system, it was as if appliance makers had to make a different plug for each state.”  The parallels between uniformity and standardization in technology/communication and education have merged. Bill Gates contributions to the development of national standards and other efforts to privatize public education as a global market can be explored in greater detail here…and here. In other words CCSS becomes the vehicle through which technology can completely revolutionize global education practices.

As one report suggests, “Standards and interoperability are core tenets of the web. It’s because of shared communications protocols such as HTTP that anyone can create a web page or application that is usable by virtually anyone else. Similarly, proponents of the Common Core argue that having a shared understanding of priorities will allow all schools to improve by sharing best practices.”

This agenda is evident in all the reports cited here and further illustrated in the following UNESCO 2002 report.

2002: UNESCO Technologies for Learning is hosted by UNESCO and the Academy for Educational Development.

Lou Gerstner is a keynote speaker. The 2002 UNESCO report states, “Education is increasingly becoming a market, and a global one at that …And access to the production side of this market is even less equitable than access to its usage side.” The report adds that with increase usages of bandwidth, “Education projects may profit from this market-driven growth.”

2002: President Bush to rejoins UNESCO.

2004: The executive director for the American Legislative Council (ALEC) Duane Parde, is appointed by Secretary of State Colin Powell to UNESCO. Mr. Parde will as a state and local representative.

Mr. Parde served ALEC from 1996 to 2006. In 2007, he also worked for corporate consultancy Phoenix Strategies in Washington DC and National Taxpayers Union (a member of ALEC). Phoenix Strategies was established as a consultancy team which includes seasoned and professional senior level members of the Bush administration. “It specializes in business development, lobbying and consulting. They have represented industry areas in education, manufacturing, technology, pharmaceuticals, energy and associations.

He was president and is now Senior Advisor to National Taxpayers Union which receives funding from the tobacco industry and the Koch brothers. Major funder of the Legislation Education Action Drive (LEAD) include Alliance for School Choice, and it works with Parents in Charge Foundation. In 2001 he stated, “”It takes more than money to educate. Now more than ever our leaders must be open to new and innovative ways to improve the quality of education for all our children,” said Duane Parde, the council’s executive director.”

In his UNESCO role Parde announced: “As we look toward our children’s future, it becomes extremely important to place a high value on communication, information and knowledge,” says Parde. “This is precisely how we will break down the digital divide and create opportunities for all people, regardless of race, creed or economic sustainability.”

Other organizations that are ALEC-affiliated that have connections with UNESCO sponsored or supported policies include: Microsoft, IBM, Lou Gerstner, Pearson, Intel, The National Professional Board of Teaching Standards, The Walton Foundation.

Cisco: UNESCO and Cisco work together at a regional level to promote technology-enabled education transformation.”

Ironically in spite of UNESCO’s commitment to freedom of information and media,Cisco is one of several technology companies complicit in the Chinese government’s censorship of the internet, having produced a ‘firewall box’ allowing the government to block certain websites in the late 1990s. Cisco is also among the numerous corporate and right-wing foundation donors to the non-profit education organization Teach for America.

2004: Teaching At Risk. Established and chaired by Lou Gerstner and supported by The Teaching Commission. The goal of this campaign isto raise student performance by transforming the way in which America’s public school teachers are recruited and retained.” This document recommends new teacher evaluations, alt cert programs like Teach for America, merit pay, charters, vouchers, and union busting. It states: “This welcome partnership would set a common national standard for what new teachers should be expected to know—but states will still need to do their part by adopting the new, higher standard.”  The Teaching Commission is supported by Dell Foundation, IBM, The BOEING Foundation, and Lou Gerstner, among others.

2007: Sir Michael Barber (CEO of Pearson, and former partner at McKinsey and Co. See: https://educationalchemy.com/2013/03/23/vampires-mckinsey-co-and-the-future-of-public-education-its-all-connected/  ) produces an education report, How the World’s Best-Performing School Systems Come Out on Top, which was produced for McKinsey and provided those nations that were serious about education reform “with a blueprint of what they needed to do to catch up.”  

2008: Lou Gerstner recommends the following reforms as published in the Wall Street Journal.

Abolish all local school districts, establish a set of national standards for a core curriculum, standardized and published national testing, and national standards for teaching certification.

2008: Lou Gerstner argues for “Radical Education Reform” stating, “This unbelievably unwieldy structure is incapable of executing a program of fundamental change …While we have islands of excellence as a result of great reform programs, we continually fail to scale up systemic change.”

2008:Partnering with Cisco, Intel, and Microsoft, UNESCO launched ICT Competency Standards for Teachers.” The project states, “Competency Standards for Teachers have been designed to help educational policy-makers and curriculum developers identify the skills teachers need to harness technology in the service of education.” 

2009: The corporate sponsors announce anticipation of a Common Core. See the cast of characters here. Schneider writes: “In April 2009, the Broad Foundation published a report predicting a spectrum of reforms that Americans could expect by January 2012. Among them, CCSS.”

First, and most fundamental, by January 2012 Americans should expect to see a common core of fewer, clearer, higher, evidence-based, college- and career-ready standards adopted by at least 40 states representing the majority of the nation’s students.  [Emphasis added.]

Participants in this Broad Report include a veritable Who’s Who of Privatization– and evidence of the non-democratic “process” of CCSS “development.”

2010: Mary Hatwood Futrell is elected President of Americans for UNESCO.

Dr. Futrell is also joined the Boards of Directors of K-12 Inc.in 2007. K12 Inc is the largest online for profit education technology corporation, and member of ALEC. Sourcewatch writes, “The company was co-founded in 1999 by its current CEO, Ron Packard, a former Goldman Sachsmergers and acquisitions expert and consultant with McKinsey & Co.,and by former U.S. Education Secretary under President Ronald Reagan and right-wing talk show host William Bennett, who served as the chairman of K12 Inc.’s board of directors until 2005,”

(So between 2002 and 2010 two individuals powerfully influential within ALEC take leadership positions within UNESCO)

2011: The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation began work on a “nuts-and-bolts, multi-state, grand-vision education technology project called the Shared Learning Infrastructure. (which would later become InBloom)

2012: “UNESCO: A Global Response to the Learning Crisis”—The Creation of the Learning Metric Taskforce.

UNESCO and Brookings’s Center for Universal Education (CUE) join efforts to convene a Learning Metrics Task Force that will investigate the feasibility of learning goals and targets to inform the post-2015 global development policy discourse”. UNESCO will serve as the lead coordination agency …for global monitoring efforts. There were three co-chairs representing the UN, the private sector and civil society including Sir Michael Barber, Chief Education Advisor at Pearson. The report claims that, “Exploring whether there is a discrete set of common learning goals that can be universally reached is an important step in shifting the education discourse toward access plus learning.”

2012: Alan Singer points out the following: “Pearson is trying to salvage the situation in the United States with new ventures in the ‘developing world’ … Pearson has also been working through an organization called the Global Partnership for Education that includes representatives on UNESCO … and has been able to get its head of international affairs appointed to the Board of Directors as the only representative of a private for-profit corporation.”

2013: UNESCO endorses the key tenets of market-based reform: Teach for America, teacher accountability via data collection, and merit pay.

“A teacher management and development strategy (which) proposes a harmonized, standardized approach to make more efficient use of resources and improve accountability on the part of both teachers and partners. Relating teachers’ pay to the performance of their students has intuitive appeal. As a result, some governments advocate performance-related pay as part of a broader agenda of ‘accountability’ reforms to improve the quality of education (Bruns et al., 2011b; OECD, 2009).”

2012: Brookings Institute hosts a Research Symposium on Learning. Discussants include Mona Mourshed, Director of Education Practice at McKinsey & Company. She joined McKinsey in 1999. She was also the lead author of Education for Employment: Realizing Arab Youth Potential, published April 2011, a report commissioned by the IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, and the Islamic Development Bank.

Jan 2014: The Education World Forum Global Summit for Education Minsters is held in London. It is the largest annual gathering of international education ministers. Platinum Partners for this event are Promethean, Microsoft, and Pearson. Education Ministers were joined by Deputy Prime Ministers and by leaders from global and international organizations including the World Bank, the OECD and UNESCO, as well as by senior representatives of international corporations with focus and commitment to education and its support. These corporations included HP, Intel, JPSaCouto, Microsoft, Pearson and Promethean.

February 2014: A report from UNESCO called Revolutionizing Data for Education-Challenges and Opportunities, summarizes ideas put forth during an event called the High Level Panel of Eminent Persons: “Prominent world development leaders including Bill Gates and the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons  have called for a ‘Data Revolution for Development’.  Bill Gates has noted, ‘From the fight against polio to fixing education, what’s missing is often good measurement and a commitment to follow the data. We can do better. We have the tools at hand.”

Creation of EdStats: Part of The World Bank. EdStats website  is a “one-stop shop for education data” and “makes more data available and helps users more easily digest it.”  EdStats works with UNESCO’s “Institute for Statistics (our main source of general education statistics), and the SABER team at the World Bank.  The site states, “We hope the portal represents a substantial advancement in access and use of big data in education– education indicators (enriched with learning data) under one platform.”

May 2014: A UNESCO Report declares the “need for tools to measure non-cognitive and ‘21st Century Skills’ in order to assess young peoples’ readiness to enter the workforce.

Formation of the Learning Curve Data Bank (LCDB): Developed by the Economist Intelligence Unit and published by Pearson, the report, entitled The Learning Curve outlines the main findings from analysis of a large body of internationally comparable education data.

The Economist Intelligence Unit: Clients include World Bank, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. According to their website: “The Economist Intelligence Unit helps business leaders prepare for opportunity, empowering them to act with confidence when making strategic decisions. The Economist Intelligence Unit prepares business leaders for opportunity. We accomplish this by delivering accurate and impartial forecasts and analysis which empower our clients to act with confidence when making strategic decisions.”

The EIU is owned by The Economist a journal owned by Pearson – “…The Economist favours the support, via central banks, of banks and other important corporations. This principle can (in a much more limited form) be traced back to Walter Bagehot, the third editor of The Economist, who argued that the Bank of England should support major banks that got into difficulties. Karl Marx deemed The Economist the “European organ” of “the aristocracy of finance”.

They state, “These topics, and others like them, are critically important to our key clients: governments, NGOs, development banks and foundations, but also companies committed to a programme of corporate social responsibility.”

Final Analysis:

My personal take: UNESCO’s global initiatives were untenable to the free market conservative paradigm which dominated the Reagan era. However, UNESCO and the Bush Administration had a “meeting of the minds” in the 1990’s when neoliberal global market forces were more in line with an agenda and UNESCO leadership. From that point forward, the UNESCO plans as originally stated in 1946 toward greater “mass communications” and “education initiatives” was able to serve the free market “messaging” and policy reforms stemming from U.S. and U.K driven corporate interests. For a comprehensive list of technology-based education corporations cashing in on the flow of local, national, and global funds see The Economic Impact of Ed Tech: Glimpses of a New World (2013) published by ASTRA.

This paper is not an indictment of UNESCO as an organization. Like the proverbial blind man feeling the elephant’s foot I concede there is much more to know and see here. However, it’s also clear that through the decades UNESCO policy and influence have yielded partnerships with well-known education privatizers and profiteers-something that bears deeper examination and consideration.


Published by educationalchemy

Morna McDermott has been an educator for over twenty years in both k-12 and post secondary classrooms. She received her doctorate in education, with a dissertation focus on arts-based educational research, from The University of Virginia in 2001. Morna's teaching, scholarship, and activism center around the ways in which creativity, art, social justice, and democracy can transform education and empower communities. She is currently a Professor of Education at Towson University.

20 thoughts on “UNESCO and the Education Technology Industry: A Recipe for Making Public Education a Profiteering Enterprise. PART III

  1. So what’s the meaning of this strange and skewed description: “Communism= concentration of power and resources into the hands of a few Oligarchy= concentration of power and resources into the hands of a few”?

    1. to illustrate a few points…that 1) the mis assumption that CCSS was created by a communist agenda using a simpified and distorted sound bite definition of communism…because some folks say “Look UNESCO started CCSS, ha! That proves tt IS a leftist plot..” 2) when in fact OLIGARCHY opertates under the same parameters.. and the purpose of the blog is to expose how this is OLIGARCHY and UNESCO is a major vehicle….not communism…perhpas trying to be too clever here in my intro failed 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Data Disruptors

Fight The Ed Reform 2.0 Agenda

Peg with Pen

Authored by Morna McDermott-A blog dedicated to democracy, public education, and the power of the imagination

Dissident Voice

Authored by Morna McDermott-A blog dedicated to democracy, public education, and the power of the imagination

The in·ter·reg·num

A site for radical edu-science fiction


Commenting on the State of the World From Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

Cloaking Inequity

A blog focused on education and social justice research

dr. p.l. (paul) thomas

educator, public scholar, poet&writer - academic freedom isn't free

Chris Mercogliano

Authored by Morna McDermott-A blog dedicated to democracy, public education, and the power of the imagination

Reclaim Reform

by Ken Previti

Re:education in Baltimore

A city mom thinks outside the sandbox.

Fred Klonsky

The thoughts of a retired public school teacher.

%d bloggers like this: