From 15th to 21st October, civil society organisations from around the world convened in London for a series of workshops and public events to examine the impact of the growing involvement of private actors on the right to education.
Whilst private education has always been a feature of many national education systems, over the past few decades there has been an explosion of private providers of education in low and middle income countries, without the necessary monitoring, supervision and regulation by governments. This growth of private actors in education needs to be examined as it raises important questions about the implications of such an expansion for social justice, social cohesion, and the role and future of education.
The week of activities was organised by the Right to Education Project (RTE), the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (GI) and the Privatisation in Education Research Initiative (PERI). In addition to several workshops, three public events were organised to interact with the press and general public, with academics, and with the UK Parliament.
Why Does the UK Government Accept No Role for For-Profit Education in the UK but Supports it in the Global South?
The week started with a press conference to launch a ground-breaking report that questions whether the UK’s support of for-profit private actors in education in developing countries may be in contravention of the UK’s legal obligations to respect, protect, and fulfil the right to education abroad. The speakers were Delphine Dorsi of the Right to Education Project, Polly Jones of Global Justice Now, Christine Blower of the National Union of Teachers, Salima Namusobya of ISER-Uganda, and Sylvia Mbataru of The CRADLE in Kenya.
The report has been submitted to the UN Committee on the Rights of Child and Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights for them to assess the situation. The reviews of the UK before these Committees will take place in May and June 2016. You can access a summary of the report here.
The report garnered press attention, including in the Times Education Supplement. The National Union of Teachers have started an e-action, whereby you can email Grant Shapps, current Minister of State at the Department for International Development, and tell DfID to stop destabilising public education systems around the world by supporting private sector provision.
The 'Need for Regulation' Highlighted at the Institute of Education
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. On 19th October, a public event was held at the UCL Institute of Education (IoE), 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 speakers were Sandra Fredman of the University of Oxford and Director of the Oxford Human Rights Hub, Sylvain Aubry of the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Right, Sylvia Mbataru of The CRADLE in Kenya, and John Rendel, CEO of PEAS, a chain of non-profit secondary schools in Uganda.
For more information, see our blog post on this event, here.
At the UK Parliament CSOs #TellDfID to Stop Using Taxpayers’ Money to Fund For-Profit Education Abroad
On Wednesday 21st October was a panel discussion at the UK Parliament organised by the All Parliamentary Party Group on Global Education for All, vice-chaired by Chris Heaton Harris MP. The event was an opportunity for civil society to inform and discuss with Parliament the human rights impact of DfID’s support of private schools abroad. Speakers included Dr Prachi Srivastava of the University of Ottawa, Dr Moses Oktech of the UCL Institute of Education, Catherine Pinder of the organisation Ark, and Salima Nambusoya of ISER-Uganda.
A report on this event will be released in late November.
The week-long event highlighted that in many countries and across sectors the growing influx of private actors poses serious human rights challenges.
Worryingly this trend shows no signs of abating, especially given the recent commitment of the international community to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including the goal to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education, which many fear will lead governments to open the door to private actors as a quick and easy way to achieving the goals.
The question now is how to respond to these challenges. Given the complexity of the issues it is clear that there are no easy solutions.
Civil society must thus come together to build partnerships to further understand the issue and to find informed, nuanced and contextual solutions. The meeting in London marked an important moment in this respect, as more than 20 organisations from all regions of the world gathered together and started to map solutions and joint action plans.
The next step will be to ensure that the conditions under which private actors can engage in the education sector without breaching the right to education – the rules of the game – are clearly defined. Clear momentum came out of the week of events. In the coming years, in collaboration with a wide range of actors, civil society organisations will develop Human Rights Guiding Principles on the role of private actors in education, drawing from human rights law, that apply to the growing role of private actors in education.
You can find more information about privatisation, here and 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.
Erica Murphy is Project Officer at the Right to Education Project
Meggan Le Quintrec is Legal Volunteer at the Right to Education Project