Education International
Education International

East African unions unite against scourge of education privatisation

published 18 May 2016 updated 1 June 2016

Leaders of Education International affiliate organisations in East Africa gathered in Kampala, Uganda, to coordinate their response to the growing commercialisation and privatisation of education spreading across the continent.

The union leaders of Education International (EI) affiliates from Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zanzibar shared their national experiences and developed a deeper understanding of EI’s Global Response to the growing commercialisation and privatisation of education. The meeting was held on 15-16 May in Kampala, and was sponsored by the Danish Union of Teachers ( DLF).

National campaigns

The participants concluded that the commercialisation and privatisation of education is the greatest threat to the realisation of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4: “inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. They pledged to return home with a renewed determination to develop and implement national campaigns aimed at exposing and reversing government policies which allow, facilitate and encourage commercialisation and privatisation of education.  A key objective of these national campaign plans will be to ensure that governments implement and enforce a legislative framework necessary to protect and advance the right of all students to free quality public education.

KNUT: Inequity of privatisation

“Privatisation is a cancer that must be removed from Africa,” said Wilson Sossion, General Secretary of the Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) and President of EI’s Africa Regional Committee. “It represents an affront to the rights of children. It will drive and deepen inequity.”

UNATU: Commercialisation a ‘virus’

These views were echoed by Juliet Wajega, Deputy General Secretary of the Uganda National Teachers’ Union (UNATU). She said commercialisation of education is a “virus” that is consuming education in Uganda and it is hindering the achievement of SDG 4, a prerequisite to achievement of all the SDG goals.  “As teacher unions, we must mobilise to encircle and paralyse this virus until we exterminate it.”

TTU: Build alliances

Yahaya Msulwa, General Secretary of Tanzania Teachers’ Union (TTU), recognised the size of the challenge and the influence of large global actors driving the commercialisation of education. He reminded leaders that they must build alliances with like-minded education stakeholders and national labour centres to strengthen their ability to lobby successfully in support of quality free public education for all.

ZATU: Underfunding of public education

Discussions also focused on the need for governments to fulfil their obligation to properly and adequately fund public education. In far too many instances, public schools are being starved of the resources they need to pave the way for privatisation. Daud Mussa Tafurwa Omar, General Secretary of the Zanzibar Teachers’ Union (ZATU), said: “The problem is public education is underfunded.  Consequently, there is poor infrastructure and a lack of teaching and learning materials in school. There is an insufficient number of teachers.”

Lack of political will

The union leaders rejected as hollow claims about a financing gap when it comes to funding quality education for all. Instead, they identified a lack of political will as the issue. They were appalled to learn that new statistics released by Oxfam International show that more money leaves Africa illegally than all the aid provided.

Angelo Gavrielatos, programme director for the Global Response underlined that tax loopholes and tax havens must be closed. “The international community must act to end this scourge which is denying Africa’s children the resources they need and deserve,” he said. Tax avoidance is depleting Africa of the revenue base required to ensure every child receives access to quality public education.