It is the morning of Wednesday 3rd September, at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights headquarters in Geneva. The die is cast; in a few minutes we will know. My Moroccan colleague, who represents the Moroccan Coalition on Education for All, and myself, representing the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (GI-ESCR) are waiting anxiously. Will they ask the question? What will the government respond? The moment comes. Ms Amal Aldoseri, a member of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC), raises a number of questions about the education system in Morocco, and finally asks: “Could you explain the impact of the development of private education on inequalities and the right to education in your State?”
We cannot help but feel an inner sense of excitement at what is happening. We are nearing our goal, after a year of hard work trying to draw attention to the creeping privatisation of education in Morocco and its devastating effects. The Moroccan government will finally have to explain why, for more than a decade, it has supported and promoted the development of fee-paying, profit-making private schools; tripling the number of students enrolled in private schools, thereby contributing to widening inequalities in access to quality education and further stratifying society between rich and poor.
The Government is represented in Geneva by a 20-strong Moroccan delegation led by the Minister for Solidarity, Women, Family and Social Development, Ms Bassima Hakkaoui. The delegation came to Geneva to discuss Morocco's implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, as part of the periodic review that the CRC normally conducts every five years. The Government representative in charge of education starts responding to Ms Aldoseri’s questions. He responds to all the issues she raises, praising the ‘great progress’ and achievements of Morocco with regard to education, followed by Ms Hakkaoui, who compliments his responses, except…. that they both ignore the question about privatisation in education.
We think that it’s finished; the CRC has very little time to conduct the review. Privatisation was a small question at the end and it seemed like the CRC considered it to be a small issue. The discussion will now move to the next issue, as planned. The Government will not give any information, and we’ll have to cross our fingers that the CRC pays attention to privatisation in education in its written recommendations. But then someone raises his hand. Mr Hatem Kotrane, a member of the CRC from Tunisia, asks a follow-up question on privatisation. Basing his question on statistics from the Ministry of Education, that my Moroccan colleague gave him earlier during the break, he wants to know why figures show that most teachers working in private schools are also teaching in public establishments. Silence descends the room. Another hand is raised. Mr Benyam Mezmur, a member of the CRC, asks an additional follow-up question. He wants to know why the Government did not respond to the question on privatisation in education.
The Government delegation looks unsure. Someone starts responding, and indicates that Morocco aims to reach the target of ‘20% of pupils enrolled in private schools’ as soon as possible. Ms Hakkaoui, the Minister, follows and praises private education. She indicates that the Government ‘promotes free competition in education, which is good for all citizens’. They both insist that private education is ‘well regulated in Morocco’, and that ‘no teacher from the public sector teaching in private schools’. With this last statement, the Moroccan civil society organisations representatives seated next to me cannot help their semi-amused, semi-shocked reaction, as everyone in Morocco knows that this is simply untrue…
The meeting proceeds and discussion moves on to the right to health. However, as the Government starts responding, Mr Benyam Mezmur raises his hand once again: ‘I don’t usually insist and come back to an issue that has already been discussed, but… was the interpretation not working well, or did I understand that the government of Morocco is aiming at reaching 20% of pupils in private schools!? Education is a public good, and it’s the responsibility of the Government to provide quality education for all! … You say that everything is going well in your education system, but could you at least mention two issues that you’re facing?”
Another moment of silence. Ms Hakkaoui attempts a vague response, but quickly, the inter-ministry delegate in charge of human rights intervenes. With his human rights experience, he understands that the discussion is going the wrong way for them, and he eventually admits that the education system is not perfect – though without giving any details – cursorily adding that the Government is working to reform the education system. At this point, we know that we have made great strides in our advocacy work, and that our efforts over the last 10 months have started to pay off. The CRC - thanks to its perseverance and precise questions - has forced the Government to unveil its support of private education and lack of reflection on the impact it has on the right to education.
How did we get to this point? To reach this moment, these 5-minutes where the Moroccan government has to publicly explain itself about the disastrous effect of its privatisation policies, we have worked for several months. The GI-ESCR and the Moroccan Coalition started in October, thanks to the support of the Privatisation in Education Research Initiative (PERI), by conducting research on the scale and impact of privatisation in education in Morocco. Following this research, we submitted two reports to the CRC in December, ahead of the February CRC pre-session (which is a preliminary review) in February.
From then, we prepared simplified advocacy documents, had a number of meetings with stakeholders in Geneva to raise awareness about this still little-known issue, and actively mobilised and coordinated with civil society organisations in Morocco trough discussions and workshops. We were present in Geneva on the day of pre-session of the CRC, and although we were not invited to the pre-session itself, we organised with other Moroccan organisations that were invited, to raise the issue of privatisation. We also used that opportunity to talk to key stakeholders outside of the session.
We got our first victory when the CRC included in its list of issues, which is a list of written questions that the CRC sends to the States before the review, questions about inequalities in education and the development of private schools. The State responded to these questions in June, but was very vague on the issue of privatisation. We then published a third report, highlighting what was missing in the Government’s response.
It is only after this work that we got into Geneva for the actual review session. At that point, most of the work had been done. We sat, and waited eagerly for the CRC to ask its questions… The last step was then to try to get people who were not in Geneva – in particular people in Morocco – to know what had happened in that room at the Palais des Nations. Working with a broad network of actors in Morocco was essential. We contacted many journalists and received good presss coverage. (French: 1, 2) The good connexions of our partners in Morocco were very important!
Getting the CRC to question Morocco is not the end of the journey: this is just one State amongst many affected by privatisation. We need to wait to see whether the concluding observations (written recommendations sent to States) that that CRC will publish at the end of September adequately addresses the issue, and there will then be a lot of work recquired to convince the Government to implement those recommendations.
This is, still, significant. The fact that a UN Committee of human rights experts publicly questions the development of private education and reminds the world that education is a public good is a major step. It is also a formidable message of hope for the thousands of activists who campaign around the world to defend public quality education for all, and beyond that: a conception of society where every child can develop their personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential, and where every child learns to live together in an open, tolerant, and vibrant society.
Sylvain Aubry is an independent consultant on human rights based in Nairobi, Kenya, from where he works with various organisations. He is currently working with the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Right to Education Project, and a number of other global and domestic partners on a research and advocacy project on privatisation and the right to education. If you are interested in getting involved, please free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.