The 2021 GEM Report will focus on the many ways in which non-state actors are involved in education systems. It will discuss the state role in the process (regulatory frameworks, accountability mechanisms) and reflect on the most recent developments in the non-state actors’ landscape (the role of global corporations or philanthropic foundations and new public-private arrangements).
This blog summarises some of your inputs during the online consultation we launched in December on the concept note for our Report. Over 1300 people have visited the consultation website, many of which left comments. We also received 47 personalised emails. While we have not been able to cover all of your suggestions in this blog, all are being examined by the team. Thank you for your contributions. They are invaluable as we get to work scoping out the research we will carry out over the coming year.
Justification for the report
It was advised that the Report establish a stronger rationale for covering the role of non-state actors in 2021 and that this should extend beyond the expansion in private education. For example, you called for looking at the risk to equality posed by new forms of non-state action in education in the form of online courses.
Framework, areas of focus and positioning
People were happy to see that the Report’s concept note moves beyond ideological debates to a focus on the evidence behind non-state provision.
Some urged for greater clarification on the different types of non-state actors, including those that are for profit and those that are not. And you called for greater emphasis to be placed on civil society organizations (CSOs) in achieving SDG 4. Multiple suggestions of case studies that could help show the contribution that non-state actors make to providing a quality education were sent through, particularly in emergency settings. It was advised that analysis should continue the focus of the 2020 GEM Report on inclusion due out on 8 April with respect to the individuals most at risk of marginalization, such as those with disabilities, etc… in relation to non-state actors. A call for putting a gender lens on the research was also made.
You called for the Report to look at the way that governments are investing in research, data collection and corresponding administrative systems to understand and map the extent of private school provision, and how they are balancing the need for public oversight with the need to enable markets to function effectively and to work for the poor.
One comment cautioned about pursuing a narrative that offers a choice between either private or public, and said the Report should be open to the idea that the non-state sector can complement and support government provision of basic education — when invited to do so.
The Report will look at early-childhood education right the way up to higher and adult education. The latter of these two is a very broad field, making it hard to cover. Suggestions were that it could be useful to concentrate on activities that are regulated by national ministries of education. The analysis across all education levels could be complemented by a distinction between formal and non-formal/ alternative modalities of education, extending through even to sport, volunteering, arts agencies, co-curricular organisations, etc.
The team was urged to use the adjectives “public” and “private” without nuance according to whether they qualify institutions, people, users, freeze ideologies, and make the “education” sector a sanctuary sector. And the report should be aware of the variety of possible definitions of non-state actors. There may be challenges of definitions in UIS when deciding what constitutes private, which may mean we underestimate its prevalence, particularly as regards unregistered schools. For example, the statistics of the UNESCO Institute do not include schools of non-state actors that are (partially) financed by the state. A comment also called for the Report to also clearly delineate between private for-profit providers and NGOs.
The Report is to use a broad conceptualization of education provision, encompassing different types of education operators, learning related goods and services, and other support goods and services. Several areas of research were suggested to understand the full range and impact of non-state provision of education, including on faith-based services, on the role of civil society in providing global citizenship education, on the role of non-state actors in the collection of education data, and on the growth of a shadow education in the form of private supplementary tutoring. Successful Public Private Partnerships that focus on equity should be explored. Companies’ involvement in curriculum and testing deserves to be examined as well.
You also noted that the provision of ancillary services should also be covered; something done in almost every public education system, but with questionable accountability around the way it is contracted and regulated. Technology is opening up many new fronts in non-state provision of education as well, as the 2022 GEM Report on technology will carry on to explore. Across the UK, state education is deeply entwined with, and dependent on, commercial digital tools in the edTech market, for instance. How is student data being linked with other government departments’ data (on tax, and welfare, for example), and what privacy and security risks does this entail?
2. Governance and regulation
The 2021 GEM Report expects to comprehensively cover regulatory arrangements and other forms of available accountability for non-state actors in education.
In terms of analyzing regulation for equity, comments suggested that the 2021 GEM Report could look at the divergent challenges of human rights with regard to non-state actors, including the right to freedom of religion. Legislation, such as data protection laws, statutory Codes of Practice, and enforcement actions are particularly important for protecting the privacy and rights of the child and young people across all areas, but crucially in the digital environment in education. Lawmaking and procurement at all levels of government must respect the UN General comment No. 16 (2013) on State obligations regarding the impact of the business sector on children’s rights. Comments underscored that the Abidjan Principles apply and can be particularly useful in humanitarian as well as development contexts.
Many international statements have made reference to the role of non-state actors in education, including the Incheon Declaration, the Convention against Discrimination in Education; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; and Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Human rights law and international agreements are clear in establishing the international legal and regulatory parameters for non-state actors.
Several comments focused on regulatory instruments that could ensure non-state provision worked in line with education quality and equity principles. Some even suggested that governments do not need to be the regulator.
The 2021 GEM Report will cover household, government, donors and corporate financing in education, including philanthropy with an equity perspective. The Report was urged to start by reminding of the state’s obligation to provide enough means for education.
Starting by looking at household expenditure, the Report was advised to look at the risks to equity posed by private education. It was advised to also address the ‘false dichotomy’ in the debate between ‘low cost private schools’ and so-called ‘free’ government schools, which frequently still charge all manner of fees. Distinguishing between the pragmatic requirement to sometimes charge (affordable) fees to students who can pay should not be seen as the same as promoting for-profit or commercially driven education, one comment said.
One person called for looking closer at the reasons for investing in non-state education, both because of the communities they serve, but also because of the element of choice that many parents wish to retain. The fiscal realities of providing education for expanding populations may also necessitate private delivery solutions. Similarly, the investment from governments and aid agencies in low fee private schools is tiny relative to their share of total education provision. Analysis into arguments that the private sector can achieve equal or better outcomes at a lower cost should feed into this. The Report was cautioned not to be too critical of donors’ commitment in the area of non-state actors because many donors in development cooperation are explicitly non-state actors themselves. Ultimately how governments choose to finance education should be their decision.
The Report could look at the support that GPE’s developing country government partners give to the private provision of education, including by providing subsidies to providers or parents to reduce or remove the costs of education to low-income communities. One comment said a reference could be made to the budget savings that faith-based schools brought to governments – larger than ODA contributions.
4. Influence and innovation
The fourth section of the 2021 GEM Report aims to capture the influence exerted by different non-state actors, and the role this plays in innovating in the system. You called for looking at the role of interest groups at the international level both for and against the ‘privatisation’ of education, as well as the role of international and UN organisations in attempting to create partnership platforms and initiatives. A suggestion was made that a strong role for the international community was in investing in global public goods related to non-state education, including research, innovation, experimentation and evaluation. And in supporting non-state actors in fragile and conflict affected states.
The Report was directed towards evidence that Public Private Partnerships (PPPs), particularly when targeted at disadvantaged populations, can engage the private sector to improve both access to education and learning outcomes.
There was a call for greater evidence on how non-state actors in non-formal/alternative education have managed to influence education reforms, although there are not many examples of mechanisms to help best practice leap from the non-state sector into the public education system.
Some mentioned the growing influence of private foundations in the policy (and advocacy) debates in education, warning that, though they may lend a new and unique voice, they come with agendas, such as the philanthropic arms of large tech companies. There was also a suggestion of the need to discuss networks of influence – networks of actors that have shared interests who may be working to positively or negatively influence the discourse.