Pushing private education across Africa is about profits, not meeting peoples needs


04 May 2017

No one is any denial that there are huge challenges in many African countries in providing access to education. The question then is about how best to meet that need.  A new report from Caerus Capital uses the benevolent language of development, but is at the same time a pretty naked pitch for investors to start pumping their capital into a variety of private education schemes across the continent.

Education is a basic human right, and must not be turned in to a commodity. The more we concede its provision to the private sector, the more we risk excluding entire communities on the basis of their ability to pay, and the more we exacerbate social inequality.  It’s distressing to see financial advisers eyeing up the lack of education infrastructure in African countries  when we know that their investments will  be fundamentally driven by maximising profit return rather than by the need to provide quality education to marginalised communities.

Unfortunately, UK aid money is being diverted to further this privatisation agenda. We published a report in 2015 that exposed many of the problems associated with the Department for International Development’s (DFiD) ideological agenda in promoting private education.  DFID has also faced criticism from the UN special rapporteur on educationthe National Union of Teachers  and the International Development Committee over its funding of private education schemes in countries in Asia and Africa.  The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) has warned that UK aid's support for low-fee, private schools run by for-profit businesses could even be considered a violation of children’s rights.

Private education companies such as Bridge International Academies (who receive DFID funds) have been accused of providing poor quality education, unregulated teaching and leaving the poorest children without any access to education at all. Uganda's high court recently ordered the closure of Bridge schools across the country, claiming they "provided unsanitary learning conditions, used unqualified teachers and were not properly licensed." Kenya's National Union of Teachers also released a damning report claiming the schools provide "poor quality education" and that they remain unaffordable to many households, contributing to "educational segregation" in the country. In February, the High Court of Kenya in Busia County ruled that the county education board could proceed in closing ten Bridge schools for failing to meet education standards.

Aid money could and should be used to support the development of robust public services to deliver education rather than supporting a controversial private-sector approach that has been shown time and time again to worsen conditions of inequality. DFID should instead be focusing on increasing its existing support for schemes that have successful results, such as the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). The GPE, to which DFiD is a major contributor,  pools donor funds to strengthen public education systems in developing countries and achieve equitable, quality education and learning for all. Under the GPE, governments develop their own education plans in consultation with their citizens and civil society. GPE funds then support those government-led plans, rather than separate, fragmented, donor-led initiatives. 

This is why we’ll be joining allies including the UK’s National Union of Teachers tomorrow to protest the Annual General Meeting of Pearson, the well-known private education company. Pearson is one of the companies that receives money from DfiD for running controversial private school programmes across Africa, and itself is financing the controversial Bridge International Academies.

The introduction of universal education, the increasing length of compulsory education, the  creation of comprehensive schools – these are some of the greatest social  achievements the UK has made. The aid  budget could be used to help others to achieve these vital components of a decent society where  every life counts.

Photo: ©Justin Tallis

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