2021/2 Global Education Monitoring Report

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Image credit: Jonathan Hyams/Save the Children

Far from a simple public vs private dichotomy, there is a variety of non-state school types. Moreover, the role of non-state actors extends well beyond provision of schooling to many other interventions at various education levels and through multiple channels of influence. The question for policymakers is not just whether non-state involvement in education meets agreed standards of quality, but also how non-state actors help or hinder efforts to ensure equity and inclusion in education.

Two strategic directions, relating to funding and provision, stand out in relation to governments’ task of protecting and fulfilling the right to education. First, governments pledged in 2015 that all children and young people would have free, publicly funded access to a year of pre-primary and 12 years of primary and secondary education. However, with one in three countries devoting less than 4% of GDP and 15% of total public spending to education, many do not match this commitment with the required funding. Second, governments need to decide how strong a role they will play in delivering and managing education. Their perspectives vis-à-vis school choice and non-state actors vary widely.

Various non-state actors have become more visible in many aspects of education. Businesses make choices about whether education is a lucrative activity and how to market their goods and services, but also to whom they are answerable: just shareholders or others as well? NGOs and civil society organizations choose priorities and decide how to address them: Should they fill gaps or advocate for the state to do so? Foundations also set priorities and choose how to influence society and how closely to work with education systems. Teachers and their organizations make choices that can strengthen or erode trust in public education systems.

The report’s rallying call – Who chooses? Who loses? – is an invitation for policymakers to question relationships with non-state actors in terms of fundamental choices: between freedom of choice and equity; between encouraging initiative (i.e. improving quality anywhere in the system) and setting standards (i.e. improving quality for all learners); between population groups of differing means and needs; between their immediate commitments (i.e. 12 years of free education under SDG 4) and those that are to be progressively realized (e.g. post-secondary education); and between education and other social sectors.

With these thoughts in mind, the following recommendations were framed to help #RighttheRules to ensure that equity in education is protected in financing, quality, governance, innovation and policymaking. The aim is to harness the contributions non-state actors can make to deliver education of quality without sacrificing equality. Mobilizing this potential could also challenge governments to purposefully address low quality and inequality in public provision. The recommendations are primarily aimed at governments, which need to provide clear answers to five core questions from an equity and inclusion perspective. However, they are also meant to be used as an advocacy tool by all education actors committed to supporting progress towards SDG 4. As such, the recommendations call on all actors, state and non-state alike, to play #RightbytheRules.


Fulfil the commitment to make 1 year of pre-primary and 12 years of primary and secondary education free – but publicly financed need not mean publicly provided if equity can be ensured

Governments should make education of good quality free at the point of access. They need to ensure that households do not pay for education goods and services that their countries have committed to make available free of charge.

Governments need to monitor out-of-pocket education spending, using household income and expenditure surveys. They often turn their eyes away from less well documented costs that increase inequality.

All providers, state and non-state, must offer the same conditions to students. A commitment for education to be publicly funded does not mean all education must be publicly provided. But all education institutions should be treated as part of a single system with common rules, financial support and oversight mechanisms.

Any attempts to diversify provision should be designed in a way that ensures equity. Contracting out public school management, subsidizing private schools’ operational costs or providing funding to households to attend the school of their choice can easily end up benefiting learners who are well off.

Schools should not select students. Countries are committed to non-discrimination in education, a principle that must be reflected in school admission policies. Moreover, the right of families and students to choose schools should not exacerbate inequality.

Non-state providers funded by the state should not charge any fees. While all countries should aim to ensure that pre-primary, primary and secondary education are free, many are far from this ideal. Even government-dependent private institutions charge fees.

Profit making is inconsistent with the commitment to guarantee free pre-primary, primary and secondary education. Regulating or banning profit making can be used to address school choice policies that exacerbate inequality.


Establish quality standards that apply to all state and non-state education institutions

Governments need to establish quality standards that apply to all education institutions. Quality standards, covering not just inputs but also results, protect those who have the most to lose. They should also cover safety and inclusion. They should relate to where schools are and help them improve. Their achievement should be assessed for each school, state or non-state, and publicly reported.

Teachers should be valued as professionals in all schools. Teacher qualifications and professional development opportunities should not vary by provider. Segmented teacher labour markets and wide inequality in teacher pay and conditions are strong signs of a malfunctioning education system. Governments need to gradually address all the root causes of such imbalances.

Quality assurance mechanisms need to be in place to monitor and enforce standards. Government oversight through school inspections, evaluations and learning assessments should be common, regardless of provider. These mechanisms should take state implementation capacity into account.

Countries need stronger quality assurance processes in technical, vocational and tertiary education. As governments subsidize individuals or contract with companies to promote training, they need to protect the most disadvantaged, who are vulnerable to fraud. For-profit universities have come under scrutiny for offering education at the lowest end of the quality spectrum and engaging in malpractice.

Governments need to prevent private supplementary tuition from having a negative impact on system quality and equity. Policy responses vary from tutor teaching permit requirements to online registers for better oversight. Bans are also an option but may lead to informal markets. The priority should be on addressing root causes, such as low teacher pay and high-stakes final examinations.


Establish common monitoring and support processes that apply to all state and non-state education institutions

Governments need a clear vision and framework of how they want to engage non-state actors and communicate this vision through regulations. Regulations should focus not on administrative details and unrealistic input standards but on education processes and results and be periodically reviewed and adjusted in a transparent and participatory way, with input invited from state and non-state schools.

Education providers should always be regulated as education entities by education authorities and never just as commercial entities by market regulators. Some providers are regulated as businesses in early childhood care and education, private supplementary tuition and vocational training. Similarly, other providers are supervised by ministries of social protection or by religious authorities.

Regulations need to be simple, transparent and efficient. The paradox is that regulatory capacity is lowest where the need for it, and the potential for corruption, is highest. Where capacity to monitor and enforce impractical rules is lacking, regulations become irrelevant and counterproductive.

Governments need to be honest about the causes of the phenomenon they want to regulate. Monitoring and support processes should be common, showing that governments care for all children’s education, irrespective of the school type they attend. Governments also need to build a relationship of trust with non-state providers, communicating the right incentives for them to run their schools effectively.


Facilitate the spread of innovation through the education system for the common good

Policymakers should be able to identify innovation and to give good ideas time and space to develop. Nobody has a monopoly on good ideas. Education is a social endeavour and a complex system. The challenge for policymakers is to encourage innovation, especially when the general public is likely to prefer conformity over experimentation.

The government should work in partnership with all actors to build an education system that works for all, prioritizing a consultative approach. A culture of trust needs to be built to promote innovation. Creating conditions and offering platforms for multiple actors to interact and cooperate can help the public education system benefit from different views and sources of expertise to remain relevant.

To start with, governments need to nurture innovation in the public education system. They need to convey the message that they are committed to excellence. They should monitor learning and its determinants, evaluate where good practices are taking place, provide resources enabling practitioners to exchange experiences, pilot good ideas and scale them up.

Governments should also look for lessons from non-state actors. Autonomous, contextualized and flexible approaches to teaching and learning, especially as regards marginalized learners, can generate new insights, which governments should benefit from, while acknowledging that low capacity prevents them from properly monitoring and evaluating state schools, let alone non-state schools.

The government’s role is to create the right environment to produce innovation. Education should not be seen as a market where education ‘producers’ outcompete other providers. Instead, new ideas need to be shared, tested and, if proven, adopted, with the state helping them spread through the education system and non-state actors volunteering them for the common good rather than economic motives.


Maintain the transparency and integrity of the public education policy process so as to block vested interests

Policymakers need to take into account insights and perspectives from all stakeholders. But just as policymakers should be open to multiple voices, it is also essential for communications with public officials about education legislation, policy and regulation to be transparent. Some actors may be working to increase their market share or political power rather than for the public good.

Governments need to monitor and safeguard against lobbying by vested interests to prevent it from unduly influencing public policy. To maintain trust in public policy processes, a range of measures to promote transparency can be applied, depending on capacity, including freedom of information acts promoting disclosure of donations to political parties and meetings with senior government officials, and rules against government officials who leave office taking positions from which they could derive private benefit and against lobbyists and their sponsors taking public office. These recommendations also apply to international organizations, all of which need a clear policy of engaging with non-state actors that prioritizes equity and inclusion.