Go Public! Finance quality, equitable, and inclusive education in Africa

published 23 June 2023 updated 27 February 2024

Top education union leaders from Cameroon, Malawi, Rwanda, and Zambia took stock of gains in their fight against education privatisation through the Education International (EI) Global Response campaign and committed to continue these efforts through EI's Go Public! Fund Education campaign to mobilise to fully fund public education systems and invest more in teachers and education support personnel.

African countries off track on education goals

In his opening remarks for the virtual meeting held on 15 June, EI Region Africa (EIRAF) Director Dennis Sinyolo told participants that “in 2015, the United Nations reaffirmed its commitment to the right to education by adopting the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 on quality education. Through SDG 4, our governments committed to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”

While SDG 4 aims to provide children and young people with quality and easy access to education plus other learning opportunities, one of its targets being to achieve universal literacy and numeracy, Sinyolo however that at the current rate, SDG 4 targets will be widely missed, citing three major bottlenecks accounting for the slow progress towards the achievement of SDG 4 in Africa and Continental Education Strategy for Africa (CESA) objectives: Not enough money is being invested in education systems; Governments are not recruiting enough trained teachers and not paying them well; Infrastructure, teaching and learning resources remain grossly inadequate and poor.

African countries are not meeting the minimum education financing benchmarks of at least 20% of the national budget and/or at least 6% of GDP for developing countries agreed through the UN system, Sinyolo pointed out.

He added: “Teachers matter! Every child has the right to a well-trained, qualified and motivated teacher with decent salaries and working conditions. But this is not yet the case in many African countries. Sub-Saharan African countries need to recruit at least 16 million new teachers to replace those lost due to attrition and to reduce class size to 1:40 at primary and 1:25 at secondary school level.”

For him, “failure by our governments to invest sufficiently in public education has created a vacuum and an environment for for-profit private providers of education to thrive. We have seen a proliferation of various forms of for-profit private providers, ranging from the so-called low-cost private schools, which are actually costly to poor parents, to elitist private schools, not accessible to the vast majority, and international school chains such as Bridge International Academies.”

On 24 January, the International Day of Education, EI launched a new education financing campaign known as Go Public! Fund Education. “Through this campaign, we are calling on African governments to invest in education and teachers. We will be calling for a quality public school for every African child. A public school where every child is taught by a highly trained, qualified, motivated and supported teacher and learns in a well-resourced, safe and healthy classroom. Furthermore, we will also be calling for the protection of the rights of teachers and education support personnel in private schools.”

Sinyolo concluded: “Let us remember that education is a basic human right and a public good. Therefore, join us in saying no to the privatisation, commercialisation, marketisation and commodification of this fundamental right. Join us in saying yes to quality public education in your country, in Africa and everywhere.”

Changing the narrative with Go Public! Fund Education

Through the Go Public! Fund Education campaign, EI and its affiliates want to change the narrative, “this means not only a change of words and symbols, but also a change of who is speaking and under which authority, and who has the power to speak with authority,” EI Director of Campaigns and Communications, Rebeca Logan stated in her presentation.

“It is a global campaign to mobilise more funding for public education. The campaign is driven by education unions organising as the voice of teachers and education workers. Funding public education systems improves pay and working conditions and empowers teachers and education support personnel to stay and thrive in the profession they love. It inspires a new generation to join the professions the world desperately needs.”

At the crossroad of the Unite for Quality Education campaign, the Global Response to the Privatisation and Commercialisation of and in Education campaign, and the Teach for the Planet campaign, this new campaign contends that there is sufficient funding for sustainable investment in education and in educators to achieve quality education for all, she also stressed. We are claiming for example the money evaded by tax abuse, she said.

Decolonising education financing

Logan further pointed out that the decolonisation of financing at a global level is key to funding public education systems. She cited the recently launched Transforming education financing: A toolkit for activists which shows how “Illicit financial flows out of Africa far exceed the revenues arriving in aid. Aid is another instrument for wealthy countries to use to shape the economies and societies of lower income countries, especially in education. The interests of a handful of powerful donors, behind closed doors without transparency or accountability define national priorities. Decolonisation of education financing is about challenging all these distorted power dynamics.”

Our narrative is the following, she reasserted: “We believe in the public, we believe education is a human right and a public good. We believe that fully funding public education systems, and the teachers and education support personnel at the heart of our schools, is the key to a sustainable future for all.”

The situation of education privatisation in various African countries

Thanks to the testimonies of member organisations’ leaders, EIRAF Coordinator Richard Etonu presented the state of education financing and privatisation and commercialisation of and in education in the following African countries: Malawi, Cameroon, Rwanda and Zambia.

In too many countries, governments fail to meet commitments made and international financing standards in the education sector, and do not allocate enough or disburse proper funding for public education, giving education an opportunity to flourish.

Outcomes of the EI Global Response campaign

EIRAF Coordinator Lucy Njura Barimbui later gave a summary of the EI Global Response to the privatisation and commercialisation in and of education campaign led from 2015 until 2023 in Africa.

She highlighted that this campaign is rooted in the 2015 EI World Congress Resolution on privatisation and commercialisation in and of education, which mandated the EI Executive Board “to develop a global response strategy to ensure governments fulfil their obligation to free, quality public education and counter the influence of private actors in education, especially where their activities in education have a negative impact on access and exacerbates inequities within education systems.”

The campaign was about ensuring that we have quality public education for all, and that we put students before profit, Barimbui also said.

She also reminded that the first group of African countries was Liberia, Ghana, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, and EIRAF is gearing up for the Global Response campaign to go on alongside the Go Public! Fund Education campaign, with a second group of countries: Malawi, Zambia, Rwanda and Cameroon.

The campaign was also about changing the narrative and counter false ideas, such as “There is no money for education”, “Private education is better than public education”, or “Low fee private schools help expend education access”.

“We build the capacity of our members. We also carry out research, we use the findings, and we use our numbers. It is unity in action! Our goal is to target the entire Africa,” Barimbui added.

She also explained that the COVID-19 pandemic led to the closure of private schools and inhuman treatment of education sector personnel, underlining that it intensified remote learning – discrimination towards the already marginalised in society – and brought about a change of school business into other forms of business disregarding the notion of accessibility of education.

She concluded: “Africa is the continent most threatened by education privatisation, we have the greatest number of out-of-school children. But at the same time, we have the greatest number of youths who are the future. If these youths are not protected against education privatisation, the future of the continent will be threatened.”

Various studies on privatisation trends in the education sector in Africa

EIRAF Coordinator Pedi Anawi also presented findings of studies on privatisation trends in education in diverse African countries, i.e. Ivory Coast, Kenya, Liberia, Morocco and Uganda.

The privatisation on the continent in general was also evaluated, he said, citing the study Education ‘Privatisation in Africa: Current trends, evolving trajectories’ by Curtis Riep, as well as findings from the Africa regional research ‘Process/formative evaluation of the project Global Response to the privatisation and commercialisation of education for EI Africa’, by Dr. Limbani Eliya Nsapato.

The latter assessed the relevance, effectiveness, efficiency, and sustainability of the Global Response project, as well as strengthening the capacity of EI member organisations in Africa to campaign for quality public education.

Anawi underlined that “overall, research indicates that private school enrolment has become part of what is now known as the Global Education Industry, where education is subject to commercialisation.”

Next steps to mobilise for increased financing for public education

To move the new education financing agenda forward, Sinyolo invited member organisations to carry out a rapid assessment to identify current issues, trends impacts and drivers of privatisation, as well as the government’s commitment to the financing of education; organise a national event around the campaign.