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The History of Educational Planning in Developing Countries Through the Lens of the International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP)

Since Philip Coombs, the first director of the International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP), wrote some of his foundational texts on educational planning, such as The World Educational Crisis, published in 1968, educational planning has arguably conquered the world as a development strategy.

This study traces how the field emerged and how it has evolved over the past 55 years. This is relevant in light of recent debates about the shortcomings of educational planning in developing countries in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by the United Nations in 2015. A number of observers and expert reports such as UNESCO’s 2016 Global Education Monitoring Report have pointed out that goal 4 for education of the SDGs is unattainable. The recently published World Bank World Development Report 2018 focuses on the “learning crisis.” Why, after 25 years of global education targets since the launch of Education for All (EFA) in 1990, which was preceded by three international “Development Decades” since 1960, has it been impossible to achieve basic education for all? Why has the drop-out rate of African children from primary schools remained unchanged at 60% since the 1970s (Fredriksen, 2017, para. 6)? Why are we facing large numbers of youth unemployment in many regions of the world today?

These and other questions form the point of departure to conduct this study, which will examine the history of educational planning through the lens of an organization that has greatly contributed to shaping the field, the IIEP, founded in 1963 by UNESCO, the World Bank and the Ford Foundation in the context of the First United Nations Development Decade with the purpose of supporting educational planning capacities in developing countries. The IIEP exemplifies how international organizations are tied to state power but also became powerful bureaucracies of their own. The institute, which has been surprisingly neglected in the research about international organizations, also warrants attention as a focal point and norm-setter of the role of education in postwar foreign policy in the context of the Cold War and decolonization.

This historical-sociological study ties the history of the IIEP to the evolution of the field of educational planning and visions of development that were shaped by government circles, universities, international organizations and philanthropic foundations. It contributes to our understanding of the entanglement of the field of international education with international politics and economics.


The study aims to examine:

  • the historical circumstances that enabled the founding of the IIEP
  • how the history of the IIEP reflects the entanglement of the field of international education with international (geo)politics and economics over approximately the last 55 years
  • the influences of government circles, universities, international organisations and philanthropic foundations on the ideology that underpins educational planning
  • how the history of educational planning reflects shifts in the thinking about development


Archival research and interviews.

Project status: Ongoing

Principal Investigator


Funding Body: National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation

Amount: $70,000

Period: January 2019 - July 2020