Education for all?

World Bank emphasises universal education policies

26 June 2013

World Bank president, Jim Yong Kim has put global education on his priority list, however major ideological differences are emerging between education coalitions about whether this should be delivered through a private or public model.

In his April speech on health (see Update 86), Kim advised that to drive growth, countries need “to build human capital through investments in health, education and social protection for all their citizens”. This message was reinforced during a May visit to Romania, where he emphasised the importance of “education for all”.

Yet Michael Barber’s prominence (see Update 86) sends a different message on delivery mechanisms. Barber chairs the Pearson Affordable Learning Fund, a subsidiary of the Pearson group, one of the world’s biggest publisher of educational materials, which last year invested $10 million in private schools in Africa and Asia, including Kenya and Ghana. One of its principal investments is in Omega, a Ghanaian company which runs a chain of low cost schools, which will enable the firm to expand across West Africa. Omega is chaired by University of Newcastle academic James Tooley, co-author of the 2012 study: Private education is good for the poor.

“Pay as you go” schooling

Both the Bank and the UK Department for International Development (DFID) are keen supporters of Pearson’s model. Bank staffer Harry Patrinos wrote on a March Bank blog, which also appeared on Pearson’s website, that: “low-cost private schools are adding great value to education systems around the world” whilst DFID education advisor Nicole Goldstein welcomed Omega’s “all-inclusive (no hidden fee) daily fee” model  because it fits the earning pattern of parents who are mostly informal workers, who do not always receive a regular salary. Goldstein said: “Just as ‘pay-as-you-go’ was an instant success for the mobile phone sector, it seems to work for Omega schools.”

Concerns about this model have been expressed. David Archer of NGO ActionAid International said: “huge gains in access in recent years have been made by abolishing user fees, enabling millions of children to go to school for the first time. It is madness to focus now on ‘low-cost private schools’ which exclude poor children and undermine equity. A recent survey of over 450 children in such schools in Ghana showed only one child had not previously been in school. These private schools privilege those who can afford to pay, undermining local government schools and education rights. They should not form any part of the agenda of any World Bank, UN or bilateral agency.”

His comments followed an April ‘learning for all’ forum part of the UN secretary-general’s Global Education First Initiative, at which civil society representatives, including the Global Partnership for Education (a coalition of  60 developing countries, donor governments, international organisations, the private sector, teachers, and civil society organisations) reminded the Bank of the urgent need to address the estimated 250 million children worldwide who cannot read or write.

However, different priorities were stressed by a business grouping, the Global Business Coalition for Education (GBCE). Along with global accountancy firm Accenture and US think tank Brookings, it held a side event during the World Bank’s Spring meetings. In partnership with Brookings and Accenture. The coalition, chaired by Sarah Brown, the wife of UN special envoy for global education and former UK prime minister Gordon Brown, described its challenge as being to “develop new financial instruments which translate the future economic value of talent into an attractive – and as yet untapped – investment opportunity for businesses and impact investors today.”