The Global Fight Against School Privatization

Global companies are targeting public education as an area for privatization and profit.
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Map of eastern hemisphere highlighting Africa
Map of eastern hemisphere highlighting Africa

Global companies are targeting public education as an area for privatization and profit. In the United States we face Trump's make-believe mandate for charter schools and vouchers. If Trump and proposed Education Secretary "Amway" DeVos succeed in pushing through their agenda, expect hedge fund profiteers, for-profit charter companies, charter networks, so-called educational publishers, and private and "religious" schools to make a big play for federal dollars.

In the developing world, especially sub-Saharan Africa, government agencies and non-government organizations are having some success in pushing back against the edu-vultures. In Uganda, more than 60 Bridge International Academies were ordered closed by the government and courts for failing to meet legal and educational requirements. The first Bridge school opened in the Nairobi, Kenya in 2009. According to the Wall Street Journal, investors have poured more than $100 million into the company. They include Bill Gates of Microsoft, E-Bay founder Pierre Omidyar, textbook publisher Pearson PLC, and $10 million from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. A partner at the California-based venture-capital firm Learn Capital LLC is Bridge's largest shareholder. It also receives funding and support from the World Bank and the UK Department for International Development (DFID). DFID, while a government agency, has suspiciously close ties to the global edu-company Pearson. It also publicly criticizes UN agencies like UNESCO while promoting the World Bank's global privatization initiatives.

Attention in the fight to stop the edu-vultures now turns to Kenya. A new study produced by Education International (EI) and Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT), "Bridge vs Reality," exposes Bridge International Academies' for-profit schemes in Kenya where the company operates 400 schools in the nation's poorest communities. The business model implemented by Bridge increases profitability while compromising quality teaching and learning. Bridge makes its money by employing unqualified staff, enforcing a scripted curriculum, and utilizing poor facilities. Critics charge Bridge with contributing to segregation in education and undermining the right of children to free quality education.

The study revealed that Bridge Kenya students are taught largely by an unqualified, overworked, underpaid staff. Over 70 percent of Bridge "teachers" are uncertified and they are required to work an average of between 59 and 65 hours a week for salaries ranging from $89 to $119 per month. Although Bridge charges relatively low fees, in the poor communities where their schools are located, tuition could cost a family with three children between half and all of their average monthly income.

In the French-speaking world there is now a united effort by government agencies and non-profit groups to prevent the "commercialization of education." The Francophone Network Against Commercialisation of Education with representatives from 38 French-speaking nations around the world and over three hundred private organizations opposes the "transformation of education into a commercial product." While largely based in Africa, it includes representatives from Haiti and other French speaking countries in the Americas. In Haiti, 80 percent of educational institutions are privately owned or operated. According to Samuel Dembelé, president of the Africa Network Campaign on Education for All (ANCEFA), "Many African countries have seen an explosion in the number of private schools during the last decade, in particular low quality low cost schools, which target the poorest people. Since 2000, the share of private institutions at the primary level has for instance increased from 10% to 17% in Burkina Faso and fivefold in Mauritania."

Luc Allaire, General Secretary of the Comité syndical francophone de l'éducation warned "Quality education for all will only be achieved through compulsory, free, and universal public education. This is an indispensable tool to end educational inequalities that have been exacerbated by the privatisation and commercialisation of education, in Northern countries as well as in Southern countries."

"Northern countries" includes the United States. Bridge sounds like a great model for for-profit charter school chains supported by Trump and DeVos. With their support, and with support from its funders and investors, it has the clout to come to a community near you.

The Network for Public Education has an online letter writing campaign pressuring United States Senators to block DeVos' appointment. I will be joining the January 21, 2017 Women's March on Washington. My poster will read "Defend Public Education - Stop Trump and DeVos." I hope to see everybody there.

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