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Right to education: taking actions in the context of private engagement during crises by Delphine Dorsi, Clémentine Etienne, and Léa Rambaud

Abstract: This NORRAG Debates on the Right to Education was originally written and published in French, and translated into English, on the Right to Education Initiative website. NORRAG is sharing this work with permission from the organization and authors: Delphine Dorsi, Director of the Right to Education Initiative, and Clémentine Etienne and Léa Rambaud, Project Officer and Project Leader at Coalition Education. The authors present findings from a recently-held webinar on the right to education and private actors in emergency response contexts, drawing upon case studies from the Ivory Coast and Democratic Republic of Congo. They discuss how the involvement of private actors leads to education equity concerns and detail legal frameworks, such as the Abidjan Principles, that could help us address these issues. 

Introduction

Given shortfalls in public financing over the last few years, including for humanitarian aid in crisis situations, private actors have increasingly become involved in emergency education programs.

In its latest advocacy brief, ‘Private Engagement in Education in Emergencies: Rights and Regulations, INEE explores this trend and raises concerns about for-profit actors that are shared by many development actors such as Coalition Education and the Right to Education Initiative.

Private engagement involves partnerships with state and non-state actors such as the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), Education Cannot Wait (ECW), UN agencies, or public-private partnerships. Private actors engage in education in a variety of ways, from financing educational institutions (including low-cost schools) to providing goods and services. Companies have also played a growing role in global Education in Emergencies (EiE) policy making and advocacy campaigns. These partnerships are based on popular perception that companies have expertise in innovative educational design and new ideas on non-traditional funding mechanisms to respond quickly to emergency situations.

The impact of Covid-19 on education, which led to prolonged school closures, has leveraged private engagement in education to supply virtual learning solutions based on digital platforms and educational technologies. These new ways of learning have raised serious inequality and inequity concerns due to a deepened digital divide, problematic long-term impacts on educational systems, the increased commercialization of education, disregard for student privacy, the failure to pay teachers’ salaries, and exploitative practices through which companies seek to profit from this global crisis.

Engaging for-profit actors has elicited tensions and strong criticism, mostly regarding the right to education, transparency and equity, states’ obligation to provide quality public education, and the principles of humanitarian action in Education in Emergencies (EiE).

These risks should be addressed and better understood. In turn, they require significant efforts from the international community to protect the right to education, including against the commercialization of education in emergency contexts, in line with international legal frameworks such as the Abidjan Principles and the INEE Minimum Standards for Education, so that schools continue to provide safe spaces and physical protection for children and young people.

The webinar held on April 22 by Coalition Education and the Right to Education Initiative ‘Right to education and private participation in emergency response contexts‘ (in French only) helped illustrate these findings by taking the examples of Ivory Coast and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), while reiterating the international human rights framework applicable in emergency situations.

Focus on ENEZA Education in Ivory Coast

The Ivory Coast Government’s decision to suspend classes from March 16 to May 18 2020 impacted 6 million students in secondary schools.

The Covid-19 pandemic has interrupted learning. To bridge the digital divide, the Minister of National Education has offered free broadcast courses on radio, TV and through an online platform for students in exam classes (Fifth grade, ninth grade, senior year). However, the third term was cancelled in 2020 for the other classes and school did not resume until September.

Covid-19 has magnified the digital divide across the country. Online courses have also raised serious concerns regarding children’s privacy protection.

Following the suspension of on-site classes, the government has resorted to the services of ENEZA, an ed-tech company based in Ivory Coast since 2018, to offer ‘an alternative to the crisis’. ENEZA has developed offline tutoring via mobile phones, providing primary and secondary learners with educational content by SMS. The first two weeks of use were free, then courses had to be paid for by students.

Content design and production has been approved by the Ministry of National Education. ENEZA has benefited from school closures and the visibility it has received from the Minister of National Education. The company has also offered discounts to attract families; but the costs charged by ENEZA are heavy for families, especially for the most vulnerable ones, and are increasing inequalities of access to education.

More equitable solutions have been developed by teachers. However, funding shortfalls are compromising the sustainability of these initiatives. A group of teachers have addressed a crisis situation with few tools and no technological means, simply using WhatsApp with students. Other teachers equipped with more technological tools have set up the ‘Ivory Coast Virtual High School4: a distance learning solution providing resources through the Internet network on computers, tablets, smartphones, and other devices.

[From Amadou Daou’s report, Mouvement Ivoirien des Droits Humains (Ivorian Human Rights Movement, MIDH)].

Focus on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

Because of school closures during the pandemic, many young pupils, learners, and students have been exposed to delinquency, violence, and various other threats.

Civil society has called on the government to meet its obligations to protect the right to education despite the crisis. The Ministry of National Education in DRC has decided to broadcast courses on national TV. Unfortunately, the Government has not considered the existing digital divide mainly caused by different electricity prices across the country and the lack of digital tools and TVs in homes.

The YMAE organization has strived to change citizens’ point of view from ‘we lack resources to ensure educational continuity’ to ‘the government has failed to find solutions to ensure education continuity and is lagging behind in terms of electronics and computer access’.

Many private actors have taken advantage of the situation and have tried to meet the demand for education. However, despite offering a wide range of activities, they have failed to meet educational needs as their platforms do not support student-teacher relationships and their access is subject to fees.

Civil society calls for the adoption of a legal provision universalizing distance learning since no policy document currently addresses this educational method as a response to a crisis situation.

Civil society also calls upon the government to set up a system which helps maintain teacher-student relationships and favours inclusion.

Teachers’ low ed-tech skills and the challenges they face to teach technical subjects online are also of great concern.

[From Serge Bondedi’s report, Young men action for education].

The Abidjan Principles and their application in education in emergencies

The Abidjan Principles are a legal framework that set out and clarify the human rights obligations of States to provide public education and to regulate private involvement in education. They were drafted and adopted in 2019, by a group of human rights and education experts from around the world as part of a consultative process including regional consultations with communities, research work in a dozen countries, and reports on specific topics such as public-private partnerships, parental choice or the right to public education. These guiding principles have already been widely recognized by institutional actors, namely the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the United Nations Human Rights Council, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education, the European Committee of Social Rights, the Global Partnership for Education and the High Court of Uganda.

The Abidjan Principles consist of 97 guiding principles grouped within 10 overarching principles which provide a global overview of the text. They cover the following main topics:

  • States’ obligations to ensure the provision of free quality education
  • States’ obligations to regulate private involvement in education
  • School funding, including through public-private partnerships
  • The role of donors and international actors
  • Accountability and implementation of the Principles

Guiding Principle 12 states that ‘The right to education must be guaranteed even in times of public emergency’. Other principles are particularly relevant for EiE, namely Guiding Principles 34 to 37 (Financing of public education), Guiding Principles 43 to 46 (Non-retrogression), Guiding Principles 64 to 74 (Financing, including private funding) and Guiding Principles 75 to 79 (International assistance and cooperation).

The Abidjan Principles can be used to foster dialogue between different education stakeholders and build efficient solutions that are consistent with human rights. More specifically, they can be used by:

  • States: to build plans and policies that are consistent with human rights, and dialogue with donors and private actors
  • Civil society: to clarify their positions and build advocacy campaigns
  • Academics: to conduct research based on the regulatory framework
  • Lawyers, judges: as a framework for legal interpretation
  • International institutions: to build programs with States and CSOs contributing to the implementation of the right to education
  • Private actors and organizations: to better understand the applicable legal framework

France’s political guidelines on private engagement

France wishes to inspire a humanist vision of education. The French government qualifies education both as a public good and a fundamental human right in its public policies.

Education in emergencies and in crisis situations is a top priority for the French government, both multilaterally and bilaterally.

During the webinar, France announced its decision to renew its commitment to the Education Cannot Wait fund through a contribution of €2M for Lebanon and €2M for Sahel countries in 2021.

Since the Covid-19 outbreak, at multilateral level, the French Ministry of National Education and the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs have joined the Global Coalition for Education launched by UNESCO. This partnership has helped finance the Global Partnership for Education to build ImaginEcoles, a digital platform for sharing educational and pedagogical content.

In crisis contexts, the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs provides financial support through its Crisis Centre’s humanitarian emergency fund. France has also endorsed the European Commission’s resolution to increase humanitarian aid for education, reaching 10% of the humanitarian aid budget versus 4% previously.

France calls for the involvement of all stakeholders, especially during the most difficult times, all the more so when education funding is scarce; but their engagement implies certain obligations.

Actors must meet a number of criteria, such as complying with International Humanitarian Law, the Incheon Declaration, and the Education Framework for 2030, which state that private engagement must contribute to strengthening education as a public good.

France has also supported the European Parliament Resolution 2081 stating that official development assistance should not be used to support private organizations promoting education as a public good.

[From Joanna GODRECKA-BAREAU’s report, Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs].

Recommendations

INEE’s brief makes a series of recommendations for private sector participation in EiE, stressing that it must support the prioritization of safe, equitable, and quality public education for all children and young people affected by crises:

  • Prioritize the ‘do no harm’ principle of humanitarianism
  • Prioritize the participation of affected communities
  • Support the long-term sustainability of public education
  • Regulate private sector activities
  • Promote transparency in profit-seeking activities
  • Ensure that private funding to EiE is transparent, equitable, and harmonized
  • Develop specific guidance on private participation in EiE

Resources 

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