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Development assistance should prioritise strengthening public education systems, UN expert says

26 June 2019

GENEVA (26 June 2019) ‑ Private sector involvement in education must be strictly controlled, a UN expert has told the Human Rights Council.

“First and foremost, education is a human right, a public good and an obligation of States,”  said Koumbou Boly Barry, Special Rapporteur on the right to education, who was presenting a report on the implementation of the right to education and Sustainable Development Goal 4 in the context of the growth of private actors in education.

The aim of Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) is to ensure that by 2030 “all girls and boys receive a full cycle of free and quality primary and secondary education on an equal footing, leading to truly useful learning”.

Over the past two decades, there have been massive, unprecedented changes in the structure of education systems, whereby private actors have taken a stronger role in all countries, the Special Rapporteur said.

“Those changes create a phenomenon of privatisation in and of education, threatening the right to education, and the realisation of SDG 4.  I call on all States to firmly regulate that sector,” she said.

“I regret that resorting to the private sector has now become an integral part of donors' development assistance strategies,” the expert said.  “Resorting to the private sector, in particular the commercial sector, in an attempt to resolve problems encountered by public education systems is a step in the wrong direction and shall not be seen as ineluctable.”

Boly Barry warned that, while private education may sometimes be necessary to temporarily reach the largest number of students, as well as to guarantee freedom of education and to offer parents and learners freedom of choice, the use of for-profit private actors leads to many abuses.

“All too often, seeking to maximise profits, these actors do so through the recruitment of unqualified teachers, exclusion of students who cannot pay school fees, inadequate infrastructure, and overcrowded classes. Contrary to the claim made by commercial actors, in many cases, poor quality education then results from the privatisation of education.

“Member States as well as agencies and organisations providing development aid should not provide financial support to commercial educational institutions. The focus of any assistance should instead be on strengthening the public education sectors,” the Special Rapporteur said, adding that this principle is highlighted by the Guidelines on Private Sector Participation in Education, recently adopted in Abidjan.

Boly Barry said that she had very recently contacted the Global Education Partnership to express her concern over its discussion of the possibility of financing commercial actors working in the field of education, and that she intends to continue the discussion with them on that issue.


Ms. Koumbou Boly Barry (Burkina Faso) took office as Special Rapporteur on the right to education on 1 August 2016 following her appointment at the 32nd session of the Human Rights Council. She holds a PhD in Economic History from Cheikh Anta Diop University in Senegal. She is the former Minister of Education and Literacy of Burkina Faso and has consulted widely for various governments and international institutions on the right to education. Ms Boly Barry has been an advocate on gender issues in education. She also has ample knowledge and experience in training and research, is a visiting professor at the University of Nottingham, United Kingdom, University of Louvain La Neuve Belgium, and a lecturer at Ouagadougou University, Burkina Faso, Vitoria University, Brazil and Fribourg University, Switzerland.

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.

For more information and media inquiries, please contact:
Ms Teizu Guluma (+41 079 764 7374 /
[email protected])
Ms Mylène Bidault (+41 22 917 9935 / [email protected])

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts: Jeremy Laurence, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / [email protected] 

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts.

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