#WDR2018 Reality Check #3: Say No to for profit experiments in education: support Public education

The World Development Report (WDR) 2018 - Learning to realize Education’s Promise - places learning at the center to equip children and youth for the future. The report recognizes the key role teachers play in achievement of quality education.

The WDR also states clearly that there is no consistent evidence that private schools deliver better learning outcomes than public schools and also points out numerous risks such as exclusion of the disadvantaged and the undermining of public education. Regardless of the inadequacies in the depth of analysis on some issues such as on teacher absenteeism, and practical recommendations that would lead to a steep decline in teacher status and promote a de-professionalisation agenda, the World Bank is commended for this first ever report that is intended to promote access to quality education for all.

Given the above reasons, it is prudent for any funding, however small, to be channeled to public education if we are to ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education as stipulated in Sustainable Development Goal 4.

During the World Bank Civil Society Policy Forum of 10-13 October 2017), what came out clearly was the fact that more education financing was needed, especially for the GPE replenishment in early 2018, to support long term systemic reforms in the education sector. The respective countries are urged to place education among the priority items and devote at least 4-6 % of GDP or 15-20% of the national budgets on education (see UNESCO Framework for Action). The need for increased Education financing was emphasized at the “Pass or fail, are countries doing their homework” panel discussion. Among the measures proposed were promotion of labour rights, social spending and progressivity of the tax code. In Africa over 500 billion is lost in tax evasion which could have supported all children out of school to get an education.

During the forum, questions were also raised relating to public-private partnerships (PPPs) and the World Bank’s engagement with private education providers. On the issue of PPPs, WB executive directors (EDs) said that they relieve pressure on governments budgets and save them from debts. So far IFC/WB has 105 country clients but they are still fishing for more. What is the implication of this from the education perspective? At one of the panel discussions at the policy forum entitled “The World Bank’s Approach to Education: Perspectives on the WDR and the World Bank policy and lending”,  the Bank was challenged on why it was investing in Bridge International Academies ,  through its private arm International Finance Corporation (IFC) - which are for profit private education. The response was simply that over 99.5% of the Bank’s Portfolio on education fosters free quality public education (Dr Jaime Saavedra- Senior Director, Education World Bank).

Relatedly, the IFC Chief Executive Officer, Philippe Le Houerou, when asked about the IFC approach to education investment and the impact of Bridge International Academies in Uganda had this to say:

“ There have been many discussions on Bridge schools, including by ITUC, Education International. Education is a small sector, I think we should do more. If you do not experiment, you won’t learn. The Bank is watching outcomes and will scale up if it works”- .

Every child, whether from a poor country in Africa or elsewhere deserves a quality education and no-one should be experimenting with unqualified teachers and poor infrastructure to realize the planned profits ($4 for every $1 for IFC business ventures).

Since 2015, Bridge has been experimenting in Uganda and currently 62 of its 63 schools have been established with disregard of the country’s education Basic Requirements and Minimum Standards and legal processes as laid down in the Uganda’s Education Act 2008. Bridge was providing an education well below the national standards.

In 2016, UNATU was alerted to Bridge operations through the research study by Education International, “Schooling the Poor Profitably, the innovations & deprivations of Bridge International Academies in Uganda(2016). Some of the issues revealed in the report include: inadequate school facilities with poor sanitation that puts children at risk; unaccredited curriculum; and employing a business model premised on affordability and scalability. BIA is not affordable or low cost as portrayed, for in Uganda they charge 129-152 US Dollars a year. A family with an average income would spend 50% of the annual income to send 2 children to a Bridge school.

Other issues include the use of unqualified teachers - 80-90% of the teachers are unqualified - some of whom are paid as low as 40-60 US Dollars a month. Teachers engaged in the private sector are often times exploited for they are paid much below the pay for teachers in public schools and not given formal contracts.  This undermines the decent work agenda.

These findings were immediately put to the attention of the Members of Parliament by the Uganda National Teachers Union  (UNATU) Chairperson and based on these facts and field findings, the Parliament of Uganda endorsed the closure of BIA on 8th August 2016. On 4th November 2016, the High Court of Uganda Ordered the closure of BIAs in Uganda after BIA lost an appeal case.

The Government of Uganda is commended for this bold move and apart from the President of the Republic of Uganda personally launching the report on 5th October 2016 during the World Teacher Day,  I witnessed a rare occurrence of people from all walks of life - parents, local leaders, civil society, politicians, including Members of Parliament and Cabinet Ministers, educators, legal fraternity  and the media - all speaking against an education provider that was undermining the national sovereignty and putting the future of affected children in danger.

What was re-echoed to the WB Executive Directors at different forums during the recent Annual meetings was the fact that BIA education has severe consequences on the right to quality, free education for all, especially the disadvantaged. As education unions and other activists for quality education we need to continue speaking about this.  After all, we were told at the Round Table 2017 meeting with the WB Executive Directors (EDs) that for an issue to be considered important and subsequently addressed, many people must speak about it over and over. And that is what EI and others are doing.

Collectively we can ensure that smart and innovative government and World Bank policies as well as accompanying actions such as adequate funding are put in place to address the systemic challenges in education.

Remember, that for those of us committed to the Education 2030 Agenda, the time for action is Now.

#WDR2018 Reality Check is a blog series organized by Education International.  The series brings together the voices of education experts and activists – researchers, teachers, unionists and civil society actors - from across the world in response to the 2018 World Development Report, Learning to Realize Education’s Promise. The series will form the basis of a publication in advance of the WB Spring Meetings 2018. If you would like to contribute to the series, please get in touch with Jennifer at jennifer.ulrick@ei-ie.org. All views expressed are those of the authors alone and do not represent the views of Education International.

Check out the previous post in the series by Leo Baunach: #WDR2018 Reality Check #2: Teacher working conditions are student learning conditions: Lost opportunities in World Bank education report


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Juliet Wajega

Juliet is the Deputy General Secretary of the Uganda National Teacher’s Union (UNATU), one of the largest and strongest unions in Africa with a membership of over 160,000 teachers. She is an influential advocate for quality public education and has led multiple campaigns including for teachers’ welfare, girls’ education and female teacher leadership. She represents the teaching profession on the board of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE).

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