Resolution on the Dangers of Privatisations of Public Education

published 22 July 1995 updated 31 March 2017

The Education International First World Congress meeting in Harare (Zimbabwe) from 19 to 23 July 1995:

1. Notes that, most particularly since the beginning of the 1980s, there has been a strong current in favour of the privatisation of certain sectors of economic activity which have traditionally been the preserve of the public sector, due to pressure from various governments and inter-national financial institutions;

2. Notes that the privatisation movement, which is generally justified by the need to gain the best economic results in international competition, has not always lived up to the hopes held out for it;

3. Notes that some governments and the majority of international financial institutions now wish to extend these privatisation policies into social sectors such as health, youth education and adult training, by setting up competing structures and market mechanisms which will, in their opinion, improve the efficiency of these services, but which give rise to deep questioning among education personnel and their trade unions;

4. Notes the deep concern felt by users of public services including education, caused by:

a. rising unemployment and poverty, even in many industrialised countries,

b. increasing anxiety amongst young people and their families faced with the uncertainty of their future, notably on a professional level,

c. the serious accusations of inefficiency in public services which have been purposely exaggerated by a media which is too close to the economic interests of those who promote privatisation policies.

The Congress states:

5. That it remains deeply attached to the ideas of solidarity and social justice and that when these two principles are applied to the education sector, they imply firstly equal access to free and compulsory education for all young people without discrimination; secondly, equal opportunities for all young people to follow studies beyond compulsory level as soon as they have the required intellectual level, regardless of the financial situation of their families; finally, access to remedial and refresher classes for those who face short-term difficulties due to physical or social disabilities;

6. That it also remains deeply attached to the need to provide democratic education which respects human rights, favours understanding of other cultures, which conse-quently permits the reduction or even suppression of ethnic, racist or religious conflicts in strongly multi-cultural societies which are currently undergoing significant economic and social difficulties;

7. That public education services, whose workings should always be improved, despite having known spectacular success in several countries, is made up of a number of structures allowing a true welcome to be extended to all young people regardless of sex, religion, culture or social level and that thereby the public education services constitute a melting pot which welcomes all young people regardless of their parents' opinions, which really prepares them for living together, to respect each other, to understand each other better, and to enrich themselves from potential differences;

8. That, at the other extreme, the privatisation of public education services, which implies competition between school establishments, presents the danger of placing young people in separate schools which are organised along sexist, religious, cultural, social and linguistic lines, and of exacerbating differences instead of reducing them, and of thus creating societies where the risks of non-understanding, intolerance and conflicts will be not inconsiderable;

9. That privatisation occurs whenever, for example, responsibility for determining school establishment structures and programmes, the building and upkeep of school buildings, and the purchase of school material is given to people or groups of people who do not act in the name of nationally, regionally, or locally elected structures, and whenever the financial means of investment and functioning are mainly private;

10. That by its very nature, the privatisation of an economic or service activity implies the notion of profit for investors, and that to believe that those who might invest in various forms of privatisation of education will not try legitimately to seek profits from this, as from any other investment of an industrial or commercial nature, is to misundertand or refuse to understand free-market economy mechanisms;

11. That the achievement of profits in these types of education system would entail a reduction in funds available for improving the quality of education;

12. That partial or full privatisation of education services does not lead to lower costs than public service ones, if all the associated services which are indispensable for the proper functioning of school establishments, such as in-service training of teachers, support services for students with difficulties, upkeep of school buildings, etc. are taken into consideration; 13. That under these conditions the act of education will evolve from the concept of a free, or largely free, service offered to all within a society, to that of a product which can be bought and sold, and whose content will be more a function of requirements of the market, of advertising, and of fashion, than one based on the values and principles to which any democratic society is linked.

The role of Education International:

EI should:

14. continue its research in close collaboration with other international trade secretariats (ITS) and with the ICFTU, in order to determine the consequences of privatisation policies which can already be seen in the service sectors such as telecommunications, banks, health and transport;

15. develop comparative studies on the organisation, recruitment and origin of pupils, work conditions and the efficiency of teaching, based upon a significant sample of private and state schools;

16. Continue to lobby at all levels by showing that public education services are most often effective, contrary to the affirmations of numerous governmental and employer forums and international financial institutions, and that their effectiveness can only increase through systematic policies of partnership at the international, national, regional and local level.