Education International
Education International

Two expert human rights bodies worried about the commercialization of education in Kenya

published 19 November 2015 updated 19 November 2015
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PRESS RELEASE Friday 20 November 2015

(Nairobi) The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) published last month a List of issues in response to the combined second to fifth periodic report submitted by Kenya about its implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. In the document, the Committee requests in particular the government to provide information “on the measures taken to increase the number of public primary schools and enhance the quality of public schools, particularly in informal settlements and remote rural areas since the introduction of the free primary education policy” and to explain “how the State party has regulated and monitored ‘informal private schools (or low-cost private schools)’ to ensure quality education”.

List of issues are a list of questions addressed to States by UN human rights committee of experts. Kenya, since it has ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, must submit every five year a periodic report explaining how the country meets its obligations under this Covenant. Following the submission of the report, a list of issues is issued by the CESCR, which Kenya has three months to respond to.

The fact that the CESCR highlighted the issue of the regulation of private schools, in particular non-formal private schools, and the situation in informal settlements, is a victory for the civil society organisations that had submitted last September a parallel report on the matter.

The civil society report, titled “Kenya’s support to privatisation in education: the choice for segregation?”, was supported by five Kenyan organisations – Hakijamii, the East African Centre for Human Rights (EACHRights), the CRADLE, Kituo cha Sheria, and the Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) –, and the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. It analyses the negative impacts of the unregulated growth of private actors in the provision of basic education on inequalities and human rights in Kenya.

According to Cleophas Maragia, the director of EACHRights, “Education is being privatised in Kenya at an alarming rate without the corresponding monitoring and regulation by the State. In fact, Kenya is encouraging the growth of low cost, low-quality, commercial private schools through the enactment of laws and policies that promote the commercialization of education”.

Sylvia Mbataru, from the CRADLE, added: “These laws and policies have enabled development partners such as the World Bank and the UK government through the Department for International Development (DFID) to fund corporations that provide low quality basic education to poor communities in Kenya at a “low cost”, such as Bridge International Academies.”Ashina Mtsumi, from Hakijamii, emphasised: “This undermines the right to education as these supposedly “low cost” schools are not only unaffordable to the poorest, but they also are an excuse for the government to not build public schools in informal settlements and other historically marginalised areas, whereas according to the Kenyan constitution everyone a right to free quality education.”

The list of issues of the CESCR comes against a background of mounting concerns over commercialisation of education in Kenya, and in Africa. Last week, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights also questioned the definition of “non-formal schools” by the Kenyan government, and how this is used as an excuse to not provide public schools. It further asked “Why are private school chains, such as Bridge International Academies, registered as non-formal schools, whereas they appear to offer formal education?”

This follows a joint statement from last May where 116 organisations across the world expressed their deep concerns about the World Bank’s support for the development of Bridge International Academies (BIA). BIA is a multinational chain of low-fee profit-making private primary schools targeting poor families in Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, and which has over 400 schools in Kenya. The school chain has come under scrutiny in the last months over questions of quality it delivers, its profit motive, the fees it charges, and the regulation of its operations in Kenya. In particular, in a recent controversial move, BIA, expressed its opposition to new guidelines proposed by the Kenya Cabinet Secretary for Education aiming at ensuring basic standards in non-formal schools.

Earlier this year, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to Education, Kishore Singh, had also warned that “soon, it may not be an exaggeration to say that privatization is supplanting public education instead of supplementing it”, whereas “inequalities in opportunities for education will be exacerbated by the growth of unregulated private providers of education, with economic condition, wealth or property becoming the most important criterion for gaining access to education”.

Thus, according to the secretary general of the Kenya National Union of Teachers, Wilson Sossion, “There is a need to ensure that alternative provision of basic education is closely monitored and regulated by the State so it does not result in inequalities, and that access to quality education is guaranteed for all children equally regardless of their socio economic status. Kenyan CSOs are highly concerned about the commercialization of education in Kenya and we call upon the State to respond to the mounting concerns of the international community on education being offered for profit as opposed to it being regarded as human right.”


East African Centre for Human Rights (EACHRights)Mathare AssociationEconomic and Social Rights- Haki JamiiGlobal Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural RightsCRADLE, the Children FoundationKenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT)

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