The World Bank approved a loan of $500 million across six states in India on 24 June, according to their Strengthening Teaching-Learning and Results for States (STARS) loan programme. This programme will facilitate the expansion of private institutions and partnerships in the education model of India, further implementing various reforms to learning assessments.
The Loan Programme Coincides With the NEP 2020 Draft Proposal
The loan defines provisions for the establishment of a national framework for partnerships with non-state authorities, including those from the private sector. The World Bank has acted continuously upon this strategy as a part of its Maximizing Finance for Development plans. Oxfam India published a report in June that this project, “risks significant diversion of Indian taxpayers’ funds to an array of private actors, introduces the privatization of education in six of India’s states, and changes the framing for the private sector’s engagement with education in India as a whole.”
The loan programme also coincided with the implementation of a new National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 draft by the Government of India, its first attempt to reform the education system in 34 years. NEP also regarded privatization of education as a significant step to improve the quality of education being provided to the students. However, public concerns grew over this as the public sector can undermine the state capacity to provide for education, particularly to the children from low-income households and girl students. The COVID-19 pandemic has already taken a massive toll on education as millions of children have not been able to access their schools in the months-long nationwide lockdown.
Civil Society and Academicians Sign A Letter Against The Loan
In June, a letter called on the World Bank to postpone the loan until all the concerns of the related groups are answered. 1,400 groups and individuals signed the letter, including the National Coalition for Education and they stressed that the loan terms undermined the potential of India’s Right to Education. The letter highlighted, “systemic inequities in India’s education, as underscored by the pandemic, are not being addressed in the STARS Project.”
The letter was addressed to Hartwig Schafer, the vice president of the South Asia Region at the World Bank, urging him to reconsider the clause for partnership with no -state actors, and develop plans for “promoting equity and prioritize expanding state capacity.”
COVID-19 Crisis and The Privatization of Education
Globally, 1.5 billion children have been forced out of school as the public financing system sees a dip during the coronavirus pandemic. The World Bank is speculating a 10 per cent cut to education budgets globally for 2021 due to the pandemic. Despite this, lending support towards privatisation of education in the countries is “taking two steps back” for the World Bank, as per concerned authorities. According to a 2019 report from Oxfam International, 1/5th of the education projects by the World Bank have been in the spirits of providing private provision of education. This policy has been deeply criticised in India for deepening inequity and violating the Abidjan Principles on the right to education.
In September, 190 civil society groups came together to sign ‘Ten point call to action for financing for education post-Covid’. The call to action stated, “Aid from bilateral and multilaterals needs to better harmonize and align behind strengthening government systems,…seeing private provision as a symptom of failure rather than a sustainable or equitable solution.” This was followed by a letter from eminent personalities including UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown urging the World Bank and the IMF to make education a priority in the COVID-19 recovery plans, along with significant debt relief.
The Policy Times Suggestions
- Privatization of education sounds like a lucrative plan, but it poses great threats of promoting inequality in a highly divided society like that of India. Policy reforms can never miss out on the children from low-income households who have the same right to education as those children from privileged backgrounds.
- If the World Bank has the monetary fund to support education, equal efforts must be put into public and private sectors to facilitate mutual growth.
- The privatization policies of the NEP 2020 draft have also been criticized heavily, and the policymakers need to understand that India is currently not in an economic state to move forward with privatization of education.
- The education debt issue in the United States is a classic example to understand how bad privatisation of education can be, in a third-world country like India.