Confronting the growth of private actors in education does not only mean identifying problems but also reflecting on solutions that allow for private actors to play a positive role.
The Right to Education Project, the Privatisation in Education Research Initiative, and the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights organised a week of activities in London for civil society organisations to examine the impact of the growing involvement of private actors on the right to education. In addition to several workshops, three public events were organised, including a panel discussion on Monday 19th October: Setting the Rules of the Game: How can regulations of private actors ensure the right to education in the post-2015 setting?
The event was held at the UCL Institute of Education (IoE) and sought to explore the regulations required to ensure that private actors act in line with the right to education. The panel event was chaired by BBC Education Correspondent, Sean Coughlan. The key points argued by the experts are as follows:
Sandra Fredman of the University of Oxford and Director of the Oxford Human Rights Hub recalled the Right to Education Act adopted by the Parliament of India in 2009 that requires private schools to reserve 25% of places for children from 'weaker and disadvantaged sections'. It therefore subsidises private schools for those disadvantaged children and also prescribes certain norms and standards which all schools must comply with, such as mid-day meals and infrastructure. She noted that this Act is an example of very strong regulation and cited the work of Indian public interest lawyer Jayna Kothari as an example of one way in which public-private partnership can be beneficially regulated. However, this Act also has disadvantages. For instance, the Supreme Court exempted minority private school from the 25% quota, which led to private schools seeking exemptions by claiming to be minority schools. The challenge is therefore to set-up mechanisms to monitor the implementation of norms and standards across both public and private schools.
Sylvain Aubry of the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights emphasised that non-regulated private school is a critical issue, as it divides societies and creates segregation, as it has been recognised by UN human rights experts. In many States, however, regulations are either non-existent, or poorly implemented, as in Nepal. This is exacerbated by other States, international institutions and private providers that pressure governments to loosen regulations. A challenge is that in countries where education is being privatised on the ground that the State is too weak to provide education for all, these governments are equally unable to adequately regulate private schools. He insisted that there is therefore no magic bullet to fixing the State, but the challenge is to draw up smart regulations where private actors do exist.
Sylvia Mbataru of The CRADLE in Kenya talked about the growth of low-fee, for-profit private schools in Kenya, particularly in informal settlements. In one of Nairobi’s largest slums, Mathare Valley, there are only three or four public schools serving a population of several hundreds of thousands. This has created a market for education, which has created the space for private actors, each with different motives, to set-up schools. Amongst them is Bridge International Academies (BIA), a for-profit education provider supported by the UK government. Yet, BIA has recently being fighting against the Kenyan government’s efforts to regulate private schools - regulations that are specifically designed to ensure minimum standards of quality in schools serving informal settlements.
Lastly John Rendel, CEO of PEAS, a chain of non-profit secondary schools in Uganda, expressed his support for the principle of the State as primary provider of education, in line with the right to education, but argued that PEAS schools fill a gap because in Uganda there are no free public secondary schools. He argued that PEAS schools also serve some of the most marginalised groups and are actually more accessible than public schools because their fees are lower than government schools. John acknowledged that all user fees are a barrier to access and that ideally his schools wouldn’t charge fees, however the Ugandan government does not subsidise private schools enough to realise this. Given that Uganda is unable to provide free public secondary education, John argued that public-private partnerships (PPPs) have a role to play in securing the right to education of the most marginalised.
You can find more information about privatisation, here, the reports sent to the Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, here and here respectively, and a summary of the reports, here. You can also read the blog post on the week-long event held in London, here.
Erica Murphy is Project Officer at the Right to Education Project
Meggan Le Quintrec is Legal Volunteer at the Right to Education Project