The Education We Want

African teachers organize themselves against privatization of public education. These academics are widespread in Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria and Uganda.

The teacher and his class. Lamu, Kenya. Image credit Rogiro via Flickr (CC).

Education International (EI), the global federation of education unions has 32 million members worldwide, making it one of the largest and most influential in its sector. In Africa, EI represents more than three million teachers and other education workers in 49 countries. One of our key goals is to halt and reverse the privatization of education on the continent. On February 11, 2019, when African Union Heads of State meet in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, we’ll be there to put pressure on heads of state. As Education International’s African Regional committee has noted:

We are witnessing a shift away from education as a public good. Far too many governments are retreating from their obligation as guarantors and providers of quality public education for all. We are seeing a reduction in education budgets and increased privatization of education, which has crept into our education systems, and influenced policy and decision makers.

This is how bleak the state of education is across our continent.

Education is a vehicle for human development and remains the most potent instrument for transforming lives. As governments across the globe work hard to improve the standard of living of their people it is evidentially unavoidable that education of the masses becomes a priority. The story becomes even more urgent in developing countries, especially in Africa, where education exclusion is so high.

Article 26 of the Universal Declaration on Human Right emphasizes the need for education to be free and accessible, especially at the elementary level. Both the millennium development goals and the sustainable development goals captured education as a universal priority, which constantly prick the minds of world leaders to invest in the education of their people.

History is rife with radical policies adopted by many young, independent African countries to make education a state responsibility. Hitherto, education in the colonies was mainly in the hands of private operators, particularly religious bodies. African countries have moved steadily forward in the provision of education, albeit with funding challenges.

However, the turn of the millennium has witnessed a new phenomenon working hard to take over the provision of education across the globe, especially in developing countries. This new phenomenon is powered by agents of privatization and commercialization. These are people who see education as a commercial, profit making venture. They try to convince governments that they can produce better outcomes more economically and, if given the chance, provide better value-for money services. Their proposals are mainly appealing to governments who concede that they continue to throw funds at underperforming public education. Such is how our governments can be made to abstain from their constitutional obligation regarding education. These private firms currently operate in different forms. They sign operational contract with governments and take over the running of public schools. They also sometimes come in as private investors, set up chains of schools, notably Bridge and Omega schools, as so called low-fee for profit schools in the peri-urban areas. They attack our traditional public schools to make them less attractive to parents and children. As they snake rapidly into the system, the state begins to, sadly, take its eye off public schools and rather lend support to these forces of commercialization.

Education is a public good. In other words, education is a service that must be guaranteed and provided the state to the public. Education is the foundation for human development and the state cannot deny anyone of such right on the basis of cost. Allowing Bridge and Omega to thrive in their current forms means we are auctioning our future well-being to the highest bidder. Their method of imparting knowledge is a sell-out of our culture as a people. Their scripted learning reduces instruction to mechanistic teaching, where teachers have limited professional autonomy. It busily prepares students to pass high stakes test and denies our children other benefits of schooling. As the focus of attention shifts to device screens the critical social aspect of education is lost. As Africans, we need not remind ourselves of the challenges of handling big data with our slow and expensive internet connectivity, and the lack of it in our hard to reach villages.

Bridge International Academies and the likes are demeaning teacher self-esteem and professionalism. Extant literature points to poor treatment of teachers in this chain of schools in Kenya and Uganda. With economic interest as the priority, they pay teachers poorly, provide no security of tenure and mostly employ unqualified teachers, according to studies conducted in Kenya and Ghana on Bridge International Academies and Omega schools respectively. The corporations that run and back these school chains are inconsiderate of the financial position of parents. Children are sacked from school anytime parents are unable to meet fees payments. Innocent children are denied education because their parents are poor. Clearly, this is not the game-changing silver bullet that is expected to rescue the African child from the so-called education melee.

Elected African teacher union leaders have released a statement alongside the African Union Heads of State meeting in Addis Ababa. Representatives of teachers and education workers in Africa have made three clear demands on our leaders:

  • Reject privatization and profit-making in education because of the threat it poses to education as a human right and public good;
  • Prioritize the achievement of inclusive and equitable quality free public education for all, and
  • Realize the internationally-agreed minimum education funding benchmarks by allocating at least 6% of a country’s GDP or 20% of the national budget to education.

These must be met, unconditionally, for the achievement of “Agenda 2063—The Africa We Want.”

Education is a public good and a human right. It must be tailored to bridge the gap between the haves and have nots. If Africa is to take its rightful place in the comity of nations, Africa must strive for a literate society by investing in the education of its people. States must take full responsibility for education delivery, invest in education and run education as a social service. Africa must not bow to pressure from  development partners and donors who appear to have a soft spot for people who place profit before books. Africa must reject privatization and commercialization of education. The shift away from education as a public good is dangerous and must be stopped. The Africa We Want can only be achieved through well-funded quality public education guaranteed and provided by the state.

Further Reading

Fallism For What

After the reawakening of South African student activism, what next? It is at the point of the rub between race, class and gender politics that the difficult questions present themselves.