Session Submission Summary

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Realizing the Abidjan Principles on the Right to Education: Human Rights, Public Education, and the Role of Private Actors in Education

Thu, April 29, 10:00 to 11:30am PDT (10:00 to 11:30am PDT), Zoom Room, 117

Group Submission Type: Formal Panel Session


Background: This panel examines - across four presentations - eight different topics related to key issues raised in the process of developing and producing the Abidjan Principles on the human rights obligations of States to provide public education and to regulate private involvement in education (hereafter Abidjan Principles). The Abidjan Principles aggregate existing human rights law on the right to education, in particular as it regards the role of private actors in education. The Principles were adopted by a group of 57 recognised experts from around the world in February 2019 in Ivory Coast, following three years of participatory consultations, rigorous background research, and successive drafts, that involved hundreds of people and organisations globally.

The Abidjan Principles have quickly become a global reference point, recognised by a range of international and regional organisations since their adoption. In the context of new and increasingly complex governance arrangements and processes in education and with the growing involvement of various private actors and interests in the provision, management, and funding of education in particular, the Abidjan Principles offer a much-needed tool to address the organization of education systems. Building on this work, the panel addresses the CIES 2021 theme of Social Responsibility within Changing Contexts, discussed in detail below. Overall, the panel employs a conceptual research approach to the different issues surfacing during the development of the Abidjan Principles and more generally on the right to education and the role of private actors in education.

Topic relevance: For the Globalization and Education SIG, this panel addresses the areas of “the role of international frameworks” as well as “NGO and Civil society in education.” Specifically, this panel will present the chapters of a book being published in 2021 that compiles background chapters that informed the development of the Abidjan Principles. The panel offers a unique insight and international framework for the debates and arguments that led to the final content of the Principles. And, as stated above, the entire development of the process was led by civil society organizations, highlighting their importance within the field of education.

Building on existing work: The panel builds on prior literature as each chapter author and each presenter scaffold their arguments using both legal framework and empirical education analyses. Specifically, the right to education, as laid out in international treaties, contains both a ‘social-equality’ dimension and a ‘freedom’ dimension. On the one hand, international human rights law requires States to adopt measure that guarantee the right to education of everyone on the basis of the principles of equality and non-discrimination. On the other hand, it requires States to respect the liberty of parents to ensure the religious and moral education of their children according to their own convictions and to choose for their children schools other than public schools, should they so wish. It also recognizes the liberty of private actors - individuals or bodies - to establish and direct educational institutions, subject to the requirement that these schools conform to minimum standards established by the State and with the aims of education under international human rights law. This legal baseline is completed by analyses of the phenomenon of education privatization in three areas - globally, in East Africa, and in Francophone countries - with each analysis referring to prior relevant literature.

Theoretical contributions: These chapters offer insightful and original contributions that help not only provide a glimpse of the richness of the debates and considerations behind the Abidjan Principles, but also deepen the reflection on some of the most important discussions in education governance. They push us to question how education systems could be governed and organised so that everyone can enjoy their right to education. Such reflection is important given the rapid growth of private involvement in education since the early 2000s particularly in the Global South, and it will remain crucial in the coming decade.

Implications for future practice: The crisis engendered by the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 revealed the fragility of education systems, the dependency on and the limitations of private solutions to such crises, and the need to develop sustainable, resilient, approaches, that guarantee the fulfilment of the right to education for all and social justice in a changing world. There are reasons to fear that similar crises will occur again in the years to come, driven in particular by the ecological breakdown. By taking a multidisciplinary perspective, empirical and normative, that tries to deal with complexity and propose concrete policy options, this book could provide an essential avenue to address this rapidly evolving context.

Key learnings: The goal of this panel is three-fold. First, the panel seeks to inform the CIES community about the Abidjan Principles, critical concepts, and empirical evidence relevant to the project. That is an important contribution to CIES inasmuch as the principles, and the academic rationales and arguments undergirding them, represent a landmark evolution of the application of human rights law to education.

Second, we envision this endeavor, including this panel, as a two-way street, seeking feedback from the audience, specifically regarding the implementation of the Abidjan Principles. Implementation is an on-going process as different stakeholders take up and use the Abidjan Principles in different contexts. Audience suggestions about potential locations for such endeavors could prove critical to the long-term sustainability of the project and help CIES continue to bridge the research – policy – practice gaps that so often occur in multi-faceted projects such as this one.

Finally, this process adds to CIES’s conference goals of an “expanded range of actors and movements” through continuing dialogue with the multiple constituencies comprising this project. As a deep intertwining of the evolving fields of human rights law and education research, this panel also adds to our understanding of CIES’s focus on “intersecting contextual changes.” And, perhaps most importantly, this panel’s contribution towards “policy and practice as reflecting underlying assumptions and values” functions at the foundational level of human rights and considers what we actually mean as a global society when we guarantee the right to education.

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Individual Presentations