UK: Member of Parliament argues for international aid to support public education systems, not private providers

published 7 September 2019 updated 17 September 2019

Education International welcomes the intervention of UK Member of Parliament Dan Carden who demanded that his country’s international aid be used to support universally accessible inclusive quality public education, and not private education providers in the Global South.

Speaking in the UK Parliament, Dan Carden, Acting Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, made clear that “education is first and foremost a basic right”.

Mentioning his visits to state schools and low-fee private schools in Kenya last month, he stressed that parents, teachers, pupils and civil society organisations he met there, like his constituency, wanted decent, publicly funded schooling for their children.

He expressed concern with the growing support the UK Department for International Development is providing to expanding private education in the Global South, “because we know fee paying private schools never reach the most marginalised children. We know from our own experience in the UK that universal public systems of education are the only way to reach all children.”

In Kenya, he heard worrying stories from parents and teachers about their experiences with so-called low-fee private schools, and with one chain of schools in particular: Bridge International Academies. “Parents told me how they had been tricked into believing that their kids would benefit from scholarships, leaving them unable to pay fees and their kids missing chunks of schooling as a result,” Carden highlighted.

Recalling his meeting with  the head of the Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT), an Education International (EI) affiliate, to discuss education in the country, Carden told parliament the KNUT leader had a very clear message: the UK must stop using aid money to privatise Kenya’s education system.

The MP concluded by asking the Secretary of State to listen to the sector, the unions, the teachers and campaign groups, both in the UK and in the Global South, who say that education is a universal right guaranteed by the state and not a market from which to profit.

Education International welcomes Mr Carden’s intervention – an intervention informed by a large body of evidence. Education International has conducted several studies into Bridge International Academies, most recently “What do we really know about Bridge International Academies? A summary of research findings” which was published in 2019. The research highlights several serious issues regarding Bridge schools, including sub-standard teaching methods and facilities, profit-maximising practices that undermine the education of vulnerable young people and the company’s illegal operations.

Angelo Gavrielatos, Project Director of EI’s Global Response to privatisation in education, stated: “Taxpayer funded development aid must never be used to line the pockets of profiteers. Governments and intergovernmental agencies must fulfil their obligations to ensure all children have access to quality public education. It is encouraging to see politicians taking note and pushing for change.”

Educators will continue to advocate that international aid never be used to promote and facilitate private interests in education.