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CAUT Bulletin Archives

February 2016

The private march of education

Multinationals are emptying the pockets of the poor in Ghana

Christian Addai-Poku, president of Ghana’s National Association of Graduate Teachers, says the government is cutting off public funding & abandoning the education sector to private interests.
Christian Addai-Poku, president of Ghana’s National Association of Graduate Teachers, says the government is cutting off public funding & abandoning the education sector to private interests.
In Ghana, everybody’s talking about the privatization of education — and with good reason.

Since the arrival of British multinational Pearson PLC, the world’s largest education company, branded low-cost private schools have been springing up all over the country, depleting the public school system of staff, students and resources.

And things are just getting started.

“Privatization is a major challenge at all levels,” said Christian Addai-Poku, president of Ghana’s National Association of Graduate Teachers. “Our government is now in the process of cutting off public funding and actually abandoning the education sector to private interests.”

With the help of Education International and CAUT, the union — which represents 40,000 university, college and secondary school teachers in the West African country — has launched a major campaign to tackle privatization head on.

Working conditions in Ghana’s schools are poor, and so are the learning conditions of students, Addai-Poku said. An economics professor, for example, can find himself giving a survey course to 500 students, all for the low pay of just US$1,000 a month.

The union’s members have been without a contract since 2009 and their academic freedom is not respected, Addai-Poku said. The Ghanaian government has promised to set up a research fund for professors, but that fund will draw its income directly from professors’ salaries, and decisions on which research projects will get money will be made by Ghana’s education ministry and politicians.

“The government is also allowing a large number of foreign universities and for-profit colleges to operate in Ghana,” added CAUT executive director David Robinson. “There’s a university at virtually every street corner in the country’s capital city of Accra, and these universities have no infrastructure whatsoever. They open a little storefront shop and hand out diplomas to anyone willing and able to pay.”

Pearson’s investment in a chain of 38 Omega Schools serving tens of thousands of students has stepped up the pace of change. Between now and 2020, Pearson plans to add 340 schools and 200,000 students to its network in Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria and Gambia. Typically, these private schools open in close proximity to public schools in order to poach students, often by offering a meal program and by charging tuition by the day.
According to a study by the Privatisation in Education Research Initiative, tuition of 75 cents a day per child may seem low, but it represents 25 per cent of the annual household income of the average family in Ghana and 40 per for the poorest. “Omega’s main source of cost-saving has come as a result of the exploitation of teachers’ labour,” the study notes. “The monthly wage for an Omega School teacher ranges from … roughly $55 to $65 per month or about $3 per day. These wage levels are only 15 to 20 per cent of what teachers in the public sector make in Ghana.”

The private schools “extort the poor,” said Addai-Poku. “In Ghana, even a small amount every day is a lot of money. And so families are forced to make difficult choices, since those with a large number of children can’t afford to send all of them to school.”

His association has set up a special team of activists to denounce all forms of privatization of education. Their first step was to raise the alarm, not only among the general public, but also among the association’s members. The team then drafted a report opposing privatization and submitted it to the authorities. Now they expect even more buzz around the issue as they embark on a full-fledged public campaign to force the government to act.

“Investments coming from outside the country must be directed to the public system,” said Addai-Poku. “Right now, the public system is being starved for funds. Grades are getting poorer because the system is less well-funded, classes are overflowing and the whole situation will continue to deteriorate. School is part of the common good and it must be treated as such.”

Added Robinson: “Ghana also has major problems of infrastructure. Some schools don’t have toilets and you still see teachers giving classes outside, under a tree. World organizations like Education International and partners everywhere should come together on this issue. Private companies must no longer be allowed to exploit the poorest of this world in the pursuit of profits.”