Social services


Human Rights Council resolution challenges World Bank approach to education

30 July 2019

In July, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UN HRC) unanimously adopted a resolution recognising the Abidjan Principles on the right to education. The Abidjan Principles were adopted in Côte d’Ivoire in February and were conceived as a landmark text that lays out existing international legal obligations of states to provide public education and to regulate private sector involvement in education.

Among civil society organisations (CSOs), concerns are rising about private sector involvement in education, and World Bank support for it (see Observer Winter 2017). In an April report, Oxfam analysed the Bank’s primary and secondary education portfolio between 2013-2018 and found that more than one-fifth of projects included support to governments for private education. A separate 2017 study by US-based CSO RESULTS found that the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the Bank’s private sector arm, has quadrupled its funding to for-profit private schools since 2006.

At the UN HRC presentation of her last report on privatisation in June, Dr Koumbou Boly Barry, UN Special Rapporteur on Education, noted that, “All too often, seeking to maximize profits, these actors [the private sector] do so through the recruitment of unqualified teachers, exclusion of students who cannot pay school fees, inadequate infrastructure, and overcrowded classes,” therefore challenging the right to education, and the realisation of Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4). CSOs showed their support in a statement urging states to consider the use of the Abidjan Principles to inform their efforts to implement SDG 4 and their national education programmes.

Additionally, the Global Partnership on Education (GPE), which supports education reform in low-income countries, unanimously adopted a draft private sector strategy in June, agreeing that, “no GPE funds can be used to support for-profit provision of core education services.”

In light of States’ recognition of the principles at the UN HRC, in a July press release Sylvain Aubry, of international CSO Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, noted, “After years of failed attempts to improve education delivery by privatising or commercialising education systems, States and education stakeholders are realising that creating an anarchical education market is failing to deliver on the right to education and that norms, and standards are needed if we are serious about developing fair education systems.”