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Safeguarding the Right to Education in New Forms of Global Governance and in the Digital Age:

a Call for Action Against Privatization[1]

It’s been a long time, education is no longer confined to the borders ​of a nation-state; it has evolved into an international endeavor. In ​this global context, with a growing variety of decision-making ​spaces and actors, the influence of the private sector on the ​governance of education threatens more and more the ​fundamental right to education worldwide. In the contemporary ​political and economic landscape, we must also recognize that ​capitalism is inherently tied to issues of colonialism. Consequently, ​the prevailing neoliberal policies in the XXI century have ushered in ​a period of reduced government spending, deregulation, and ​widespread privatization, especially in the Global South.

Within the education sector, privatization represents a fundamental ​shift in responsibilities, as the state relinquishes its role as the ​primary provider of equitable, high-quality education, ceding space ​to the private sector in the provision and management of ​education, threatening the supply and quality, and increasing the ​profits of multinational companies headquartered in wealthy ​countries. This brand of education is designed to perpetuate a ​cycle of subordination rather than providing an empowering human ​right.

Over the past two decades, a shift towards multistakeholderism ​has raised concerns about the privatization and commodification of ​education, sidelining the centrality of the nation-state in global ​decision-making to the private sector. It often places developing ​countries in a precarious position, where corporate interests tend ​to overshadow the public good. To challenge this corporate ​capture of the multilateral system, it is imperative that developing ​countries advocate against the growing influence of the private ​sector in global governance, particularly in the context of ​education.

This document critically examines the privatization in education in ​its global governance and calls for political advocacy for a shift ​towards greater public investment in education with democratic ​participation and against the influence of the private sector. This ​advocacy should aim to halt the commodification of fundamental ​rights, particularly the right to education, which remains under ​constant threat from such mechanisms.

The Stranglehold of the Global Debt Crisis

The global debt crisis presents a significant constraint on government revenue spending for public services, including education. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) plays a pivotal role in this scenario, exerting substantial influence over countries in debt. The IMF's policy advice and loan conditions often force countries into austerity measures, leading to underfunding of public education. Countries that heavily rely on external cooperation partnerships for education funding are subjected to external demands and conditions that may not align with its long-term development vision.

The IMF's voting structure, established in 1947, perpetuates neocolonial power dynamics by giving disproportionate decision-making weight to wealthier countries. This imbalance sustains underfunding of public services and creates opportunities for multinational corporations, primarily from the Global North, to benefit at the expense of developing nations.

In many countries, debt servicing consumes more resources than education. The IMF's austerity policies result in reduced spending on education and block the hiring of public sector workers, including teachers and healthcare workers.

Multistakeholderism and Global Governance

Multistakeholderism, with its focus on diverse stakeholders in ​decision-making processes, has gained prominence through many ​aspects and as a response to funding challenges in global ​governance. However, the capture of these spaces by private sector ​actors implies a departure from a rights-based agenda in favor of ​privatization and commodification of rights.

The mechanism lacks clear and democratic selection processes for ​participants, leading to conflicts of interest and the exclusion of ​genuinely interested actors. This undemocratic aspect hinders the ​representation of diverse voices in decision-making. Power ​imbalances, mirroring colonial dynamics, persist in these spaces, ​with the Global North largely prevailing over the Global South.

Since 2015, various initiatives have emerged, predominantly ​influenced by the corporate sector and a recurring issue is the ​presence of similar actors and personalities across multiple ​instances, contributing to the blurring of lines between state and ​non-state actors. The private sector's influence extends to UN ​agencies complicating the analysis of their participation in global ​governance considering that the interests of the private sector are ​defended beyond their official representatives in these spaces.

The Multifaceted Nature of Privatization

The problem of privatization is not confined to specific countries; it is ​a global issue. Across the world, public-private partnerships fail to ​improve learning outcomes and exacerbate disparities. Research ​shows that privatization negatively impacts equity in education and ​this right fulfillment.

Key organizations operate at various levels, from local to ​international, shaping the privatization discourse. The influence of ​these organizations transcends borders, and they often engage in ​conversations that exclude the voices of local communities.

Even in countries where the law guarantees free education, it lacks ​proper regulation and there are economic barriers that prevent poor ​students from accessing it, such as transport, food and book fees. In ​Chile, textbook publishers have played a significant role since the ​1980s as they exert substantial control over educational materials.

During the pandemic, the relationship between publishers and tech ​giants like Microsoft was reinforced, exacerbating existing ​disparities in the education system.

Disguised privatization, or endogenous privatization, involves ​introducing a private-sector culture into the public education ​system. In Chile, this phenomenon gained momentum during post-​dictatorial governments, particularly between 2006 and 2011, ​responding to student mobilization. Private actors have been ​involved in shaping regulations, funding models, and management ​structures, ultimately influencing the education landscape. Until ​nowadays, Chile's constitution lacks a guarantee of the right to ​education. This omission permits the expulsion of students and ​dismissal of teachers without violating constitutional rights, as the ​prevailing principle is the freedom of teaching.

The World Bank plays a pivotal role in shaping global education ​policies through its education advisory group, inviting significant ​investors and large corporations to invest in educational projects. ​This is not mere philanthropy but an investment with financial ​returns, often leading to debt burdens for developing nations.

Disaster capitalism, where crises, such as civil wars, natural ​disasters and global health emergencies, are leveraged to implement ​neoliberal reforms, including privatization, contribute to increasing ​the segregation in education systems marked by public-private ​partnerships, particularly in underserved communities. School ​selection and student exclusion become pronounced issues, ​perpetuating inequities.

Privatization in education is not confined to a single approach or ​avenue but manifests in diverse forms. These encompass private ​funding of schools, private ownership or management of schools, ​low-cost private school mechanisms, charter schools, and school ​voucher systems. Today, new forms of governance and digitalization ​of education serves as a significant gateway for privatization

The Impact of Neglected Governance and ​digitalization

Chronic underfunding of public education has created space for ​aggressive privatization and commodification, particularly through ​digitalization. This trend further endangers equitable access to ​quality education.

Insufficient attention was given to digital governance in public ​education policies, which has paved the way for technology ​companies to exert undue influence. The 2023 GEM Report by ​UNESCO emphasizes the need for governments to consider why and ​how technology is used in education and evaluate its true benefits.

The rise of digitalization in education has brought about new ​challenges that demand attention. While the internet was once seen ​as a tool for democratizing information, it has now become a space ​where users must accept complex terms and conditions, eroding the ​notion of free access to information.

The proliferation of technology in education is not merely about ​allowing or prohibiting the use of devices like cell phones in schools. ​It entails understanding the broader implications, such as data ​privacy risks associated with artificial intelligence and platforms ​used in educational applications. Moreover, there is no conclusive ​evidence that technology leads to improved learning and equity.

The emergence of start-up companies offering educational ​applications via mobile phones, often in partnership with major tech ​corporations from Global North – the known Big Techs -, marks a ​concerning trend. This process parallels a form of digital ​colonization, where companies exploit the accessibility of ​technology among children and adolescents for profit.

Transnational technology corporations are pushing a profit-driven ​approach to education, primarily in developing countries. ​Agreements between governments and these companies divert ​financial resources away from safeguarding the right to education. ​Instead, funds are channeled into the pockets of technology giants ​with little regard for educational quality.

Education systems have increasingly outsourced data infrastructure ​to private companies, compromising data sovereignty and privacy. In ​Brazil, it was discovered that most educational packages used in ​2022 did not comply with the General Data Protection Law (LGPD) or ​mention it, indicating an acceptance of legal violations.

Impact on Marginalized Populations

The education crisis, particularly acute in sub-Saharan Africa and ​rural and remote areas worldwide, is exacerbated by the digital ​divide. Millions of children lack access to education, and the quality ​of education is compromised. Efforts to bridge this divide often ​involve entering contracts with EdTech companies that prioritize ​profit over education, bringing more layers to the crisis.

Marginalized populations in Africa, like in Togo and Mozambique, ​face multiple challenges in accessing digital education, from a lack of ​electricity and equipment to parental illiteracy. Girls are ​disproportionately affected, with increased risks of never returning ​to school and being forced into child marriage.

In the Middle-East and Asia-Pacific regions, economic impacts of ​COVID-19 are compounded by wars, conflicts, and political ​transitions. Rising indebtedness threatens the achievement of ​Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4), especially in the wake of ​the pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed a lack of global solidarity, rampant ​corporate greed, and significant educational challenges. It ​underscored the need for alternative global governance led by ​collective actors dedicated to social justice and quality public ​services. Building a strong alliance encompassing student ​organizations, unions, civil society, and governments committed to ​policies that preserve education as a public good and a fundamental ​human right is paramount. Such solidarity can help counter ​privatization and detrimental digitalization trends.

A Response Based on Human Rights and Tax ​Justice

In response to the privatization of education, it is crucial to assert ​the human right to education, as enshrined in the Principles of ​Abidjan and international treaty laws. These principles underscore ​key tenets, including equality, non-discrimination, free and quality ​public education, the humanistic nature of public education, and ​respect for national standards and processes. Upholding these ​principles is paramount in resisting privatization.

Education workers worldwide are combating the precarization of ​their profession caused by privatization. They demand fair ​compensation, adequate initial and continuous training, and a ​professional career plan. The appreciation of education ​professionals is essential to counter the commodification and ​commercialization of education. Companies offering education at ​meager prices cannot provide quality education. Unfortunately, ​unions opposing such practices often face persecution and threats.

Competing for budget allocations against other essential sectors like ​health, water, energy, and agriculture undermines efforts to combat ​education privatization. Instead, education movements should ​collaborate to expand the budgetary "pie" for all public services, ​fostering equitable development.

Increasing tax revenue through progressive taxation targeting the ​wealthiest individuals and corporations can transform education ​financing. Raising the tax-to-GDP ratio by just five percentage points ​could generate billions annually for public service investments, ​including education.

Therefore, investment should prioritize the most marginalized ​communities and students. The farther a child is from urban centers, ​the more challenging it becomes to access education. If poverty ​prevails in the country, it is also common for parents to prioritize ​income-generating activities for their children, postponing their ​education. This is the case in regions with mining activities in ​Mozambique where children quit school and engage in artisanal ​mining as they may find gold.

Resisting Profit-Driven Digitization

The rapid, profit-driven digitization of education is a concerning ​trend that must be resisted. Instead of embracing simplistic, low-​cost digital solutions, we should explore alternative measures ​considering factors like cost, context, coverage, co-creation, civic ​space, and cyber security. Publicly funded and managed education ​with a focus on equity, gender inclusion, and sustainability should be ​the goal. Social control over government contracts with technology ​companies and good regulation are essential paths, and students, ​families, communities, schools, and universities should actively ​participate in negotiations.

While technology has a role to play in education, it cannot replace ​the vital interaction between teachers and students. Schools should ​be viewed as spaces for individuals to develop intellectually and ​socially. The intersection of teacher and student knowledge is where ​significant social skills for learning are cultivated. Thus, we must ​prioritize the human aspect of education over profit-driven ​digitization.

Monitoring government commitments and employing evidence-​based advocacy are critical strategies for promoting the right to ​education for all. Efforts should also focus on decolonizing education ​financing, as increased investment through domestic financing can ​help address structural challenges, including privatization and ​digitization in Global South countries. Access to information, the ​preservation of public goods, and the decolonization of education ​are essential aspects of this endeavor.

Challenging Neoliberalism and Rebuilding the Agenda for Education

Governments must fulfill their obligations to provide high-quality, free public education, necessitating a comprehensive review of laws, policies, and educational plans. Attention should be given to the entire education system, with a focus on global education governance mechanisms, such as multistakeholderism, and including funding mechanisms, school provision, and teacher training, with a focus on non-discrimination. Achieving sustainable and adequate revenue to finance quality, free education requires efficient progressive taxation, the fight against tax evasion, and addressing the issue of national debt.

Neoliberalism, a dominant global ideology intertwined with moral philosophy, has shaped education through a lens of economic utility. It is vital to reassert the right to education. Simultaneously, there is a pressing need to refocus education on state dialogue and responsibility and national development planning, embracing sustainability, social justice, racial justice, gender justice, and economic growth. An education policy led by educators, rooted in educational sciences, and aligned with a national development project can help shift the balance away from profit-driven interests.

To attain fiscal justice, strategic alliances must be forged, bringing together education movements with health, tax justice, debt justice, feminist, and climate justice movements. These broad coalitions can effectively challenge the austerity cult and promote sustainable financing of public services. Investing in public education, teachers, and transparent scrutiny of education budgets is the most effective way to enhance learning outcomes and guarantee education for all.


The battle against the influence of the private sector on global ​education governance is a battle for the right to education as a ​public good and a fundamental human right. To counter this trend, it ​is crucial to reform global governance, giving states and ​representative civil society the decision-making centrality, and to ​address the global debt crisis, reforming global tax rules in a ​progressive path, increasing tax revenue through progressive ​taxation, and working collectively to expand the budgetary ​allocations for all public services.

The influence of the private sector in global education governance ​poses a serious threat to the right to education and must be fought. ​This advocacy seeks to raise awareness about the risks associated ​with multistakeholderism, emphasizing the need to safeguard public ​education and strengthen democratic processes. It calls for a ​reevaluation of the current trajectory in global governance to ensure ​that education remains a fundamental right accessible to all, free ​from undue privatization and commodification.

This document calls for a united front of civil society, educators, ​students, and families to resist the encroachment of privatization ​and the erosion of educational quality. Together, we can ensure that ​education remains a tool for empowerment, promoting social ​transformation, justice, and progress on a global scale.

[1] This document was created based on the presentations and reflections ​made during the International Seminar “Trends in global education: the impact ​of governance structures, privatization and digitalization”, held in a hybrid ​manner at the Institute of International Relations of the University of São ​Paulo (IRI/USP), on September 25th-26th, 2023, in partnership of this Institute ​with the Brazilian Campaign for the Right to Education, the Centre of African ​Studies of Porto University (CEAUP), the Faculty of Education of the ​University of São Paulo (FE/USP), and the Transnational Institute (TNI).

Document’s Coordination and Elaboration

Andressa Pellanda

Helena Rodrigues

See full credits at the end


The Brazilian Campaign for the Right to Education has produced infographics so that the discussions held at the International Seminar can be disseminated throughout international civil society on social media.

You can also access the Portuguese and Spanish versions.