By Hannah Frisch
On International Day of Education, Results UK has joined organisations and individuals from around the world calling for action to protect public education by signing a collective statement. Supporting the growth of free, quality, inclusive public education is fundamental to the right to education and our advocacy at Results UK. We centre our education work around the principles of equity, and there is no way to achieve this without strong public education systems.
Public education is essential to ensuring that every child has access to a quality education. Without robust public services that are empowered to meet their mandate to educate every child, education can quickly become an exclusive service that is a privilege rather than a right. In the global effort to deliver education for all as envisioned in Sustainable Development Goal 4, it is imperative that there is a space available for every child at a well-funded, well-supported, quality public school that is free of charge.
This is a major challenge. There are logistical challenges to this ambition, such as the growing demand for school spaces as youth populations expand in low-income countries, the need to quickly expand the number of qualified teachers, the need for more disability-inclusive infrastructure, and making schools accessible to students in rural areas.
However, there are also deeper political challenges that are undermining the expansion, delivery, and improvement of public education around the world.
Global trends of underfunded public services are a major issue for education, as education makes up a large portion of public budgets. Austerity measures, often recommended by the IMF and Ministries of Finance to balance budget shortfalls, lead to severe cuts in education spending, as do crises, during which decision-makers prioritise more ‘urgent’ needs over education. UNESCO estimates that there is an annual financing gap of almost $100 billion for countries to meet their SDG4 targets and cuts to education budgets put this number even further out of reach.
This is happening while billions of dollars in public revenue are lost in low and middle-income countries through evasive tax measures by international corporations and wealthy individuals, largely from the Global North. Low-income countries, which have historically had the least power to shape global tax rules, are hit the hardest by global tax abuse, which slashes deeply into budgets and prevents countries from raising the funding they need to pay for education in sustainable ways. Furthermore, the amount that many countries spend paying off debts to rich countries and private companies accounts for more than the amount they spend on education, health, and social protection combined. Meanwhile, development assistance is increasingly delivered in the form of more loans or investments in the private sector. Together, these issues have made getting budgets to a place where they can properly sustain and grow public education in line with needs nearly impossible.
In the gaps where states are not able to deliver, private actors have moved in to provide education services, with opportunities to make money in education abounding, even from families with the lowest incomes. The number of private actors in education has grown rapidly over the past few decades, affecting who has the power to make decisions in education and how well education is regulated to ensure quality and equity.
As compared to private operators, who may or may not cater to every child, states are obligated under international human rights law to educate everyone regardless of their identity, location, educational needs or ability to pay. Public schools have also been shown to be more resilient during times of crisis and better set up to be democratically governed and accountable. While public education systems are not perfect, it is important that we as a global community invest our efforts in properly funding and improving them.
By signing this statement, spearheaded by the Privatisation in Education and Human Rights Consortium, Results UK joins a global movement to confront these trends that undermine the potential of public education. Together, we call on education actors around the world, including the UK Government, to do the following:
- Prioritise the public
- Robustly fund public education
- Stop funding education privatisation
- Regulate and enforce regulations on private actors in education
- Change the narrative about the power of public education
You can sign the statement too and join us in our effort to reclaim public education! You can also share this statement with other individuals and organisations that you think would like to join this collective call to action. Together we can ensure that every child realises their right to free, inclusive, quality education.