Are For-profit, Fee-charging Private Schools the Solution for the World’s Poor?

April 23, 2016
by Tony Baker, Education for All Campaign Manager



The rise of what have been termed “low-fee private schools” has inspired a global debate. These schools, some of which are for-profit, multinational franchises, have been criticized for their fee-charging models for primary and secondary education, and their expansion in places like Kenya and Liberia has raised considerable questions (see Bridge International Academies: Scripted schooling for $6 a month is an audacious answer to educating the poorest children across Africa and Asia and An Africa first! Liberia outsources entire education system to a private American firm. Why all should pay attention).

School fees are a known barrier for the poor to accessing education. United Nations treaties and conventions signed by governments around the world obligate primary education to be free and universal. The international community, many of the world’s poorest nations, and civil society advocates such as RESULTS have worked for the last two decades to abolish school fees. The first target of the new education Sustainable Development Goal likewise aims to “ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education.” So why are some donors now investing in the opposite direction?

One of these donors is the World Bank. Despite having been a key actor in driving national policy shifts towards the removal of school fees in many of the world’s poorest countries, it is now promoting and investing in the expansion of for-profit, fee-charging providers. Last year, World Bank President Jim Kim inspired a global civil society response after he promoted one of these schools’ models of charging “just” $6 a month in poor communities in Kenya and Uganda. Over 100 civil society organizations from Kenya, Uganda, and around the world responded with a statement explaining what $6 means for the poorest families and criticizing the World Bank for having invested $10 million in this particular for-profit, fee-charging multinational school franchise but nothing currently in their public education systems.

This same company, US-based Bridge International Academies, has recently signed the first agreement under a new public-private partnership launched by the government of Liberia that will see the primary and early childhood education subsectors privatized over the next five years. Under the arrangement, Bridge International Academies will receive $65 million in public funds from the government of Liberia. In addition to the public outcry, this move by the government has been directly warned against by UNESCO and the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education.

It was in this context that RESULTS and partners organized “For-profit, Fee-charging Private Schools: Meeting the World Bank’s Goals?”, a session held on as part of the Civil Society Policy Forum of the 2016 World Bank/IMF Spring Meetings in Washington, DC earlier this month. The session was organized by RESULTS alongside:

  • ActionAid International
  • American Federation of Teachers
  • The CRADLE – The Children’s Foundation
  • East African Centre for Human Rights
  • Global Campaign for Education – US
  • Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
  • Hakijamii
  • Kenya National Union of Teachers
  • Oxfam International

Panelists included:

  • Katie Malouf Bous, Education and Health Policy Advisor at Oxfam International
  • Sylvia Mbataru, Policy & Legislative Advocacy Program Manager at the CRADLE Children’s Foundation (remotely)
  • Jonah Nyenpan, Executive Director of the Liberia Education Monitor (remotely)
  • Lincoln Ajoku, Education Advisor at Concern Worldwide US
  • Mohammed Ali Khan, Senior Education Specialist at the International Finance Corporation

The recording of this session is now available here and above.

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