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Private Profit, Public Loss: GCE previews its new report on low-fee private schools in Nairobi, Kenya

Bridge Mathare Girl Xavier Bourgois smlOn Monday 5 September the Global Campaign for Education previewed its new report, Private Profit, Public Loss: why the push for low-fee private schools is throwing quality education off track, on the impact of education privatisation at a national event in Nairobi, Kenya. The report is being previewed in advance of its global launch later in September, as the backlash mounts against the growth of for-profit, low-fee private schools in Kenya, Uganda and Liberia.

The report sets out the corrosive consequences – greater inequality and social segregation – of increasing privatisation in education, and casts serious doubt on the ability of for-profit, low-fee private schools to achieve quality education for all. It explores the claims being made by advocates for low-fee private schools – which include the multinational publishing giant Pearson PLC, billionaires Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, the World Bank Group, and the UK’s Department for International Development – that they can provide quality education to the poorest families and, on examination of a broad spread of evidence, finds such claims wanting.

Five core arguments made in favour of low-fee private schools are considered: that they offer better quality education, are affordable, expand access, are more efficient and innovative, and that they respond to parental demand, driving up standards through offering choice and competition. It also examines the impact on public education systems of the pursuit of private sector engagement, as well as the broader impacts on equality and the lives of the most marginalised people.

On quality, chronic underfunding of the education sector has led to dismal educational outcomes, but private schools are also performing poorly. Trained teachers are acknowledged by States as one of the most critical factors in realising quality – but they are being substituted for standardised lessons, often taught by tablet, and by teachers who in the most extreme situations have had only 4 days training.

On affordability, the sums simply do not add up. In Nigeria, for example, the average cost to send two children to a low-fee private school would consume almost 40% of the monthly minimum wage – yet 60% of the population live below the poverty line, earning at most only 72% of minimum wage. In Kenya, half of all households earn KES 7,000 ($75) or less; even assuming a baseline fee cost of $6 a month, sending 3 children to a Bridge Academy would cost at least 24% of their monthly income. More realistic monthly costs of about $17 (to include school meals, uniforms, books and other costs) this would rise to at least 68% of monthly income. 47% of Kenya’s population lives below the poverty line, and for some rural counties this can be as high as 70%.

It is rarely the most marginalised children who attend low-fee private schools. The majority of the world’s out-of-school children live in rural areas, and over a third live in areas suffering disaster or conflict – yet low-fee private schools, and certainly not chains, are rarely found here. Worse still is that girls and children with disabilities are the most likely to suffer from the imposition of a fee.

Far from driving up education standards, increased choice and competition in the education sector have been shown to exacerbate inequalities, and create stratified systems where the poorest are left behind.

GCE President, Camilla Croso, stated:
“The explosion of low-fee private schools, and their endorsement by governments and donors, is a blight on the commitments of States which pledged to honour the right to free, quality, education for all less than a year ago at the UN Sustainable Development Summit. Achieving universal, basic education the world over has always depended on the building of a publicly owned and run education system – and serious investments must be made in them, not in for-profit ‘edu-businesses’. There should be no room for profit-making from education – and certainly not from the poorest people in our societies.” 

The report asserts that the public sector is the best chance for the next generation of children to receive a quality education, and with sufficient financing, strong policies and political will the failings of such systems can be repaired. It also requires a united stand in favour of robust state regulation of private education provision.For decades States have committed to providing quality education for all, but the reality is that sufficient funding has never been realised. The report warns that diverting the funds which do exist to for-profit private sector providers will further erode already weak public systems, and deny another generation of their right to free, quality education.

Private Profit, Public Loss: Why the push for low-fee private schools is throwing quality education off-track is being previewed at the Heron Portico Hotel, Nairobi on 5 September 2016, with a global launch to follow in the week commencing 19th September 2016.

Image courtesy of Xavier Bourgois.