This past week has been a big win for people working to improve education in countries that have been plagued by Private-for-profit schools, such as Kenya, India, Ghana, Uganda and Liberia. The World Bank Group announced that its private sector division, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) would be reforming how they approach lending policy, their transparency and freezing any investments they have on private-for-profit primary and secondary schools.
Oxfam International’s Head of Washington DC Office, Nadia Daar, said:
“We commend Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Chairwoman of the HFSC, for advancing this crucial reform agenda at the IFC where the US remains the largest shareholder, and applaud IFC CEO Philippe Le Houérou for his leadership in making these reforms possible. This is a huge step forward not just for the IFC, but for how we understand the role of the private sector in development.”
“This historic decision from the IFC will ensure its investments support improvements in education without excluding children or impoverishing families. Public aid money should not be used to fund corporate-backed private school chains that fuel inequality. Other donor agencies and governments now need to follow suit.”
This freeze is in response to concerns raised by 170 organizations, including Jubilee Scotland who called on the World Bank to end support for these forms of private education that profit on the exploitation of poor children, creating wider inequality. We called for expansions of public education that everyone can access- instead of ‘low-fee private schools’ which exclude girls, impoverished children and paid extremely low wages to under qualified teachers. In Uganda and Kenya, these schools have been accused of refusing to comply with minimum government education standards.
In addition to the freeze the IFC announced an evaluation of its investments in private schools by the World Bank’s independent evaluation group. Oxfam have stated that the COVID-19 Pandemic cannot be used by any donor as an excuse to invest in for-profit education, with the need for these organisations to financing to help countries meet educational needs of millions of children out of school with no access to online classes, tutors or computers.
This move by the bank has been a good start for ending private financing that negatively impacts communities while letting private companies profit. It is time for the UK to take out their investment in these schools that are part of this problem, especially when this investment is supposed to be providing aid.
The Guardian published an article this weekend that focuses on the UK’s current position on this issue.
“The Department for International Development (DfID) has given millions of pounds to low-fee private schools (LFPS) in countries around the world, including Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Ghana and Pakistan. It believes the money can help improve the educational prospects of children in places where public-sector schools are poor or lacking.
But the funding, some of it channelled through DfID’s private investment arm, CDC, has proved controversial. Among those that have received UK taxpayer cash are the private school chain Bridge International Academies (BIA) which has also been the recipient of money from Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.”
Bridge International Academies runs low-cost schools with the UK investing £12.3 in the company. Last year a World Bank watchdog, the Compliance Adviser Ombudsman (CAO) investigated BIA’s operations in Kenya and found allegations of human rights abuses, poor working conditions, discrimination, lack of transparency and intimidation, as well as concerns about pay, health and safety and sanitation.
At the time the DFID said they would investigate the situation, something which they are continuing to work on with the WBG. But this should be a sign that the policy of DFID investing aid money in Public Private Partnerships can can lead to situations like this. PPPs and their lack of accountability and transparency have led to fee-paying schools with questionable quality popping up in countries which need to fight for free and universal education.
Linda Oduor-Noah, project manager at East African Campaign for Human Rights commented “We have heard first-hand from other investors that they are keenly awaiting the outcome of the investigation,”she said. “I would like Bridge to respect human rights and I think that no for-profit entity should masquerade as having social agenda, when at the end of the day profit drives all decision making. People involved in the provision of public goods should never endeavour to make profit off the poor.” Bridge Schools have had a researcher arrested and have lobbied the investigation of the issues of their schools. The reseracher they arrested, Curtis Riep made the recommendation to not fund Bridge Schools as they neglect legal standards while driving profit, a clear case of a PPP that starts with an altrustic goal that become consumed by profit margins as time goes on.
As a private company they have produced research and press releases justifying the existence of PPPs that come off as strange and potentially misleading PR moves. In one report produced by BIA about the British public’s support and approval of Privately provided education in foreign countries, they say that over half of people are in support of these type of schools. They’ve done the same for the public opinon of USA citizens, but the reports use leading questions that doesn’t show any transparency of what these private schools actually are like.
These reports don’t talk about the actual work they do, but just dress up some market research, that makes it look like people are in favor of this, but It’s hard to say that the every-man on the street in any English speaking country has enough information to make a valid assessment of the issues surrounding privatization of education in Africa. With statistics that look good, they can claim that people approve of what they do without shedding much light on it at all or twisting figures and claims. They asked people if a social enterprise company like them should run schools that cost parents about $7 US dollars a month, in countries where there is a lack of other schools. Of course this sounds like a great idea when you think about what that amount of money means to you, but this is without mentioning that $7 can be a huge amount of a persons income in these countries. The teachers at these Schools work up to 65 hours per week and only take away $100 per month. In Kenya, sending three children to a Bridge school is estimated to represent almost a third of the monthly income of families living on $1.25 (94p) a day, according to a joint study by Kenya National Union of Teachers and Education International, a federation representing 32 million teachers and support staff. Instead of spending time
The European investment bank financed Bridge International Academies Ltd (BIA) through an equity fund, who became involved in a controversial PPP educational project in Liberia. Indeed, the Liberian government outsourced the lion share of its public pre-primary and primary schools to BIA, but the process was not competitive, local communities were not properly consulted, and there was not full transparency.
This is just one of many providing this form of private-for-profit education, PPPs in Africa that provide public services in a way that makes it harder to make people accountable when they can’t meet standards that they promised. The issues is that many countries can’t offer a full education system alone without some reform of the corruption within their society, in places like Liberia the education system has been broken for years. Private alternatives are marginally better for learning outcomes, but still fail students on basic human rights and protections from abuse.
The steps that the World Bank group have taken are great and hopefully open up a conversation about how to ensure the education in the global south can thrive and not be used as a tool to drive profit. But this is an issue that should be closely watched. While our government uses PPPs to provide part of our education infrastructure with mixed results, handing a contract over to private companies to overhaul a whole system in places like the Global South edges out what the ultimate aim should be in these places – quality universal free education for all children.
This article was initially posted on our Medium.com blog.