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Defining a legal framework to advance the debate on the role of private actors in education: Where are we at?

Tue, March 7, 10:00 to 11:30am, Sheraton Atlanta, Floor: 1, Georgia 9 (South Tower)


Part of the debate on the impact of privatization in and of education lies in determining against what standards evidence should be assessed. The questions “what impacts of privatization in education are we measuring?” and its corollary “what education system do we wish to have?” are crucial to determine the response and yet are still largely debated. Some of the disagreements surrounding the analysis of empirical evidence on privatization in education results from differences in the normative framework chosen. Some may, for instance, give a higher weight to equality and equity concerns, while others will consider choice as a structural principle. These disagreements have fundamental implications as to how research is conducted, interpreted, and used by policy-makers, in particular in the Global South where these issues are especially acute.

This paper contends that human rights law, and in particular international human rights standards, as a universally agreed legal normative framework, must be considered and should be a cardinal reference to reflect on private actors in education. All countries in the world are party to one or more international treaties protecting the right to education and are thus legally bound to enforce it. However, the human rights framework contains inner tensions. It guarantees, on one hand, the right to mandatory and free quality education for all without discrimination, requiring that education system “do not lead to extreme disparities of educational opportunity for some groups in society at the expense of others”, and on the other hand, the liberty of parents to choose or establish a private school – which may be a source of inequality (International Covenant for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1966:art. 13).

Drawing from an article published in September 2016 in the Oxford Review of Education (Aubry and Dorsi, 2016), this paper provides a preliminary assessment of this tension by setting out five criteria against which to assess private involvement in education. It builds on these criteria to detail a process to develop them into a set of Human Rights Guiding Principles on State obligations and private actor responsibilities in education. A group of organizations and experts is working on these Principles by conducting secondary literature review, analysis of the legal sources and the jurisprudence, and consultation with various stakeholders. These Principles seek to unpack existing human rights law and to provide an authoritative interpretation of the existing legal standards that State must follow to address private provision of education.

These Guiding Principles should be finalized towards the end of 2017. They will provide an important reference point both for education researchers, for whom they can help to unpack the ontological framework on equality, equity, and the right to education, against which to collect data and review evidence, and policy makers, who’ll find guidance regarding the obligations they must follow when dealing with private actors in their education system.

Aubry, S. and D. Dorsi (2016) 'Towards a Human Rights Framework to advance the debate on the role of private actors in education' Oxford Review of Education, DOI: 10.1080/03054985.2016.1224301


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