II.4.1 Stop funding for-profit private schools

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) has recommended, in its observations released on 9 June 2016,1 that the UK Government stop investing in low-fee private schools in developing countries. Low-fee, private and informal schools run by for-profit business enterprises are multiplying rapidly in developing countries. The UNCRC noted that “rapid increase in the number of such schools may contribute to sub-standard education, less investment in free and quality public schools, and deepened inequalities in the recipient countries, leaving behind children who cannot afford even low-fee schools.”2

The UK Department for International Development (DfID), through its development finance institution CDC, has invested US$ 21 million in the low-fee, for-profit private school chain Bridge International Academies (BIA), since December 2013. BIA, which also receives millions of dollars from the World Bank, the UK-based Pearson Corporation (the largest book publisher in the world), and billionaires Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, has recently been in the global press for its heavy-handed tactics to stop a respected academic researcher accessing information on its business and operational practices in Uganda. The researcher, who was working on behalf of the world’s largest professional organization, Education International, was arrested on false allegations, but was released after two days of questioning and all charges were dropped.3

BIA presents itself as “a chain of nursery and primary schools delivering high-quality education for just US$ 5 a month (on average).”4 Referring to the huge number of families living in extreme poverty, it claims that “prior to Bridge International Academies, no one had put together a viable business model that demonstrated that educating the world’s largest market was possible.” In order to ensure “this massive market opportunity” they explain that “we would need to achieve a scale never before seen in education, and at a speed that makes most people dizzy.”

The Global Campaign for Education, a civil society movement active in 80 countries, notes that this type of for-profit private schools favoured by the World Bank, philanthropy and big donors can have a huge, negative impact on children’s right to a quality education. GCE Vice-President Rasheda K. Choudhury, who is also the director of the Campaign for Popular Education in Bangladesh, warned that "education is becoming more and more of a commodity being sold in the market rather than a public good. This worrying sign is becoming more prominent when we see the ever-increasing quality divide in education."5