On 15 June 2021, NORRAG in cooperation with California State University, Sacramento (CSUS), the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (GI-ESCR) and the Right to Education Initiative (RTE) organized the online book launch of Realizing the Abidjan Principles on the Right to Education: Human Rights, Public Education, and the Role of Private Actors in Education.
This is the third book in the NORRAG Book Series on International Education and Development published by E. Elgar Cheltenham (UK). The online event welcomed over 110 attendees. The editors and authors of the book participated in an interactive panel discussion, which provided a unique overview of the book’s significant conclusions.
After an introduction by Moira V. Faul, Executive Director at NORRAG, Sylvain Aubry, one of the editors of the book and Senior Research and Legal Advisor at the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (GI-ESCR), started the event off by providing some background on the Abidjan Principles and the questions addressed in the book. He elaborated upon the process that went into developing the key concepts of Abidjan Principles, which consisted of in-depth and rigorous legal and conceptual research as well as engagement with people and communities around the world. This research is the focus of the book, along with insights into some of the most important aspects of the Abidjan Principles and questions regarding their implementation. He concluded by explaining that, since the Abidjan Principles were adopted in 2019 they have been largely recognized by all major Human Rights groups in the UN and have already had some impact in practice.
Next, Frank Adamson of California State University in Sacramento (CSU), the lead book editor, provided an outline framing the debates that were presented by the book. Chapters are organized into two sections: laws and education, and they are split into four topical groups. The first section provides background on the Abidjan Principles as the legal basis for public education. The second deals with the issue of school choice from a legal perspective, highlighting the relationship between parental rights and state obligations. The third tackles Public-Private Partnerships, and the fourth grouping of chapters focuses on the role of private actors in education in two key understudied geographies: East Africa and Francophone countries.
Following Frank Adamson’s outline, the authors presented key points from their chapters:
- Magdalena Sepulveda Carmona, Executive Director at GI-ESCR, began by giving a brief overview of the second chapter which focuses on the use of guiding principles in human rights law.
- Jacqueline Mowbray, Associate Professor at the University of Sydney Law School and External Legal Advisor to the Commonwealth of Australia’s Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, presented chapter three in which she argues that in order to fulfil the right to public education, states must provide free quality public education to all within their jurisdiction.
- Roman Zinigrad, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Center for Critical Democracy Studies at the American University of Paris, provided insights into chapter four, which examines the role of parental rights in education as it is established and interpreted in the International Human Rights Law.
- Joanna Härmä, a writer and researcher who has conducted extensive research on private schools targeting low-income areas of countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, explored what “school choice” really means (chapter six) from the perspective of the family in different country contexts.
- Sandra Fredman, Professor of the Laws of the British Commonwealth and the USA at the University of Oxford and Fellow of the British Academy, questions in chapter five whether states, who bear the duty to provide free and compulsory education for all, can discharge this responsibility by funding private actors to do so.
- Chapter seven is a collaboration between Antoni Verger, Associate Professor of the Department of Sociology at the Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona, Mauro Moschetti, full-time Associate Researcher at the Department of Pedagogy at the University of Girona, and Clara Fontdevila, Research Associate at the University of Glasgow. Fontdevila presented the results of a meta-analysis on the impacts of different forms of Public-Private Partnerships for student achievement and equity.
- Marie-France Lange, Researcher at the French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development (IRD) and member of the CEPED University of Paris/IRD research team, explained in chapter nine the ways in which education privatization occurs in 18 Francophone countries.
- Linda Oduor-Noah, the Program Manager at the Education Partnerships Group, gave an overview of chapter eight which charts the growth of private actors in education and presents the evolution of private provisions in East Africa.
Following the authors’ presentations, a Q&A session allowed for the authors and editors to delve into a more in-depth discussion regarding questions raised in the book and the impacts of the Abidjan Principles on the right to education, school choice, Public-Private Partnerships, and private actors. Some of the questions raised by the audience included:
- What legal obligations elaborated in the Abidjan Principles are placed on International Organizations vis-à-vis governmental work with private providers and the financial flow of either public or international public money?
- There have been criticisms from the NGO sector that the Abidjan Principles portray commercial actors as the main problem. There is a sentiment that the Abidjan Principles are treating all kinds of private schools in the same way, so must we have more distinctions between, for example, commercial private schools and other private schools such as community-run or NGO-managed schools? Do private schools still need to exist as a systemic necessity in order to retain a certain freedom in the education system?
- What can be done to help certain governments realize that private education providers are actually supporting the government in ensuring that there are no more out of school children, rather than the money-making ventures that they are sometimes perceived to be?
- How can the Abidjan Principles help in rethinking the model of Human Rights universal access to education in order to overcome the gap between the model as it has developed over time and available resources?
- How can the role of the state be reframed in order to ensure greater participation of citizens and communities to create a more relational conception of their entitlement and pursuit of their human right to education?
- In what ways should the state support low-fee private schools, knowing that there are children who rely on education from those schools, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa?
Finally, the other two editors of the book, Mireille de Koning (OSF) and Delphine Dorsi (RTE), concluded the panel with closing remarks.
Download the event programme.
Watch the video presentations in our showcase