174 Civil Society Organizations Stand Together to Protect Children’s Right to Free Education

August 4, 2017
by Milagros Lechleiter

In April 2015, World Bank Group President (Jim Kim) highlighted Bridge International Academies (BIA, a U.S. chain of for-profit, fee-charging private schools) as an example of how technology can improve education outcomes and help end extreme poverty. Over 100 Civil Society organizations questioned this support in a joint statement that pointed to the contradiction of the World Bank’s financial support and public endorsement of BIA, a company which charges fees to families living close to the poverty line for a service meant to be a human right obligation and free by law.

This week, 174 civil society organizations from 50 countries have come together again to ask the World Bank and other investors in for-profit, fee-charging private schools to cease these investments and to focus instead on funding the continued improvement of free, quality public education systems or private initiatives that support its provision. The call to investors bases its arguments on a diversity of evidence released in the past two years, including a RESULTS report that explores basic education investments of the International Finance Corporation, the World Bank’s private sector lending arm.

The evidence cited (including the UK Parliament’s inquiry on DFID’s education programming, UN statements, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and a range of independent research) raises similar concerns and reaches similar conclusions as the RESULTS report:


Concerns cited by the civil society statement:


Recommendations from the civil society statement:

  • Verify BIA’s compliance with national laws and standards, including human rights, educational, disability, and labor standards.
  • Ensure that issues of equity, systemic discrimination, and exclusion are addressed.
  • Demand that BIA immediately upholds standards of transparency and publicly disclose information about its operations, including accurate information on levels of fees and real costs for parents, teacher salaries and qualifications, enrollment data of children with disabilities, student attrition, and completion rates, legal status and policy compliance in different countries, etc.
  • Demand that BIA immediately stop intimidating civil society organizations and researchers, including teachers’ unions, and collaborate with any interested researcher.
  • Transparently share information about existing or future evaluations of BIA, and engage in dialogue about these evaluations with all stakeholders, including civil society organizations.
  • Engage in dialogue with civil society organizations to review the concerns about BIA and to explore alternative ways to make a valuable contribution to the realization of the right to education.
  • Cease future investments of public or private resources in BIA and other fee-charging, commercial private schools that are failing to reach the most disadvantaged and contributing to socio-economic segregation, undermining the public education system, or undermining the rule of law.
  • Invest in programs that fight poverty and inequality by promoting high-quality, equitable, free public education, including programs that help local and national governments improve public schools and expand to under-served areas.

In response to the civil society statement in 2015, the World Bank reconfirmed its commitment to ensuring free, quality public education for every child, highlighted the need to work with the private sector to ensure learning, and pointed to an upcoming independent impact evaluation of BIA as a future source of evidence. Two years later, civil society continues to voice these concerns and calls on the World Bank and other education funders to make investments that more effectively ensure that all children have access to a free, quality education.

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