This is a joint statement of the East African Centre for Human Rights in Kenya, the Initiative for Social and Economic Rights in Uganda, the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Right to Education Project, ActionAid, and the Global Campaign for Education.
We welcome the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education which sheds light on the potential of digital technologies to improve the realisation of the right to education and to undermine it.
While we are enthusiastic about, and supportive of, digital technologies as they relate to the right to education when they are used positively, we are very concerned about some of the challenges raised by the Rapporteur in his report. Some of the most worrying concerns include: lack of quality control; the limitation on the autonomy of, and human interactions with, teachers; inequalities in access; and corporate control that may arise from the application of copyright.
These are challenges that we have encountered when researching the emergence of commercial chains of low-cost private schools using technology. These chains, such as Bridge International Academies, are often backed up by powerful companies. They exemplify many of the concerns raised by the Rapporteur: teachers are reduced to the role of a robot by being required to read scripted lessons; the quality of education provided is low; the digitalisation of the content makes it more difficult for governments to monitor it; and they use proprietary standards and copyright to ensure they can make profit out of their digital technology, including at the expense of very poor people.
These chain schools are using technology to standardise education, so as to reduce costs and increase profit, rather than improve quality. Despite these challenges, they are developing very rapidly in the Global South, with hundreds of thousands of pupils already enrolled. We are extremely concerned that some States consider that such commercial chain schools are a solution, without taking into account the human rights implications of the misuse of technology. We fully support the Rapporteur, who denounced Liberia’s plans to outsource the management of all its public primary schools to Bridge International Academies, which uses scripted curriculum instead of qualified teachers, and the Committee on the Rights of the Child, which expressed strong concerns last week about the use of the United Kingdom’s development aid funds to support this same chain of for profit schools, which have grown rapidly in the last years in Kenya, Uganda, and Nigeria with the support of the UK, sometimes against the will of the host countries’ authorities.
In this context, we emphasise the importance of the Rapporteur’s call on Governments “to be vigilant against commercial pressures that promote the sale of technology without due concern for the actual benefits to students or teachers, educational establishments and the education system at large.”
- East African Centre for Human Rights
- Global Campaign for Education.
- Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
- Initiative for Social and Economic Rights in Uganda
- Right to Education Project, ActionAid