OXFAM AND 22 OTHER CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANISATIONS have welcomed the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) announcement that it will stop investing in private schools, following the release of an independent evaluation.

Oxfam says the decision reinforces the work of civil society organisations which have for years been monitoring and raising awareness about the negative impact of for-profit commercial schools on the right to quality, inclusive education for all, particularly for girls, children with disabilities, and other traditionally marginalised groups. It also reinforces concerns regarding the operations of some of the transnational corporations which benefit from these investments.

Katie Malouf Bous, Senior Policy Advisor for Oxfam, said: “This is a massive step in the right direction for development finance. This evaluation acknowledges the potentially harmful impacts of investments in profit-oriented schools, which risk increasing inequalities in education and negatively impact public school systems. We are pleased the IEG has taken the time to do this evaluation, and we applaud the IFC for taking the findings seriously and demonstrating leadership on this issue among development finance institutions.”

Salima Namusobya, Executive Director for the Initiative for Social and Economic Rights in Uganda, said: “Education is a human right, it should not be treated as a commodity or a means for generating financial returns on investment in the private provision of education. All children deserve to benefit from a good quality education. We celebrate this decision to cease financing for-profit education and hope that the World Bank will instead prioritise financing public education.”

Johnstone Shisanya, Programme Manager for the Education Support Programme at the East African Centre for Human Rights said: “We applaud this bold action by the IFC and call on other investors to do the same. We continue to champion states’ fulfilment of quality public education for all, and we hope this decision is a sign of increased commitment by the World Bank towards supporting Kenya and other states to provide quality public education to the most marginalised and vulnerable groups as a way of guaranteeing inclusive education.”

Magdalena Sepúlveda, Executive Director of the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, said: “Now it’s time for other development finance institutions to consider the IEG’s findings, step up and follow the IFC’s lead. We also want to see the World Bank Group pivot to increased support to governments to build stronger and more equitable public education systems, through its public sector support.”

The IFC’s announcement was posted on the World Bank IEG’s website on Wednesday, 8 June, 2022, alongside the evaluation report of IFC’s direct and indirect investments in kindergarten through grade 12 (K–12) private schools. In its response to the evaluation, IFC noted that most private K–12 schools are difficult to invest in directly, and cited a number of challenges with such investments including weak financial results and the “potential for investments in private K–12 schools to exacerbate inequalities and have unintended, undesirable spillovers into the public sector school system”.

The announcement comes less than three months after the IFC indicated that it had divested from Bridge International Academies, also known as NewGlobe Schools, a chain of for-profit schools operating in five African countries and India. This followed a number of complaints about the company’s operations in Kenya being filed with the IFC’s accountability mechanism, the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman.

The decision is also in line with findings from UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring Report 2021, which states that “profit making is inconsistent with the commitment to guarantee free pre-primary, primary and secondary education.” The IFC’s move is also consistent with previous decisions from the Global Partnership for Education in 2019 and the European Parliament in 2018, both of which prohibited funding to for-profit commercial private schools.

* Read An Evaluation of International Finance Corporation Investments in K–12 Private Schools here.

* Source: Oxfam International