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By Andressa Pellanda, general coordinator of the Brazilian Campaign for the Right to Education

Two premises are paramount when we talk about the right to education anywhere in the world. The first is that States are responsible for ensuring the right to education for all people. The second is that, in doing this, States must ensure that education is available, accessible, acceptable, and adaptable. The Global Education Monitoring Report brings these premises to public debate in its latest publication. The 2021/2 GEM Report, Who chooses? Who loses? looks at the involvement of non-state actors, analyzing their operations and impact on education.

Before analysing the Brazilian case, I need to reiterate three major issues that are brought up by the report:

  • Strengthening public systems should be a priority and there is global support for this.
  • Private schools are not a panacea to solve the crisis we face and, furthermore, they can have negative impacts on equity and quality in education
  • Private sector operations require regulation to ensure equity and protect the most vulnerable populations.

These points reflect findings that were also found from analysis conducted by the Privatisation in Education and Human Rights Consortium, of which the Brazilian Campaign for the Right to Education is a member.

The GEM Report indicates that Brazil is one of the countries receiving the greatest amount of philanthropic interest in education. In my view, this is no coincidence: Brazil stands out as one of the most socially and educationally unequal countries in the world. There is increasing structural privatization, which is driving these divides. Several examples are listed below of which some are also addressed in the GEM Report.

  • Pressure from conservative groups has led to threats to freedom of speech in the classroom in the form of policies, such as the Escola Sem Partido (School Without Parties) laws. Attempts have also been made to legalize homeschooling.
  • Market concentration, especially in higher education, where Somos Educação of Kroton Educacional, an educational conglomerate, promotes digitalized and standardized content with negative pedagogic impacts. The 2021/2 GEM Report indicates that the 10 largest companies that offer private higher education in the country made a profit of US$3.3 billion.
  • The quality of school feeding from public-private partnerships is low.
  • The implementation of social impact bonds in São Paulo failed given the fragility of the program, the lack of democratic school management, and the potential risks of violation of several rights.
  • A discrimination case in 2015, in which a confederation representing private schools in Brazil challenged the obligations of the disability law on the inclusion of people with disabilities in regular education. It argued before the Supreme Court that inclusion in education was a State responsibility and infringed on its members’ freedom to run schools, even claiming that non-discrimination was not mandatory, but an option. The GEM Report was among several experts whose evidence was called upon, leading the Court to subsequently dismiss the suit on the grounds that non-state providers are required to share responsibility for building an inclusive society.
  • A very high share of early childhood education enrolment is in the private sector with lack of adequate regulation and quality.
  • Philanthropic organizations, such as the Lemann Foundation, are treading a ‘fine line’, cited in the 2021/2 GEM Report, between pushing for their own agendas and facilitating dialogue on public policy. The Movement for a National Common Base (Movimento pela Base Nacional Comum), led by the Lemann Foundation, coordinated the preparation, approval and implementation of the National Common Curriculum Base (BNCC), although there was opposition from broad sectors of academia and the education community, whose voices were not heard in the ‘broad consultation’, as cited in the report, whose scope was controversial.

These examples show that groups linked to religious and conservative movements have advanced their agendas on freedoms, critical thinking and non-discrimination in education. Business groups have also increased their investment, promoting an agenda of standardized content and precarious teaching work, leading to conglomerates that generate high profits at the expense of quality. And non-profit philanthropic actors that have lobbied for policies, despite democratic school management constitutional principles and contrary to research evidence.

On the other hand, there are also positive examples of social movements and civil society organization networks that have produced important legislative results in both federal legislative houses. The Brazilian National Early Childhood Network was critical in pushing for the creation of the National Plan for Early Childhood. The Brazilian Campaign for the Right to Education also mobilized millions of people around the country to call on the new Fund for Maintenance and Development of Basic Education and Valorization of Education Professionals, known as FUNDEB, to be approved.

Credit: Brazilian Campaign for the Right to Education. Against the advance of privatization policies, a mobilization kit made by the BCRE was central to thousands of people to put pressure on Congressional lawmakers to pass the new basic education fund (Fundeb) legislation.

Emerging from these examples is one urgent call that Brazil should not only regulate sensu stricto lobbying,  but also, especially in the case of education, regulate private sector activities. A promising way forward is the elaboration of in-depth national legislation following  the Abidjan Principles on human rights obligations of states.

We are still far short of having norms that follow such principles in Brazil. If we want to guarantee that the basic premises of the right to education, which were mentioned at the beginning of our conversation, become a reality in the country, the first step is to improve our legal framework regarding the performance of the private and non-state sector. In April, we will launch the Portuguese version of the Abidjan Principles at an international event; this will be a great opportunity to move forward in this debate, which must be faced by everyone if we want education to be a right for all.

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