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Civil society condemns emphasis on privatisation in MDGs Africa Progress Report

published 28 November 2014 updated 5 December 2014

In a joint statement released today in Marrakech at the Education Forum of the World Human Rights Forum, more than 30 African and international civil society organisations have raised serious concerns about the emphasis on private sector involvement in education in Africa in a recent report.

This report of the African Development Bank (AfDB), the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the African Union Commission (AUC), and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on progress on the MDGs in Africa. The report is significant as it will shape the debate for the next development framework, post 2015.

The Statement highlights that privatisation policies increase inequality in access, do not guarantee quality and undermine the notion of education as a public good.  It calls for the withdrawal of the MDG Report 2014: Assessing Progress in Africa Toward the Millennium Development Goals, so as to reconsider the recommendations in support of privatisation in education and make recommendations which are consistent with the human right to education

Mr Limbani Nsapato of the African Network Campaign on Education for All (ANCEFA), one of the organisations leading the Statement said “We are very disturbed by this Report’s recommendations for greater private sector involvement in education provision, as they ignore the growing evidence that privatisation in education creates inequality and leads to segregation, as we are seeing now in Ghana.”

“Despite recognising that the two education policies have been particularly effective in expanding educational access and participation - the elimination of fees and long-term State investments in education - the report’s calls for an increased role for private actors would take education in Africa in the opposite direction, and risk undermining achievements in increased access”, said Mr David Archer, of ActionAid.

Ms Caroline Pearce of the Global Campaign for Education (GCE) commented “We know that school fees and other education costs are a major barrier to access to education.  Most of the dramatic increases in primary school enrolment in Africa since 2000, in particular girls’ enrolments, came about after the elimination of fees. Yet this report promotes further privatisation which invariably entails fee-paying schools.”

As the MDG Report 2014 acknowledges, many African countries are “still facing schooling gaps between the poorest and the richest households”. The African Union, through the Second Decade of Education (2006-2015) plan of action, reiterated the need to ensure equity.  These principles are also strongly protected under international law.

However, increased private sector participation in education is a strong driver of segregation and inequalities of opportunities. As the UN Special Rapporteur on the right education recently put it, privatisation “flies in the face of prohibited grounds of discrimination based, notably, on ‘social origin’, ‘economic condition’, ‘birth’ or ‘property’ in international human rights conventions”.[i]

The civil society Statement also warns that privatisation in education leads to violations of international human rights law. Mr Sylvain Aubry of the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, said “We have done research on privatisation in education occurring in Ghana, Morocco, Uganda, Chile, and Kenya, and found violations of the right to education, in particular the right to non-discrimination, government’s obligation to provide free quality education, and failures to regulation and monitor private schools”.

The Report justifies a call for increased private sector participation in education on the grounds that it could help improve quality. Yet the evidence does not support this position. Mr Fred van Leeuwen of Education International commented “Adequate teachers’ qualifications, training and decent working conditions are crucial factors in ensuring quality education. However, in many countries, private schools employ unqualified and insufficiently trained teachers. In Ghana, for example, only 9.2% of primary level teachers are trained in the private sector compared to 69.4% in public schools.”

The quality of private education is also problematic in Morocco, where the World Human Rights Forum is hosted. Ahmed Sehouate from the Moroccan Coalition on Education for All said ‘in Morocco private investments in education do not equate to investments in quality. After almost 15 years of a rapid increase in private investment in education, private schools have failed to train any teachers, but rely extensively on teachers from the public sector, thereby weakening it.

It is clear under international law that education is a public good, which must thus be protected against marketisation and commodification. States emphasised a few months ago in the so-called Muscat agreement, “through governments, the state is the custodian of quality education as a public good”. In spite of this, the MDG Report 2014 explicitly calls for commercialisation in education that “is conducive to profitable returns on investment”. Ms Pearce of GCE emphasised “Profit making in education is unacceptable, especially where taking advantage of the aspirations for a better life, of the poorest parents.”