New study links privatisation in education with undermining of its access by children from poor backgrounds

Thursday September 12 2019

The Education, Science and Technology minister,

The Education, Science and Technology minister, Prof Joyce Ndalichako (left), inspects progress of the construction of teachers’ houses at the Nasibugani Secondary School in Mkuranga District, Coast Region in a past event. She was accompanied by officials from the district alongside those from the ministry. PHOTO | FILE 

By Khalifa Said @ThatBoyKhalifax

Dar es Salaam. A recent multi-nation study has linked the prevalence of inadequately-regulated private schools in seven African countries – including Tanzania – with undermining the right to education in those countries.

Titled ‘The impact of privatization on the fulfilment of the Right to Education in 7 African countries: what do the Abidjan Principles tell us?’ the study points out that privatisation in the education sector in the studied countries has led to their governments forsaking their responsibility to uphold children’s right to education.

According to the study, privatisation of education undermines the norms and principles of the right to education. This is largely because privatisation is generally prevalent in and around wealthier urban areas – and where private school fees are more often than not unaffordable to the poor.

The study was conducted using the ‘Abidjan Principles’ as a baseline for assessing the impact of private education upon the right to education.

The 2019 study was the product of joint efforts by the anti-poverty organisationActionAid International; the Centre for Education & International Development at the University College of London; the Right to Education Initiative, and the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The study focused on Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda – named here strictly in alphabetical order.


Adopted in February 2019 in the Côte d’Ivoire capital Abidjan, the Abidjan Principles serve as a reference point for governments, educators and education providers when debating the respective roles and duties of nations and private actors in education.

“All the seven studied countries have failed to fully meet their obligations to provide free, quality public education – partly due to underfunding of the education sector.”

In Tanzania, for example, despite the fact that students enrolment in primary school increased by an average of 17 per cent between 2018 and 2019, the number of primary and secondary schools increased by only one per cent.

This is according to HakiElimu, a local advocacy organisation that champions quality and inclusive education.

HakiElimu’s managing director, Mr John Kalage, said in a recent article published by the Mwananchi: “There has been a reduction of one per cent of the education budget in each of the past three financial years.”

This would suggest that high enrolment would result in overcrowding and poor/inadequate facilities.

The report by the Controller and Auditor General (CAG) for the 2016/2017 financial year shows that there is an 85 per cent shortage of classrooms for primary schools, 83 per cent for toilets, 66 per cent for teachers’ houses and 14 per cent for desks.

As for secondary schools, the CAG reported that there was a 52 per cent shortage of classrooms, 84 per cent of laboratories, 86 per cent for desks and 85 per cent of teachers’ houses.

Parents loathe public education

The low funding for education has serious repercussions on the way parents and children perceive public education.

A study by ActionAid found that low funding results in dissatisfaction with the quality of education provided in public schools. In turn, this low quality education leads to a surge in private schools as an alternative – at least for those who can afford it.

The regional advocacy organisation Twaweza – which operates in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda to enable children to learn – confirms that underfunding of schools breeds dissatisfaction in parents regarding the public schools system.

Twaweza sought the opinions of parents on their preference between public and private schools – assuming that both charged no school fees.

About 60 per cent of the parents said they would enroll their children in private schools.

According to ActionAid, this is being exploited by private providers of education who, together with the governments and donors of a particular country, portray private schooling as “a more efficient or better-quality provider” of education!

But, “the evidence on this is inconclusive,” the study cautions.

Huge opportunities disparities

However, the result is social stratification and huge disparities in educational opportunities.

A researcher from Twaweza, Mr Richard Temu, thinks privatisation of education has a serious effect on education planning and resources allocation.

For example, he says, partly because many private schools are located in Dar es Salaam, the region has good performance in the national examination results on average.

“At the end of the day, students from poor backgrounds in Dar es Salaam who study in public schools end up being marginalised,” Mr Temu said in a telephone interview with The Citizen.

“We have allowed ourselves to be blindfolded by the average performance [of Dar es Salaam schools] without taking into consideration that the region is highly-populated, and has many private schools.”

Taking into account issue of equity

The ActionAid study has a number of recommendations – one being a careful examination of the assertions by government and donors that private financing is better for the education system.

Governments should also provide free public education of the highest possible quality. This should be accompanied by efforts to ensure sustainable revenue to adequately finance a minimum of nine years of free quality education for all.

The Mbeya-based educational researcher specialising in the provision of fee-free education, Mr MuhanyiNkoronko, agrees with the study’s findings, especially on social stratification.

An experienced teacher himself, Mr Nkoronko says a lowly-funded public education system would lead to millions of children from poor backgrounds marginalized from accessing their right to education.

“It is possible to have private schools alongside well-funded public schools. So the main issue here is funding. The government should sufficiently fund its schools,” he said in a telephone interview with The Citizen.

Godfrey Telli, an educationalist affiliated with Twaweza, suggests that the government should squarely deal with the issue of low-funding for its schools – and transform them into ‘charter schools.’

A ‘charter school’ is one that receives government funding – but operates independently of the established state school system in which it is located.

“So, we have private schools, public schools and these other schools that I can call ‘schools of choice.’ Parents would fund their school of choice – and the teachers would be directly accountable to the parents,” Mr Telli told The Citizen over the telephone.