Education is a human right and a public good. However, the growing commercialisation and privatisation in and of education represents the greatest threat to the achievement of quality free public education for all.
This attack on public education is constituted of marketization and trade in education and intellectual property, the application of private-sector management models on education institutions, the undermining-including the casualisation- of employment conditions in the education sector, the privatization of provision and the expansion of “low-fee” private schools, and the intrusion of for-profit motives or business interests in the governance of education institutions.
The emergence of the global “market” in education is facilitated by trade and investment agreements like the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) as well as a growing number of bilateral and regional treaties. The Trade in Services Agreement (TISA), the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) loom on the horizon. The inclusion of education in these agreements will mean that education is treated like other private services. This risks transforming education from a public good into a commodity, favouring commercials imperatives over educational principles and private profit over student learning. EI continues to advocate that education is carved out of private investor protections, and that education remains a public good that is democratically controlled.
EI policy concerning the privatization and commercialization of education has been shaped by numerous resolutions passed by World Congresses since 1995. They include:
- “Resolution on the Dangers of Privatization of Public Education” (1995)
- “Resolution on the Global Campaign to Defend and Enhance Public Education” (1998)
- “Resolution on the International Labour Organization, the World Trade Organization, and the Globalization of the Economy” (1998)
- “Resolution on the World Economy and Education” (1998)
- “Resolution on Educating in a Global Economy” (2001)
- “Resolution on Globalization and the Rights and Employment conditions of Teachers and Education Personnel” (2001)
- “Resolution on the International Labour Organization, the World Trade Organization, and the Globalization of the Economy” (2001)
- “Resolution on Education - Public Service or Commodity?” (2004)
- “Resolution on defence and development of public education” (2007)
- “Resolution on the Strengthening of International Trade Unionism within the Context of Globalization” (2011)
- “Resolution on Copyright and Education” (2011), and
- “Resolution on Stopping TTIP, TISA, CETA, TPP and other similar trade and investment agreements” (2015).
The Global Response
Most recently, with public education under unprecedented threat, EI’s 7th World Congress in 2015 resolved to continue EI’s Unite for Education campaign by demonstrating that privatisation undermines public education and is detrimental to the interests of society. Thus, EI’s “Global Response to the commercialisation and privatisation of education” was born.
As education is seen as an increasingly lucrative global market by private corporations, the Global Response monitors and analyses the involvement of education corporations and edu-businesses and advocates against the expansion of profit making in education where it undermines the right of all students to free quality education. The campaign responds specifically to private involvement in education provision through low-fee private schools; corporate influences in education policy and education governance; and the selling of educational services such as standardised testing, teacher evaluation tools and curricula. Such involvement is shown to negatively impact the right to education by entrenching inequalities and excluding the marginalised; undermining the working conditions and rights of teacher professionals and education workers; and eroding democratic decision making and public accountability in relation to education governance.
The scale and the reach of the threat to public education posed by education marketization is enormous. Yet it is in developing countries that this threat is the most profound, as corporations maximise the opportunities to make profit in countries that lack strong regulatory frameworks. In some case, the involvement of private education corporations is even encouraged by domestic governments and supported by aid agencies in developed countries. The impacts of education privatisation are felt with most intensity in developing countries, as user fees to for-profit schools further impoverish poor families and exclude the poorest.
The Global Response seeks to ensure that governments do not abrogate their obligation to ensure that every student has access to free, quality public education by facilitating the growth in the privatisation of education. Instead, governments must increase domestic resource mobilisation for education to at least 6%, target resources to combat educational inequality, and strengthen regulations to guard against profit making in education that undermines the right to free, quality education. Where governments lack capacity and have not reached the target of education of all, a strong bond of international solidarity is needed to provide aid and assistance to achieve the internationally agreed Sustainable Development Goals.
An example of recent targeted campaigns
In addition to its broad global campaign, the Global Response campaigns in target countries where education unions have identified a particular threat to public education.
Recent campaigns have included a focus on combatting the expansion of low-fee private school corporations and have sought to halt the operations of Bridge International Academies (Bridge) in Uganda and Kenya. Research showed that the company offered low quality education with unqualified teachers teaching from scripts and that their education provision excluded the poorest and most marginalised, and increased educational segregation.
In collaboration with teacher unions in Uganda and Kenya, the GR campaign raised awareness of Bridge’s illegal operations and the negative impact of their educational provision both nationally and internationally. After sustained efforts and the uniting of various stakeholders including unions, politicians, researchers, community leaders, teachers, parents, students and members of the general public, numerous unlicensed Bridge schools were ordered to be closed down in both Uganda and Kenya.
Yet, the campaign against corporate take-over continues. Bridge International Academies (Bridge) is one of the largest actors in the “global education market” and remains defiant in the face of the ordered closures. It continues to expand very rapidly and plans to sell basic education services directly to 10 million fee-paying students in Africa and Asia by 2025.
Thus, the Global Response campaign continues to speak out against the profit-making company, revealing its conflicts of interest and the fact that its business model focuses on cutting costs and tapping into lucrative, exploitative market opportunities to profit from the poor.
Uniting against the privatisation and commercialisation of education
Privatization both in and of education is an ever increasing danger to public education. In order to combat this threat, we must unite.
EI will continue to work with the broader union movement and a range of like-minded stakeholders and civil society organisations to monitor, analyse, raise awareness of and fight against the commercialisation and privatisation of education in all its forms in order to protect public education.
All children have the right to and deserve free, quality public education. Profit-making in and of education should play no role.
For more information, visit www.unite4education.org