Millions of pounds of UK aid has been spent on profit-making private schools. Why?


19 April 2019
Aid

What do you think we should be spending the UK’s international aid budget on? Vaccines? Dealing with climate change? Helping countries close tax loopholes?

I’m guessing you didn’t say profit-making private schools. But unfortunately, that’s exactly what the UK government has been doing.

This week we launched a new report with the National Education Union on how the Department for International Development (DFID) has been spending tens of millions of pounds on promoting parallel private education systems in the global south.

It's part of a new campaign to tell the government to put #PupilsBeforeProfit.

When profit comes first

Education is now big business – some estimate that the global education market is worth $5 trillion. Over a quarter of secondary school pupils worldwide are now in private schools. For multinational corporations, this is a huge opportunity to make profit.

But the profit-led model is not delivering for children and young people across the global south. DFID claims that the so-called ‘low fee’ private schools it is supporting open up access to the poorest and most marginalised, but that’s not what the evidence indicates. Our report shows how:

  • A £68 million DFID-funded project in Pakistan failed to reach those who most need schooling.
  • A DFID-supported private school scheme in Uganda barely touched rural areas, because it wasn’t profitable.
  • DFID-supported private schools in Kenya routinely suspend pupils for paying their fees late, even as little as 50 cents.

At the same time, private school companies like Bridge International Academies, which DFID has also funded, use unqualified teachers who are forced to read out lessons word-for-word from e-tablets – a ‘school-in-a-box’ model which can scale up quickly but doesn’t meet children’s needs.

And helping privatisation take place are so-called development ‘experts’, like the UK firm Adam Smith International, which DFID has funded by over £35 million for education work since 2016.

Fighting back

The profit-led approach to education comes from our government’s view that international aid should be made to serve the needs of business. It’s an approach that Penny Mordaunt, the International Development Secretary, has said she wants to accelerate. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

In February I was in Ivory Coast meeting campaigners from across the global south who are fighting back against privatisation and standing up for free, quality, public education for all children. Just a couple of months ago the European parliament declared its opposition to using development aid on commercial education, while the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Poverty, Philip Alston, has warned that education privatisation is a threat to human rights.

Awareness of the problem is growing, but if the fightback against education privatisation is going to be successful, it needs us in the UK to play our part.

What you can do

1. Take action

2. Watch the video

3. Read the report

4. For teachers

If you’re a teacher and want to organise awareness-raising activities with your colleagues and fellow trade union members, get in touch via offleyroad@globaljustice.org.uk

 

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