By Angelo Gavrielatos, Education International
Between 6-23 June 2017, during its 35th session, the UN’s Human Rights Council adopted a follow-up resolution on the right to education.
Referencing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and a raft of other relevant declarations, covenants and conventions, the resolution calls upon all States “to take all measures to implement Human Rights Council resolutions on the right to education with a view to ensuring the full realization of this right for all.”
The growing commercialisation of education also attracted the attention of the Human Rights Council. By calling on States to take action to address “any negative impact of the commercialisation of education”, the Council has heard the chorus of concerned voices and has, albeit subtly, recognised the threat to the achievement of inclusive and equitable quality education for all (SDG4) posed by the growing commercialisation and privatisation of education.
The council has urged States to put in place “a regulatory framework for education providers including those operating independently or in partnership with States.”
So, what’s in a preposition?
Since the adoption of the UN SDGs we have witnessed a growing and deliberate accommodation, indeed promotion, of non-state actors in the provision of schooling. Associated with this we are witnessing the use of what could be argued is very deliberate language.
The resolution described above is an example of this. Whist it includes some very good and helpful suggestions, under the guise of attempting to find solutions to the negative impact of the commercialisation of education, it urges states to introduce regulations for non-state actors as opposed to a framework to ensure the regulation of non-state actors. This is not insignificant.
This not so subtle use of language delivers a legitimacy for non-state actors. Furthermore, a set of regulations for non-state actors privileges private provision by equating it to public education when equal it is not.
Together with repeated, unqualified references to non-formal education in the said resolution, cherry-picked, the resolution could easily be exploited by unscrupulous for profit actors seeking to grow their corporate sphere of influence. We know the type. We see them in countries like Uganda and Kenya. They try to conveniently, and dishonestly, present themselves as offering non-formal education, employing unqualified staff delivering a curriculum in facilities neither of which meet legal standards for schools.
Noting the inherent dangers posed by the growing commercialisation and privatisation of education, at Education International we demand of governments to introduce and enforce a legislative framework necessary to protect students, teachers and quality education for all.
A legislative framework with a clear, unequivocal foundation principle namely the primary obligation of governments to adequately fund and resource public education. This foundation principle can never be reduced to an afterthought or a footnote as it conveniently is for some.
Noting that there is no obligation on the part of the state to promote and/or support schools operated by non-state actors, we talk about where they exist, as part of a system of regulation of non-state actors, for the purpose of registration/license to operate, they must comply with a set of minimum standards.
In summary, the minimum standards must include the requirement to employ qualified teachers and the need to satisfy national legal and safety standards as far at the curriculum and school facilities are concerned. Lastly, any operator in receipt of any level of government funding, directly or indirectly, domestically or extra-territorially, must be not-for-profit.
For their long-term wellbeing children are encouraged or compelled (by law) to attend school. The reciprocal obligation for legislators is to fulfil their primary obligations and to shelter and protect those same children during the years and processes of their schooling.