Fighting the commercialisation of education
For many years now, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) in Nigeria has been pushing for public education. Efforts include joining Education International’s Global Response campaign to counter the privatisation of education institutions, which undermines the right to education.
“Nigeria is one of the first countries targeted in Africa for the campaign against privatisation with the German political foundation Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung (FES),” recalled NUT Director of Administration and Staff Training and Programme Coordinator for the Global Response Project, Clinton Ikpitibo.
In 2019, NUT already stated its determination to prevent exploitation of the poor by marketeers in education. In May, in collaboration with Education International and FES, it organised a workshop in the capital city, Abuja, attended by 220 NUT leaders drawn from all the states of Nigeria. Under the theme “The Right to Quality Education: the responsibility of governments”, the event aimed to enhance public awareness on the dangers and implications of low-cost, for-profit education in Nigeria,
- Assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on education, as well as the need for appropriate recovery measures to minimise its impact;
- Build consensus of stakeholders towards a safe reopening of schools;
- Discuss issues concerning commercialisation and privatisation of Education amidst COVID-19; and
- Reflect on training of professional teachers for effective use of technology in education.
Raising awareness on the negative impact of privatisation on education
Ikpitibo pointed out that “so far, we have been successfully raising awareness on the negative impact of privatisation/commercialisation on education. We have been working with partners such as ActionAid and lobbying in favour of increased investment in education and public schools, for example, in Lagos”.
He also reported that NUT received positive responses from state authorities, at local and national levels. The union met with governors to decrease the number of private schools. Parents also got involved.
In some areas, they reversed privatisation of schools: “Monitoring activities of actors in education, as in River State, we made private schools close. In Lagos, nine Bridge International Academies were closed. So the activities of the Global Response campaign have limited the spread of private schools,” Ikpitibo explained.
“The government is failing the education system, not giving enough attention to public education, almost abdicating responsibility to respect the right to public quality education. It has failed in providing resources for education through a progressive and fair tax system. Compared to international agreed benchmarks, we are a far cry from the targets for funds allocation/provision to public education.” NUT Director of Administration and Staff Training and Programme Coordinator for the Global Response Project, Clinton Ikpitibo.
For NUT National Publicity Secretary and Chairperson of the Organising Committee on Commercialisation and Privatisation of Schools, Amba Audu Titus, “privatisation creates segregation and entrenches inequalities in education. Children of poor people won’t have as much access to education as kids of rich people. Education must be free and affordable to all children, no matter their parents’ status.”
He warned that “privatisation undermines the right to free, equitable quality education for all. It also undermines the status and working conditions of teachers and education support personnel, leading to casualisation of teachers. It promotes the employment of unqualified teachers, under minimum required standards.”
He was adamant that “only professionally trained teachers should be able to teach in our schools”.
He went on to say that “privatisation tramples on the rights of teachers: no minimum wage, and standards are not respected. It undermines professional autonomy and academic freedom, and focuses on business.”
However, Titus also noted positive responses, changes made by governmental authorities, like the increase of their commitment to public education.
Many challenges to overcome
Asked about key challenges of the Global Response Campaign in Nigeria, Ikpitibo stressed the huge population – 200 million people –; the fact that local and federal states have their say on education: the resistance from private schools’ owners; the national policy in education in Nigeria providing for the participation of non-state actors; the attraction of the Nigerian general public towards privatisation; the need for increased funds to extend the campaign to the interior of the country, and escalating insecurity in some areas.
He deplored that: “The government is failing the education system, not giving enough attention to public education, almost abdicating responsibility to respect the right to public quality education. It has failed in providing resources for education through a progressive and fair tax system. Compared to international agreed benchmarks, we are a far cry from the targets for funds allocation/provision to public education.”
When public education is made attractive, results are there to be seen, he insisted, adding: “With the Global response campaign, we are moving from region to region. Members are involved in stages. The Eastern region is the next region NUT will act upon in terms of education privatisation.”
Financial support is key
Titus also mentioned that technical and financial support from Education International is key, especially to build union leaders and teachers’ capacity at subnational level, to strengthen the campaign to discourage international financing institutions and development partners, like Bridge International Academies, and to fund research.
On research, Ikpitibo stressed that “the Global Response project in Nigeria will have to survive, and we therefore need research to find out the current state of the campaign. We also need financing support at state and local levels.”
Union efforts to raise awareness about the Global Response campaign
He concluded by saying that NUT is very active in raising awareness about the campaign, using different communication channels to take it to grassroot level. “We chose target audiences. We organised a public launch of the research, which was distributed to governments and education stakeholders. We contributed at hearings in state and national assemblies. We had direct meetings with officials. Press releases were also sent out. We distributed flyers. And each year, we use the platform provided by World Teachers’ Day to highlight the Global Response campaign.”