Latin America, leading the way in the global privatisation of education
This week, Education International (EI) launches a major research report on the privatisation of education in Latin America. The report: Privatisation of Education in Latin America: Mapping policies, trends and trajectories, is the work of researchers Antoni Verger, Mauro Moschetti and Clara Fontdevila, from the Autonomous University of Barcelona. This year, Fontdevila and Verger received an award from the prestigious Comparative International Education Society (CIES) for a similar study on the political economy of worldwide educational reforms.
This new report reveals that in recent decades, Latin America has been the region with the steadiest growth in privatisation of education. The region is notable not only for having the highest rate of enrolment in private primary education in the world, but also for showing the most consistent growth in private provision. This also applies at the secondary school level, for which Latin America is tied with Sub-Saharan Africa for the region with the highest private enrolment.
Despite the magnitude of this phenomenon, there is little relevant information in the literature, and it is difficult to identify an accurate regional overview due to the region’s heterogeneity. This makes the present study especially relevant, with the researchers managing to identify a typology of the different regional trajectories towards the privatisation of education through an exhaustive analysis of the circumstances that have led to the adoption in recent decades of policies that favour the privatisation of education.
Examples include the suppression of fundamental educational rights as a result of the ‘freedom of choice’ characteristic of the privatisation as structural reform observed in Chile, which now has one of the most unequal education systems in the world as a result (OECD, 2014). In Argentina, long-standing public-private partnerships established during 1940–1960 have favoured the deregulation of private schools.
Through these and other examples, the report divulges the nature, constraints, variants, and ultimately the ‘constructed’ attributes inherent to this phenomenon within the political context of each individual country. The great diversity of approaches represented by these trajectories reveal that Latin America is a region uniquely suited to thinking and participating in theoretical and social discourse regarding the political economy of educational reforms.
Fred Van Leeuwen, General Secretary, Education International, remarked, “Education International fully supports the struggle against the commercialisation of education in all its forms and seeks to raise awareness of the transnational agents that promote not only the commercialisation of education, but also the introduction of free-market philosophies to public systems at all levels. The consequences of this can be clearly seen in the case of Chile, which according to the OCDE has the most unequal education system in the world.”
The key findings of the research are as follows:
- The Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region has the highest rate of privatisation of primary education in the world, with the most sustained level of growth since the mid-1990s. This is also the case for secondary education, in which Latin America and the Caribbean are again in the lead, tied with Sub-Saharan Africa for the region with the highest levels of privatisation.
- On a regional level, there is no clear correlation between educational expansion and increased private enrolment. The processes that drive the privatisation of education are more closely linked to the economic policies of each country rather than to periods of increased educational expansion, as is commonly believed.
- In light of these findings, the study identifies 7 different trajectories of privatised education in Latin America rooted in the political economy shaped by educational reforms. Each of the seven trajectories is exemplified by certain countries, some of which show more than one of these trends:
- Privatisation through state-sanctioned structural reforms (Chile)
- Privatisation through incremental reforms (Colombia, Brazil)
- Privatisation by default and the emergence of ‘low-cost’ private schools (Dominican Republic, Peru, Jamaica)
- Long-standing public-private partnerships (Argentina, Dominican Republic)
- Privatisation as a result of natural disasters or armed conflicts (Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Haiti)
- Containment of privatisation (Bolivia)
- Latent privatisation (Uruguay)
- Unique among these trends is the ‘de-privatisation of education’, or containment of privatisation, a scarcely documented phenomenon that has been observed in Bolivia. This apparent reversal of the trend towards privatisation is attributable to a series of normative and/or institutional changes that have occurred as a result of greater investment in education and a reassessment in political and cultural discourse of the importance of public education.
- The study notes the emergence of new educational actors who advocate pro-market reforms in line with New Public Management. These ‘philanthropic’ corporate networks have grown increasingly strong in countries such as Brazil (Todos Pela Educação), Mexico (Mexicanos Primero) and, more recently, Uruguay (Eduy21). These networks wield growing political influence as a result of their access to government elites, co-operation with civil society organisations, and powerful mass media campaigns.
- The study also highlights the decisive role of international agencies in promoting privatisation agendas within each of the countries studied, often through pilot programmes whose long-term effects have been shown to negatively impact the quality of education in a given region. This is especially true in Central America due to partnerships between the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, and United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
The complete report (in Spanish): Privatisation of education in Latin America: Mapping policies, trends and trajectories. Verger T., Moschetti M. & Fontdevila C. (Autonomous University of Barcelona, 2017) is available for download here.
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