Segregation, private school bubbles and dwindling financial support for state schooling: privatisation in the Arabic region

Eleanor Rosenbach and Hoda Awwad
2 Junio 2021

On Wednesday 28 April, RTE co-hosted a webinar in Arabic with the Arab Campaign for Education for All, as part of the wider programme of events in this year’s Global Action Week for Education. Hosted online, the event drew speakers and participants from multiple Arabic-speaking nations to share perspectives on the particular challenges the region faces. 

Among the most salient points of discussion was the dwindling financial resources for public schools alongside a proliferation of private education, and the resulting impact this is having on segregation both in schools and wider society. This blog explores these themes in relation to Jordan, Lebanon and Morocco, the three nations on which presentations were given.

Jordan: privatisation and public schooling post pandemic

Kamal Al-Mashreqi, lawyer and expert in international protection of human rights issues, discussed Education Privatization and Free Education in Jordan, reflecting on the privatisation of education in light of the Covid-19 pandemic and the need for increased funding for education in order to enable efficient functioning of the wider public sector and economy. He also raised issues with regards to the definition of privatisation at supranational level, suggesting that a specific and clear categorization of the concept of privatisation in the Arabic region that does not simply pave the way for public-private partnerships is needed. 

These reflections hold weight across a range of national contexts, and indeed the ways in which the pandemic has catalysed private education must be further examined. Crucial to note here is the definitional issue - without a full and frank understanding of what privatisation in all of its forms means at national and extra-national levels, conceptual confusion can provide a platform for increased forms and channels for privatisation that may not sit within traditional descriptions. The question here is how privatisation should be understood in the 21st century post-pandemic context, and whether it has specific guises within the Arab region. 

Lebanon: privatisation, inclusion and segregation

According to Elsy Wakil, of the Lebanese Coalition for Education, privatisation is having an impact on the privatisation of education and inclusion in Lebanon, outlining the situation in Lebanon’s schools and the need for quality and overarching rights to be central to the education system. She discussed the challenges facing public education in Lebanon, typifying the kinds of private schools in the nation, from religious to commercial to high-tuition fee private schools twinned internationally, and highlighting the educational segregation and declining standards in public education that this is contributing to. 

This provides interesting material for reflection in terms of the reasons why the national education system and its pedagogic principles are considered of lower value than foreign education systems, and indeed how and why this should be challenged. Clearly, as the Lebanese example demonstrates, the universal principles underpinning education rights and access must be strengthened, alongside the capacity and commitment of national institutions and actors to deliver quality public education. 

Morocco: Access to education

The final presentation was delivered by Malika Ghabbar, member of the Moroccan Association Office for secondary education inspectors, on education privatisation and access to education for disadvantaged and marginalised groups in Morocco. She identified the declining funding for public schooling in the nation and the increasingly overcrowding of classrooms - with many averaging at 45 or more students - alongside a dwindling number of teachers as factors intensifying the problems faced by the educational system since the 1980s. The proliferation of international private schools with high-tuition fees in Morocco have their own curriculums and are themselves contributing to the formation of an elite class in the country which threatens public education. 

Again, segregation and private school bubbles are creating a two-tier system of education with wider ramifications for society as a whole. The question to unpick here regards the twin expansion of private education alongside the shrinking state support for public education. The need to drive state accountability for the provision of quality public education is clear, and indeed this discussion alongside the others shed light on the importance of the Abidjan Principles on the Right to Education as a guiding principle.

A discussion of the Abidjan Principles was offered as part of the event by Hoda Awwad, Programme Officer at Right to Education Initiative, and Dr. Boubacar Houman, member of The International Federation of Centers for Training in Active Education Methods (Ficeméa). The focus here was on the importance of the Principles as a reference point both for states in terms of their responsibilities, and as a guiding text for civil society in efforts to ensure state accountability and compliance with international obligations regarding the provision of public education and the role of private actors. 

This webinar is a landmark event for RTE, reflecting the first webinar conducted in Arabic and indeed establishing an important milestone in the delivery of our strategy on the role of non-state actors in education in the Arab region. 

Both the presentations and discussions revealed a diverse set of challenges in the region, though commonalities in terms of the expansion of private education at the expense of state provision were also apparent. In the coming months we will continue to explore the impact of privatisation on the region and the implications of the pandemic on access to education and the right to free, quality public schooling.

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