Efforts to secure inclusive and equitable education for all have prompted calls for greater engagement by the private sector, asserting that businesses and foundations can play significant roles as partners in achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4).

In recent years, given shortfalls in public financing and the need for urgent responses, private actors have increasingly become involved in various aspects of educational programming for education in emergencies (EiE). The arrangement, however, can produce tensions between private engagement and humanitarian response in education, which needs to be addressed and in turn requires extra coordination, advocacy and attention. This brief explores some of these tensions and makes recommendations to support the prioritization of safe, equitable, and quality public education for all children and young people affected by crises.

INEE supports every young person’s right to education and recognizes the State as the primary duty-bearer of schooling, in alignment with international declarations, frameworks, and legal instruments that assert and protect the right to education

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Non-state actors’ role extends beyond provision of schooling to interventions at various education levels and influence spheres. Alongside its review of progress towards SDG 4, including emerging evidence on the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact, the 2021/2 Global Education Monitoring Report urges governments to see all institutions, students and teachers as part of a single system. Standards, information, incentives and accountability should help governments protect, respect and fulfil the right to education of all, without turning their eyes away from privilege or exploitation. Publicly funded education does not have to be publicly provided but disparity in education processes, student outcomes and teacher working conditions must be addressed. Efficiency and innovation, rather than being commercial secrets, should be diffused and practised by all. To that end, transparency and integrity in the public education policy process need to be maintained to block vested interests.

The report’s rallying call – Who chooses? Who loses? – Invites policymakers to question relationships with non-state actors in terms of fundamental choices: between equity and freedom of choice; between encouraging initiative and setting standards; between groups of varying means and needs; between immediate commitments under SDG 4 and those to be progressively realized (e.g. post-secondary education); and between education and other social sectors.

Key resource

This background paper prepared for the Global Education Monitoring Report on non-States' actors in education: Who chooses? Who looses? provides both the rationale and the framework for re-centring a human rights’ perspective in education sector analysis. It draws on international human rights law as specified in the recently adopted Abidjan Principles on the human rights obligations of States to provide public education and to regulate private involvement in education, a landmark text for the interpretation of the right to education, in particular in the context of growing privatisation in and of education. The paper outlines how to use the Abidjan Principles to develop a tool to measure if and how States are implementing and individuals are enjoying those rights, with a specific focus on the role of non-State actors. We find that reframing education analysis through a human rights lens provides a sharp contrast to the narrow view of education as a human capital generator. Using the human rights framework of structures, processes, and outcomes, we not only detail questions which can guide future research and advocacy, but also demonstrate its use in evaluating data availability and sector plans in the United States and Côte D’Ivoire and re-evaluating existing conclusions from “The Role and Impact of Private Schools in Developing Countries” (Day Ashley et al., 2014). 

In the light of human rights standards on the right to education and the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4, the signatory civil society organisations below raise serious concerns about the potential implications of the recently released working paper “Can Education be Standardized? Evidence from Kenya". We urge governments and other actors to recognise the limitations of this study, which some will seek to use to justify the expansion of for-profit private provision of education and scripted teaching methods. There are well established approaches to address the challenges faced by some education systems and we urge all actors to focus on education strategies and policies that have been proven to deliver inclusive, equitable and good quality education, and that contribute to strengthening public education for all.

 

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Statement made by the Right to Education Initiative along with 68civil society organisations from all over the world welcoming the publication on 24 November 2022 of the landmark General Comment No. 7 on State obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights in the context of private provision of public services by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

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