UN Questions the Role of Privatization in Education

September 30, 2014
by Tony Baker, Education for All Campaign Manager

While attention turned to global education at the UN General Assembly in New York last week, other arms of the United Nations were busy in Geneva upholding the rights of all children to have a quality education.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) — the UN body mandated to monitor the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child — had recently been made aware of detrimental effects of privatization on the education system in Morocco and had questioned the Moroccan government as part of a periodic review earlier this month. Last week, the CRC published its official recommendations.

The findings

The CRC’s questioning and final recommendations come after a year-long research study conducted by the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (GI-ESCR), the Moroccan Coalition on Education for All (MCEFA), and the Forum des Alternatives Maroc. Supported by the Privatisation in Education Research Initiative (PERI) of the Education Support Program of the Open Society Foundations, the project explored the effects of privatization in Morocco and produced three reports revealing the negative impacts of the government-supported privatization of education on children’s right to education. The reports were submitted to the CRC.

Findings by GI-ESCR and MCEFA include:

  • Government backing of private expansion: Through the National Education and Training Charter and the 2009-2012 Emergency Plan, the Government of Morocco set an objective of 20 percent of students to be trained in private primary and secondary education institutions by 2010.
  • Massive increase in private enrollment: Private enrollment at the primary level more than tripled from 4 percent in 1999 to 13 percent in 2012, while between 1995 and 2010 private enrollment at all levels more than doubled.
  • Focus of private enrollment on the urban rich: Private schools target children from rich, urban households, with 80 percent of private schools being in fee-paying, for-profit schools in urban areas and only 20 percent in rural areas (while 43 percent of the Moroccan population lives in rural areas).
  • Private education perpetuating inequalities: Inequalities in learning outcomes (as measured by basic reading skills) between poor, rural children and rich, urban children went up by 26 percent between 2006 and 2011. Meanwhile, the learning outcome difference between rural rich and rural poor, which was insignificant in 2006, grew by 340 percent.

(GI-ESCR, Privatisation in Education in Morocco and the Right to Education: Summary Factsheet)

The review

On September 3rd, as part of its review of the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the CRC questioned representatives of the Government of Morocco about its policy of privatizing education and the impact of the development of private education on inequalities and the right to education in Morocco.

After the Moroccan delegation did not respond to the Committee’s question, the CRC pressed them on issues of public school teachers teaching in private schools and inequalities being created by privatization. The delegation replied that Morocco “promotes free competition among schools” and is aiming to achieve “20 percent of pupils enrolled in private schools.”

At this, the Committee reminded the Moroccan delegation that education is a public good as guaranteed since the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

I don’t usually insist and come back to an issue that has already been discussed, but was the interpretation not working well, or did I understand that the government of Morocco is aiming at reaching 20 percent of pupils in private schools? Education is a public good, and it’s the responsibility of the government to provide quality education for all.

— Benyam Mezmur, Member of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, during inquiry with the Moroccan delegation on September 3rd, 2014

The CRC mentioned that the King of Morocco had also recently voiced concerns about the growing inequalities created by privatization in education in Morocco.

A large number of families are compelled to pay huge fees for their children to study in foreign schools or private education institutions in order to avoid the pitfalls of the state school and enroll their children in an efficient system.

— King of Morocco, Speech to [the] Nation on [the] Occasion of [the] 60th Anniversary of [the] Revolution of King and People, August 20th, 2013

The recommendations

On September 24th, the CRC released its recommendations from its review of Morocco and found that:

Private education is developing very quickly, especially at primary level without the necessary supervision regarding the conditions of enrolment and the quality of education provided, which has led to the reinforcement of inequalities in the enjoyment of the right to education as well as teachers increasingly engaging in private lessons in public schools and giving priority to the work they undertake in private schools.

— UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding Observations on the Third and Fourth Periodic Reports of Morocco, September 19th, 2014 (emphasis added)

The Committee outlined five actions that the Government of Morocco should take to remedy the shortfalls of its implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in its education system.

In particular to the problems being created by private sector expansion in education, the CRC recommended that the Moroccan government:

  • Assess the impact of privatization and ensure that public school teachers are providing public education: “Assess and address the consequences of the rapid development of private education in the State party and ensure that teachers from the public sector contribute to the improvement of education in Morocco rather than being used by the private sector….”

(Adapted from UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding Observations on the Third and Fourth Periodic Reports of Morocco, September 19th, 2014)

The other four recommendations made by the CRC are relevant to the issue of privatization and the strengthening of the public education system in general:

  • Focus on those who aren’t accessing education: “Strengthen its efforts to ensure enrolment of all children in primary and secondary education by taking targeted measures to reach children deprived of education.”
  • Re-evaluate its goal to have 20 percent of students in private school and adequately finance public education: “Conduct a proper assessment of the shortcomings of the Emergency Plan 2009-2012 and on the basis of the lessons learned adopt all necessary measures to ensure an effective and efficient utilization and control of the financial resources allocated to the education system.”
  • Improve public education, particularly teacher training and programs for out-of-school children and youth: “Take the necessary measures to improve the quality of education, notably by providing teachers with quality training, and develop and promote quality vocational training to enhance the skills of children and young people, especially those who drop out of school.”
  • Expand early childhood education in rural areas: “Allocate sufficient financial resources for the development and expansion of early childhood education in rural areas, based on a comprehensive and holistic policy of early childhood care and development.”

(Adapted from UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding Observations on the Third and Fourth Periodic Reports of Morocco, September 19th, 2014)

The Committee’s statements on the issue of privatization and education and its recommendations to the Government of Morocco to more effectively realize quality education for all children are milestones in a hotly-contested debate around the role of the private sector in education.

While private actors are free to support the development of education systems, the State is the ultimate duty-bearer with the obligation to provide a quality education to all and to respect, protect, and fulfill the right to education. With increased private sector involvement in education, vigilance — by the United Nations, its bodies like the CRC, and the education community — will be required to ensure that governments are not in effect allowing such support to usurp them of their responsibilities to realize the right to education.

With this in mind, GI-ESCR, in partnership with PERI, the Right to Education Project, and others, have embarked on an 18-month project in an additional seven countries to explore how human rights standards apply to privatization in education, engage the CRC and other UN human rights bodies with work similar to that conducted in Morocco, and strengthen the applicable standards to more effectively fulfill the right to education.

For more information, contact Sylvain Aubry (GI-ESCR): [email protected] / +33 7 81 70 81 96


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