Public-private partnerships in education
Public-private partnerships (PPPs) are increasingly perceived as an innovative approach to achieving universal access to education, but they are not without controversy. Education experts from the public sector and academia weighed in on the role of PPPs in education during a discussion panel at a DEVCO seminar in October.
“The most fundamental reason why education PPPs remain controversial is that they could be interpreted as a sign that the governments and donors are losing confidence in the public sector,” said Jim Ackers, education expert at the Unesco International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP). “The concern is that the governments and donors could withdraw from the education sector and leave it to the private actors.”
For more on why PPPs are controversial, watch the following video:
Another reason why the rise of PPPs is controversial, Ackers added, is that they could lead to more private schools that only cater to children from specific backgrounds. “This could be good in that these children’s needs would be addressed, but it could also lead to a dangerous situation where they’re divided by social class or ethnicity,” he said.
Ackers also warned that the quality of education could suffer as a result of the push for more private-sector involvement. “There is a risk that the curriculum could be reduced to demonstrate that the children are achieving success through fairly simplified tests,” he said.
According to Susannah Hares, International Director of Ark Education Partnerships Group, despite the focus on the private sector, the public element of PPPs remains just as important. This, however, presents a challenge, she said. “The government needs to have the capacity to quality assure, manage and monitor the operators. For a government that lacks the capacity, this could be very difficult to get right.”
For more on the challenges of PPPs, watch the following video:
Antoni Verger, researcher at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, pointed out that in the long run, PPPs can introduce segmentation and inequality between private and public schools. “It’s very difficult for the state, especially in low-income countries, to control private schools, to ensure that they don’t select only the best students or that they don’t charge extra fees.”
Another challenge lies in ensuring that PPPs do not harm the teachers’ working conditions. “Some countries promote PPPs because of their economic advantages, but this usually comes at the cost of teachers’ salaries,” Verger said.
Hares also noted the lack of concrete evidence for which kind of PPPs work and which don’t. “Building this evidence base is really essential if we’re going to move forward,” she said.
For more on the EU’s role in PPPs, watch the following video:
According to Hares and Verger, the EU can play an important role in the debate around PPPs. “The EU could support rigorous and independent evaluations, providing the evidence basis,” Hares said. “It should also focus on building up the government capacity for managing the PPPs, to make sure the government is able to hold transparent commission processes and so on.”
Openly promoting all types of PPPs is contradictory to European values, said Verger. “Before promoting PPPs in education, the EU should try to fix the public education system and the state’s role as a regulator and provider. Strengthening the role of the state is essential in the context of the PPPs.”
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