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Development should prioritise strengthening education

GENEVA (26 June 2019) Private sector involvement in education must be strictly controlled, a UN expert has told the Human Rights Council.

“First and foremost, education is a human right, a public good and an obligation of States,” said Koumbou Boly Barry, Special Rapporteur on the right to education, who was presenting a report on the implementation of the right to education and Sustainable Development Goal 4 in the context of the growth of private actors in education.

The aim of Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) is to ensure that by 2030 “all girls and boys receive a full cycle of free and quality primary and secondary education on an equal footing, leading to truly useful learning”.

Over the past two decades, there have been massive, unprecedented changes in the structure of education systems, whereby private actors have taken a stronger role in all countries, the Special Rapporteur said.

“Those changes create a phenomenon of privatisation in and of education, threatening the right to education, and the realisation of SDG 4. I call on all States to firmly regulate that sector,” she said.

“I regret that resorting to the private sector has now become an integral part of donors' development assistance strategies,” the expert said. “Resorting to the private sector, in particular the commercial sector, in an attempt to resolve problems encountered by public education systems is a step in the wrong direction and shall not be seen as ineluctable.”

Boly Barry warned that, while private education may sometimes be necessary to temporarily reach the largest number of students, as well as to guarantee freedom of education and to offer parents and learners freedom of choice, the use of for-profit private actors leads to many abuses.

“All too often, seeking to maximise profits, these actors do so through the recruitment of unqualified teachers, exclusion of students who cannot pay school fees, inadequate infrastructure, and overcrowded classes. Contrary to the claim made by commercial actors, in many cases, poor quality education then results from the privatisation of education.

“Member States as well as agencies and organisations providing development aid should not provide financial support to commercial educational institutions. The focus of any assistance should instead be on strengthening the public education sectors,” the Special Rapporteur said, adding that this principle is highlighted by the Guidelines on Private Sector Participation in Education, recently adopted in Abidjan.

Boly Barry said that she had very recently contacted the Global Education Partnership to express her concern over its discussion of the possibility of financing commercial actors working in the field of education, and that she intends to continue the discussion with them on that issue.

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