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UN rights expert urges Liberia not to hand public education over to a private company

GENEVA (22 March 2016) – It is completely unacceptable for Liberia to outsource its primary education system to a private company, said the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Kishore Singh. “This is unprecedented at the scale currently being proposed and violates Liberia’s legal and moral obligations,” he stressed.
Liberia’s plan is to privatise all primary and pre-primary schools over the next five years. Public funding will support services subcontracted to a private company - the Bridge International Academies. “Public schools and their teachers, and the concept of education as a public good, are under attack,” the expert cautioned.

“Such arrangements are a blatant violation of Liberia’s international obligations under the right to education, and have no justification under Liberia’s constitution,” the Special Rapporteur stated. “This also contradicts political commitments made by Liberia and the international community to the fourth UN Sustainable Development Goal which is on education and related targets.”

“Provision of public education of good quality is a core function of the State. Abandoning this to the commercial benefit of a private company constitutes a gross violation of the right to education,” emphasised Mr. Singh.

The human rights expert noted that “it is ironic that Liberia does not have resources to meet its core obligations to provide a free primary education to every child, but it can find huge sums of money to subcontract a private company to do so on its behalf,” he said.

“These sums could be much better spent on improving the existing system of public education and supporting the educational needs of the poor and marginalized,” suggested the Special Rapporteur.

Mr. Singh called on the Government of Liberia to approach the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for technical assistance and capacity building, instead of entering into such partnerships with for-profit providers in education, “devoid of any legal or moral justification.”

“Before any partnership is entered into, the Government of Liberia must first put into place legislation and policies on public private partnerships in education, which among other things, protect every child’s right to education,” Mr. Singh said.

“There also needs to be an independent body or institution established to receive complaints of potential violations of the right to education that might result from this development,” he added.

The Special Rapporteur emphasised that “education is an essential public service and instead of supporting business in education, governments should increase the money they spend on public educational services to make them better.”

Mr. Kishore Singh is the Special Rapporteur on the right to education since August 2010. He is an Indian professor specialized in international law, who has worked for many years with UNESCO for the promotion of the right to education, and advised a number of international, regional and national entities on right to education issues. Throughout his career, Mr. Singh has supported the development of the right to education in its various dimensions and worked to better understanding this right as an internationally recognized right. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Education/SREducation/Pages/SREducationIndex.aspx  

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

UN Human Rights, Country Page – Liberia: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AfricaRegion/Pages/LRIndex.aspx

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