Privatizing Public Education

THEORY TO PRACTICE, ISSUE NO. 5, FALL '13

The following are excerpts from Education Policy Talk, a comparative education blog written by graduate students as part of their coursework in Spring 2013. The blog sought to promote a public debate on the issues relating to the nature, impact, and implications of privatization in public education worldwide.

Fauzia Nouristani, native of Afghanistan, second-year Comparative and International Education student, with a concentration in International Development in Education.

Lack of educational opportunity for Afghans, especially Afghan girls, has been a highly controversial topic that has been used as a tool to serve political agendas for both the Western powers and the Taliban. For the U.S. and its allies, bringing education to children—and especially girls—became a propaganda tool to partly justify invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. For the  Taliban, education has been seen more as a detested mechanism of Westernization and secularization of Afghan children. Taliban members in Afghanistan and Pakistan have fought it every step of the way, going so far as attempting to assassinate teenage activist Malala Yousafzai as she was returning home from school. …

Many promises were made by the Bush administration regarding support of education. On a visit to Kabul, Mrs. Bush promised millions of dollars and a long-term commitment to education for Afghan women, but unfortunately, this “was not for Afghan public education (or women and children)  at all, but to establish a brandnew, private, for-profit American University of Afghanistan catering to the Afghan and international elite.” The former finance minister and president of Kabul University stated: “You cannot support private education and ignore public education.”

The aid money is given to American private contractors who have no real stake in education for the average Afghan but rather making a profit. The Western media sensationalizes a young girl shot fighting for her right to education and assumes moral high ground—then at the same time the U.S. government uses drones to kill these children.

The Taliban, on the other hand, connects girls’ education, learning and knowledge, to Westernization—as siding with the invaders and occupiers—thus feeling justified to kill and maim.

Olga Mun, native of Kazakhstan, first-year graduate student in the Comparative and International Education Program.

Attracting private investors in education is said to be of an utmost importance for the future of education and science. It is expected to increase funding of universities by 10 percent by 2014 through public-private partnerships and to integrate education and science through commercialization of science. For the purposes of lifelong learning, employers will be responsible for co-financing education of the employees. The expected outcome of the program is that by 2025 financing of education in Kazakhstan will be similar to the models in the “developed” countries.

The biggest concern is that “Western” education is grossly generalized and overly idealized. There is no evidence that a simple injection of private funds into the public education system would improve the quality of education. Furthermore, privatization of public education is likely to intensify socioeconomic inequities.

According to Businessinsider.com, USA is one of the world leaders in spending money on education and its schools are ranked as “average” by international assessment organizations. Moreover, education privatization trends in some “developed” countries also reveal that people with more money may have access to higher-quality education. …

It is not possible to simply borrow educational practices from the U.S. or any other “developed” country and implement them in Kazakhstan due to different political, socio-economic, and cultural contexts. … Education should support students to become responsible citizens, persons with high ethical standards and multifaceted personalities, rather than creating a generation of “test-takers” for the purposes of questionable economic growth.

Marina Kudasova, Fulbright Fellow from Russia, second year of the Master’s program in Comparative and International Education.

Federal Law N-83 FZ activated the process of commercialization of public education that brought so far only uncertainty and frustration for Russian society. Certainly, there are more questions surrounding the reform than answers. Yet, it is becoming clear that the reform will have a major impact on school curriculum and family budget. The law guarantees to provide basic education for free. However, people express fears that fee-free curriculum will be cut down to a bare minimum. One concerned parent explained that experimentation with the new law in her child’s school has resulted in narrowing down of the fee-free educational program to the following subjects: two hours of math, two hours of Russian language, three hours of physical training, and three hours of religious studies weekly. The “free program” is so basic that students have no choice but to attend fee-based courses in order to gain the necessary knowledge. Some reports suggest that teachers force their students to attend fee-based courses and give low grades to those students who do not obey ...

Meanwhile, some activists are beginning to unite their efforts in opposing the reform. For example, there is a public initiative of concerned individuals called “Civil Initiative for Free Education” that boycotts the new law and regularly organizes demonstrations. There are also those who collect signatures and write petitions to stop the reform, as well as many others who are creating smaller internet communities. Their main concern is that the new law will lead to raising “a generation of dummies” and “grey masses that can only read and write, but not think.”

Therefore, the negative impact of the reform is predicted to go far beyond the curriculum and family finances. It is believed that in a longer term the law will have a severe effect on the overall education level in the country.