Philanthropy and the privatisation of the democratic state: who needs a Ministry of Education?

A report to be launched today (20 Mar) by Education International (EI), the global education union confederation, lifts the lid on the activities of so-called ‘philanthropic’ organisations involved in promoting the commercialisation, marketisation and privatisation of education systems around the world, and sheds light on the unprecedented role of philanthropic actors in education policy-making.

The report, "Under the sheep skin: philanthropy and the privatisation of the so-called ‘democratic state’" examines the rationale and modus operandi of philanthropic edu-business. The second part of the report focuses on the global activities of UK registered Absolute Return for Kids (Ark), an academy sponsor which runs 38 schools in Birmingham, Hastings, London and Portsmouth.

It analyses Ark’s roles and activities in education systems globally including through the direct provision of education, curriculum development, teacher training, enabling the development of education markets, network building and advocacy, school accountability and more.

A  growing number of philanthropic organisations are self-assuming roles, bypassing the scrutiny and accountability governments and elected officials are subjected to.

These roles range from the direct provision of education services to the involvement in policy design as well as network building in order to promote and implement specific policy ideas.

The report raises questions about a potential conflict of interest as a result of the dual role of philanthropic organisations as both advocates and  beneficiaries of specific educational reforms.

Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“This important report makes clear that the commercialisation, marketisation and privatisation of education is a global ambition. Ark has been a leading proponent of privatisation in and of education in England through its academy programme, maths mastery curriculum and teacher training initiatives. This report sheds important light on Ark’s involvement in edu-business on a global scale.

“Education is a multi-billion-pound business opportunity for those who seek to turn a profit.  Privateers, hiding beneath the cloak of philanthropy, are a serious threat to the EI’s goal of achieving free quality public education for all across the world.

“The NEU and its sister unions in EI understand the importance of education for the public good and we will continue to work together to defend the rights of all children to a high-quality education, free at the point of use, and untarnished by corporate greed.”

Present at the launch of the research will be Mr Christian Addai-Poku, President of Education International’s Africa Regional Committee; Mr David Ofori Acheampong, General Secretary, Ghana National Association of Teachers; and Mr Eric Kofi Agbe Carbonu, President, National Association of Graduate Teachers, who will speak of the role of Ark’s promotion of public private partnerships in Ghana and across Africa.

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Democratic deficit: policymaking through the back door

Epitomising this trend, the report puts the spotlight on the practices of UK charity Absolute Return for Kids (Ark) in promoting the privatisation of education in the UK and beyond, including countries such as India, Liberia, South Africa, Uganda, Kenya, Ghana, Tanzania, the Philippines and Brazil. 

Following on from its involvement in a controversial privatisation program in Liberia - in which Ark advised the government in overall programme design and contract structure, Ark is currently advising the Ghanaian government to introduce a similar public private partnership (PPP) program –the Ghana Partnership Schools project.

The Liberian government’s own commissioned report found that its PPP programme was not cost effective, unsustainable and not without negative consequences to surrounding schools. Thousands of children were pushed out of their local schools as a result of this experiment.

Reports on the development of a similar programme in Ghana have been met by strong opposition from teachers who  have served notice they will resist any attempt by the government to privatise, commercialise and commodify public education in the country.

Mr Christian Addai-Poku, President of Education International African Regional Committee stated:

“These organisations do not come to Africa for altruistic purposes. With little regard for both local contexts and stakeholders, they seek to impose privatisation agendas by bringing considerable financial and ‘political’ influence to bear upon governments in Africa.”  

General Secretary of Education International, David Edwards, stated:

“Of great concern is the uncritical approach to some policy initiatives and programmes that are being presented by Ark as models to be exported. The academy school model promoted by Ark is not without controversy or scandal in the UK. It is crucial for organisations  exporting such policies to deal with criticisms they generate domestically before embarking on moving them abroad.”

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