Public funds for private gain

The planned global Education Outcomes Fund—the UN seems onboard—would create markets for “non-state” providers while guaranteeing profits for private investors that purchase “impact bonds.”

Image: Aikawa Ke (via Flickr CC).

This week in New York, on the margins of the UN General Assembly, discussions will take place about mobilizing resources to support the provision of education by “non-state” actors. One proposal, the Education Outcomes Fund, is intended to apply to several countries in Africa and the Middle East.

Beyond openly and exclusively focusing on non-state actors, the Education Outcomes Fund (EOF) for Africa and the Middle East is designed to create markets for “non-state” providers while, at the same time, guaranteeing profits for private investors that purchase “impact bonds.” In the process, transferring tax-payer funded aid into the pockets of private corporations and individuals. Given the refrain of governments about a scarcity of funds for education, this transfer of taxpayer funds intended for the well-being of children to private investors who seek to profit from education is deplorable.

It has rung alarm bells among the representatives of the teaching profession, member organizations of Education International.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG4 which commits governments and the international community to the achievement of inclusive and equitable free quality education and lifelong learning for all, were a tremendous breakthrough for the world. They provided hope, but also concrete commitments to social justice, public services and democratic development. The Education Outcomes Fund is a distortion of that purpose and mission.

The EOF’s preference for non-state actors and schooling models that include Public Private Partnerships/charter schools and fee charging, so called ”low-cost,” private schools ignores the evidence, which shows that privatization does not improve access to nor outcomes of education but rather deepens inequality and segregation, denying the right of all children and youth to quality education.

This is also borne out in research commissioned by Education International which looks at the impact of so called “low-cost” private schools on access and equity and quality.

Our research, for example in Uganda, Kenya and Nigeria which focuses on Bridge International Academies finds that far from providing quality education at a low cost is unaffordable and inaccessible for the very poor and disadvantaged. The business model implemented by this, and other, for-profit school chains involves a number of measures designed to increase rates of profitability which compromise quality teaching and learning. It is a business model which is predicated on the employment of unqualified staff, delivering a standardized scripted curriculum showing little if any regard for inclusive education and cultural and linguistic diversity.

The EOF argues that its model’s strength lies in the fact that it will only pay for “outcomes” achieved. However, results-based financing of education creates perverse incentives to invest in narrow, superficial, short-term “gains” rather than sustainable system strengthening and the holistic development of the child critical to social, cultural, democratic and economic development. A quest for outcomes and the involvement of profit-making organizations in education can lead to the further marginalization of the most vulnerable groups in society.

The promotion by EOF of non-state actors indicates a lack of respect and regard for democratic governance of education and will contribute the commodification of education. Education must be universally embraced as a human right and a public good, not a market commodity.

Education is a public responsibility. The SDGs are about assuming those responsibilities. They are essential to the future and cannot be contracted out or sacrificed to the market. And, yes, they require political will to ensure a sufficient and sustainable source of public funding. We cannot rely on charity or the private sector.

If we believe that all children, regardless of their background or circumstances, regardless of the community, country or continent in which they live have a right to quality education, governments and the international community must invest in the expansion and strengthening of quality, free, universally accessible public education.

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