Students Before Profit: A Response to the Privatisation and Commercialisation of Education in Latin America

published 18 July 2018 updated 18 September 2018

If universal, public, free education was one of the greatest achievements of the Welfare State, it is also one of the few public sectors that up until now has continued to resist commercialisation and liberalisation.

However, the market value it offers makes it a coveted target for profit-seeking companies, which are already increasing their activities across all continents. Whether due to the complicity of nation-states, a lack of or poor understanding of education systems, or occasionally as a result of natural disasters that devastate educational infrastructure, the impact of private enterprises on the provision of education is indisputable.

In light of this reality, which poses a threat not only to education as a human right but also to the working conditions of teachers, Education International resolved to adopt a resolution during its 7th World Congress, launching its Global Response to the Privatisation and Commercialisation of Education.

Latin America has also participated in this priority project since its inception, with a regional strategy that draws on the Pedagogical Movement as a political framework for empowerment. In keeping with the global strategy, case studies have been carried out in various countries, helping to identify recommended policy proposals, form alliances, and galvanise union and political action based on the findings of said research. The grave urgency and seriousness of this phenomenon was apparent in all of the aforementioned case studies.

From Research to Action

The first study, “La privatización educativa en América Latina: Una cartografía de políticas, tendencias y trayectorias”, maps the trends and typologies of the privatisation of education in Latin America. It shows that Latin America and the Caribbean stand out as the region with the highest rate of private primary education in the world, and its growth has been the most sustained since the mid-1990s.

This study was followed up by a number of case studies on a national level, such as “Privatización educativa en Uruguay: políticas, actores y posiciones”, which reveals the latent privatisation of education in Uruguay. It highlights the process of privatisation“through” education policies, understood as the growing influence of private actors —corporations, non-governmental organisations, philanthropic organisations— in positions of power and decision-making that dictate the political-pedagogical direction of the public education agenda.

Regional Strategy

In July 2018, the Regional Committee Meeting of Education International Latin America (EILA), held in Cochabamba, Bolivia, centred on the topic of privatisation. Hugo Yasky, President of EILA, denounced the collusion of certain Latin American governments with the interests of business sectors in light of the implementation of measures aimed at undoing the progress made by progressive governments over the past decade. “There is currently great debate in Latin America (...) with regard to the continued understanding of education as a social right”, Hugo Yasky stated during his presentation. He also condemned the role of international financial institutions, labelling them “a kind of supra-government controlling our own governments” and highlighting their pivotal role in promoting measures to privatise education throughout the region.

The Global Response in Latin America, after three years of research, activities and political action, has managed to unite a wide array of union, social, and political movements around a common goal: incorporating the defence of high-quality public education against profit-seeking enterprises into the agendas and action plans of all members. This strategy is summarised in the Declaration adopted in Cochabamba, which states that: “In a region like Latin America, where the greatest challenge is to bridge the gap of inequality and promote social inclusion, the demand must be for strengthening of rights, among other issues”. The declaration, officially endorsed by the government of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, conveys the recognition of the key role education unions have to play as agents of transformation and mobilisation of political and social forces.