Education International
Education International

Challenges to public education systems globally

published 1 February 2016 updated 28 March 2017
written by:

In the context of the many challenges that confront public education systems globally, the increasing commercialisation and privatisation in and of education represent the greatest threat to education as a public good and to equality in education access and outcomes. It should therefore not be of any surprise to anyone that the commercialisation and privatisation of education was one of the main issues, dominating the proceedings, of the 7th World Congress of Education International (EI)i, which took place between 22-26 July in Ottawa, Canada.

Noting the dimension and the threat to students, teachers, education support personnel and quality public education for all, posed by the on-going commercialisation and privatisation of education, the World Congress, consisting of nearly 2,000 delegates from teacher unions throughout the world, resolved that we need a global response to the rapidly expanding for-profit corporate sector involvement in education. Whilst this carries on from EI’s existing work on privatisation and member organisations’ national campaigns focused on privatisation, the Global Response to the Commercialisation and Privatisation in and of Education aims to draw these efforts together to deliver a stronger more focused response by harnessing collective energy and influence.

The Global Response aims to put the spotlight on the engagement of education corporationsii in various aspects of education governance as well as the sale and provision of for-profit education and education services, such as standardised testing, curricula and teacher evaluation tools and support for the introduction and expansion of Low Fee For-Profit Schools. It seeks specifically to advocate against the expansion of profit-making in education where it undermines the right of all students to free quality education, creates and entrenches inequalities in education, undermines the working conditions and rights of teachers and other education workers, and erodes democratic decision-making and public accountability in relation to education governance.

This is informed by an analysis highlighting the rapid growth of education corporations/edu businesses—the size, reach and influence of which had not been foreseen. With little, if any regard for national borders and the nation state or national sovereignty, the swift growth of education corporations/edu-businesses is driven by the desire on the part of global capital to access the relatively untapped education market valued at approximately $4.5 to $5 trillion USD per annum. A figure predicted to grow to $6 to S7 trillion USD per annum in a couple of years.

Having identified the lucrative nature of the education market, and in particular how much the limitless, sustainable resource of children, our students, and their education represents, global education corporations/edu-businesses have set about trying to influence and control education in order to satisfy their profit motives.

i Education International (EI) is the Global Union Federation which represents more than 32 million teachers and other education workers form more than 170 countries.

ii Among the most influential corporations operating in the global education market is the education conglomerate Pearson. Through aggressive lobbying, campaign contributions and PR efforts, Pearson exerts great influence over policymaking and policymakers in many countries.Describing what could be interpreted as giving rise to a potential conflict of interest, research by Jünemann and Ball, Pearson and PALF: The Mutating Giant http://www.educationincrisis.net/resources/ei-publications highlights why the profit motive has no place in dictating what is taught, how it is taught, how it is assessed nor how schools, colleges and universities are organised.

Of Pearson's modus operandi, Jünemann and Ball note: “as Pearson is contributing to the global education policy debate, it is constructing the education policy problems that will then generate a market for its products and services in the form of the solutions. In effect, part of the more general aim of activities like the Pearson Affordable Learning Fund (PALF)...is the creation of more market opportunities for Pearson’s products. More generally, global education reform packages which include the use of information technology and shifts from input-based to output-led policy-making, offer a whole new set of market opportunities to Pearson. Pearson is involved both in seeking to influence the education policy environment, the way that policy ‘solutions’ are conceived, and, at the same time, creating new market niches that its constantly adapting and transforming business can then address and respond to with new ‘products’. In this sense, the fulfilment of social purpose is directly and indirectly related to the search for and creation of new opportunities for profit…”(p3)