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The Director of the Education International Latin America (EILA) regional office, Combertty Rodríguez.
The Director of the Education International Latin America (EILA) regional office, Combertty Rodríguez.

Development cooperation and the push for privatization of education in Latin America: A view from the front lines

published 13 May 2024 updated 13 May 2024

The Director of the Education International Latin America (EILA) regional office, Combertty Rodríguez, offered a detailed analysis of the growing trend towards the privatization of education in Latin America, revealing the complexities and challenges facing education unionists and public education systems amidst political, economic, and social pressures. He was adamant that Development Cooperation (DC) work in the region can support efforts to remedy this.

Criticizing current education policies across Latin America, Rodríguez outlined on May 7th, during an online DC Café gathering DC partners, a troubling trend towards the privatization and marketization of education. This trend is fueled by a mix of political power balances, private sector influence, and international economic pressures, predominantly from neoliberal agendas that advocate for reduced state involvement in public sectors.

Political landscape

According to Rodríguez, governments across the region are increasingly diverting public funds to private enterprises, a strategy uncovered by research from the Latin American Observatory of Educational Policies (OLPE). This shift often comes at the expense of public education systems, which face significant defunding.

He highlighted a broader anti-democratic approach, where public-private partnerships (PPPs) and similar arrangements serve more to bolster private interests than to foster educational equity. These policies are further supported by right-wing movements, which Rodriguez notes have gained considerable control over legislative and executive branches in several countries, thereby legitimizing and accelerating the privatization process.

Social implications

Furthermore, Rodríguez drew attention to the social implications of these policies. The weakening of the trade union movement and social mobilization, particularly in education, poses a significant challenge to opposing these privatization trends. He noted that trade unions, often the sole defenders of public education, face increased persecution, including restrictions on their ability to organize and strike, especially when education systems are declared essential services.

The impact of these educational policies extends beyond the classroom. Rodríguez pointed to the rise in drug trafficking and associated violence, which affects school safety and student well-being, further complicating the landscape for public education advocacy.

Counteracting privatization

Despite these challenges, the EILA, under the leadership with Sonia Alesso, general secretary of the Confederación de Trabajadores de la Educación de la República Argentina (CTERA), actively working to counter these trends by strengthening the trade union movement and supporting initiatives like the Latin American Network of Women Workers in Education and engagement with indigenous communities to shape more inclusive public policies, he said.

Call to Action: EI Go Public! Fund Education campaign

Rodríguez called for a redoubling of efforts to prioritize public funding for public education, aligning with the global "Go Public! Fund Education" campaign. He emphasized the importance of drafting new educational proposals that involve teachers, parents, and students, aiming to reclaim education from privatization, as is the case in the framework of the Latin American Pedagogical Movement.

He also acknowledged the need to guarantee the continuity of trade unions, consequently the importance of trade union self-financing,

He further reminded DC partners about the EI DC map, calling on them to fill in the database showing the different projects being developed and the priorities partners.

The path forward, as outlined by Rodríguez, will require a concerted effort to ensure that public education does not become a casualty of economic and political interests but remains a foundational pillar for democratic societies in Latin America.

DC partners also presented their various programs in the region, a key example being the Schools as Territories of Peace built in Colombia.