By Angelo Gavrielatos
2015 was quite a year for education policy. We witnessed the adoption of the UN Sustainable Goals (SDGs), within which a stand-alone education goal was included. Together with the related Targets and the UNESCO Framework for Action, aimed at giving effect to the Goal, it was quite an achievement by the international education community.
However, the privatization agenda being pursued by corporate actors in many countries and across all sectors of education sectors poses serious challenges to the achievement of “inclusive and equitable quality education… for all” and therefore parents, students and teachers worldwide.
This threat, clear to many, is also recognised by Kishore Singh, Special Rapporteur on the right to education, who said, “I urge governments to refrain from privatising education to meet these new goals if the education is not free to students, or if it increases inequality in society…The rapid rise of private providers, often unregulated and privileging the wealthy, must be replaced by efforts which reduce inequality and expand opportunities of good quality public education without exclusion.”
Given the size and political reach of corporate players, there is a well-founded concern that governments may seek to open the door to private actors to allow, facilitate, and in some cases encourage the commercialisation and privatisation of education.
Whilst it may be argued that this would be a quick and easy way to achieving the education goals, it would in fact undermine and compromise the achievement of the Goal and related Targets.
For example, allowing the introduction and expansion of so called “low-fee” for-profit private schools corporate backed and owned school chains, such as Bridge International Academies (BIA) in Kenya and elsewhere, and Affordable Private Education Centres (APEC) in the Philippines would represent a rewrite of the education goal and related targets. Anything other than free quality education for all undermines inclusive and equitable education as any price put on accessing education serves as a barrier for the poorest and most disadvantage. These corporate chains would contribute to a deepening inequality and segregation in schooling and learning outcomes undermining Targets 1 and 5.
It would also undermine Target C which acknowledges the right of every child to a qualified teacher. In an attempt to maximise profits, corporate chains employ fewer teachers, underqualified teachers and/or unqualified staff. This is the case in the Philippines where approximately 70 percent of APEC employees of (do not have the proper professional accreditation required to teach. It’s also the case with BIA in Kenya, which employs unqualified teachers. The employment of unqualified staff earning a fraction of a teacher salary is central to the business plan of theses corporate chains. So central that BIA is protesting a proposed Kenyan government regulation that half of its employees be qualified teachers.
In these settings employees deliver a standardised scripted curriculum. Apart from achieving economies of scale as part of the profit making motive of these corporate chains, as one of their schools administrators admitted that “we ask teachers not to deviate from the lesson guide because it can provide inconsistency across the chain and we don’t know if all teachers are equipped to do it otherwise”. This does not constitute quality teaching and learning. Furthermore, it compromises Target 7, as scripted standardised curricula show little if any respect for inclusive education and cultural and linguistic diversity.
With respect to Target A and the provision of appropriate and safe facilities conducive to quality teaching and learning, as shown in the Philippines, where they can get away with it, corporate actors fail to provide proper school facilities. Courtesy of a government waiving existing requirements, APEC operates its private, for-profit school sites in unused commercial buildings rather than constructing proper school facilities.
A Legislative Framework
It is against this backdrop that we must call on all governments to implement and enforce a legislative framework to ensure the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goal 4: “inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”.
Beyond a legislative guarantee to fulfil their primary obligation to adequately fund and resource public education, governments must:
- protect and promote the principle of access and equity for all students through the provision of public education which must set the standards for high quality education
- recognise the professional judgement of teachers and educators in questions of methodology, pedagogy and on matters of curriculum, assessment and reporting, and accordingly respect their professional institutions, including unions;
- legislate against for-profit non-state actors particularly when they are in receipt, directly or indirectly, of government funding intended for the educational well-being of students.
In the interest of transparency and accountability, where non-state actors provide schooling they would be required to
- adhere to strict financial requirements, including independent auditing and regulations to monitor how government funds are spent.
- demonstrate transactions made by a non-state operator for goods and services are directly required for delivery of education are at reasonable market value.
To ensure the right of all students to quality education, for the purpose of registration the following minimum requirements must be met.
Quality Teaching – every student has the right to be taught by qualified teachers.
All teaching staff must have necessary experience and professional, recognised qualifications that comply with national standards.
Quality Curriculum – every student has the right to be taught an engaging, inclusive curriculum.
The curriculum must comply with national requirements and standards.
Quality Environment – every student has the right to be taught in a safe environment.
Educational premises and facilities must comply with relevant government requirements that are adequate for the courses of study.
The profit motive has no place in dictating what is taught, how it’s taught and assessed, nor how our schools are organised. In such a world, it is not only the SDG which is put at risk, but students, teachers and quality education all stand to lose the most.
What was accomplished in 2015 represents an important step towards the achievement of quality education for all. Let’s not squander it to the prophets of profit.