World Bank must stop push to expand private education

Published: 9th April 2019

Increased support for public private partnerships is deepening inequality

The World Bank has been steadily increasing its support for privatized education in lower-income countries despite mounting evidence that this approach is freezing out poorer children – especially girls – and doesn’t improve education quality.

Oxfam’s new report "False Promises" published ahead of this year’s World Bank and IMF Spring meetings says the Bank should immediately stop promoting Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) that expand private education.

Oxfam analyzed the Bank’s primary and secondary education portfolio between 2013-2018 and found more than one-fifth of projects included support to governments for private education. From 2014 to 2018, 20 of the 94 projects supported private provision compared to 10 out of 59 between 2008 to 2012. 

The number of countries hosting these projects nearly doubled, from 7 to 13.  In addition, a separate 2017 study by RESULTS found that the Bank’s private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation, has quadrupled its funding to for-profit private schools since 2006.

The Bank is also actively advising governments to invest in PPPs via its “Systems Approach for Better Education Results” (SABER) program, for instance telling countries to provide start-up funding and public land for private schools, reduce regulations and expand for-profit schooling.

The Bank advised Ghana in 2015 to experiment with a PPP approach and lower its certification standards for private-school teachers. In 2016, it advised Nepal to change its laws to make for-profit schools eligible for public funding.

To date, there is no evidence that PPP schools consistently perform better than public schools. Instead, studies show they increase educational inequalities.  In countries like Uganda, they have been criticized for employing under-qualified teachers and having poor education outcomes.

Oxfam said that it was particularly concerned about the PPPs that push “low fee” and for-profit schools because the schools disproportionately exclude girls and the poorest children, while often paying poverty wages to under-qualified teachers. In Uganda and Kenya, commercial schools have been accused of refusing to comply with minimum government education standards.

In the meantime, low-income countries are spending under half the UNESCO-recommended minimum, $ 197 dollars per student, that is needed to provide decent primary education.

“We are extremely concerned about the Bank pushing privatized education as the solution to improve education outcomes for all – because it simply is not achieving that,” said Oxfam International’s Head of Washington DC Office, Nadia Daar.

“Instead evidence is mounting that these PPPs are creating a highly unequal and stratified education system where too many kids are locked out of school because they cannot afford the high costs or meet the entry requirements.”

The World Bank is the biggest external funder in the world for education, much of which supports public schooling. It has rallied the importance of investing in health and education through its Human Capital project.

“The Bank must use this influential platform to champion a major investment in universal, quality, free public education. This is one of the most powerful tools to fight poverty and inequality. It must stop promoting private education which excludes the poorest and most vulnerable children,” report author and Oxfam senior public services advisor, Katie Malouf Bous said.

“The money is out there but we need political will. We need to see domestic and international tax reforms. Donors must fully implement their aid commitments, and we need a fair restructuring of debt which is strangling so many low income countries’ fiscal space and their ability to pay for essential public services. We hope newly announced president David Malpass will champion these issues as well as other critical areas such as urgent climate action.”

Oxfam points out that while not all World Bank projects that support private provision are inherently harmful, many of them fund a model that expands private schooling rather than providing quality public education as a human right.

Notes to editors

  • For more information on methodology and literature sources, see full report, 'False promises'.
  • Oxfam published a reaction to a speech by IMF Managing Director, Christine Lagarde, calling for better policies to end tax dodging and enable more effective tax collection so that countries can fund key social sectors such as health and education.
  • Oxfam’s response to the March IMF tax report also called for fiscal reforms that  give developing countries a real say in outcomes.
  • Also see Oxfam’s call for new World Bank president, David Malpass, to act on climate and promote investment in education and health to reduce inequality. 

Contact information

Patience Akumu, +256700964398 or 

For updates, please follow @Oxfam.