Podcast #01

Translation in English

Context of the study

This research, supported by the Open Society Initiative of West Africa (OSIWA), mobilized 13 researchers from the Francophone Research Network on Privatization of Education (ReFPE) and was conducted between 2021 and 2022 using existing data, such as statistics, scientific literature, and institutional documents. Given the paucity of research on the issue of privatization in Francophone Africa, we wanted to take stock of the situation in this context by specifically choosing five countries: Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Morocco, Niger, and Togo. We dealt with four axes that allowed us to have a good overview of the issue: 1) the evolution of the private sector; 2) the characteristics of the private offer; 3) the social demand; and 4) the public policies toward privatization.

The main challenges related to the privatization of education in Francophone Africa

First, an analysis of the evolution of private provision in Francophone Africa reveals a general trend toward the privatization of education since independence. However, we must be careful to note that this trend is not linear. It can depend on the country, the period, and the level of education, for example. If we observe that primary school students have generally been enrolled since independence in the public sector in the five countries studied, it is not as clear for preschool and secondary school, where the private sector is very present.

Second, the study revealed strong disparities in educational provision: Private provision is not equivalent to public provision, particularly in terms of infrastructure and teacher profiles. In general, the quality of private schools’ infrastructure, with the exception of community schools, is better than that of public schools. The private sector is better equipped in terms of buildings than the public sector, and private facilities are generally better equipped in terms of the availability of electricity, drinking water, functional latrines, and fencing. For example, in Togo, about 50% of private preschools have latrines compared to 15% of public preschools.

On the other hand, the study shows that, apart from having a better pupil–teacher ratio, teachers have more precarious conditions in the private sector than in the public sector. This raises questions about expectations in terms of recruitment in the private sector, which, to justify low salaries, is not as demanding in terms of the qualifications and skills of its teaching staff. In Côte d’Ivoire, the secondary school diploma is the most common qualification for public sector teachers. In the private sector, it is the primary school leaving certificate, and even 67.7% of community school teachers have one.

Third, the research aimed to highlight the main reasons and conditions underlying families’ choice of private schools. One reason why families choose private schools is the lack of public provision, as the state has not invested sufficiently, especially in preschool and secondary education, and in rural areas.
The social demand for education is also often linked to a drive for efficiency and the academic success of students. Families say that school performance is better in the private sector than in the public sector. Among the arguments often mentioned, we find recurrent teacher strikes that do not allow the school program to be completed, the poor quality and inadequacy of materials in the public sector, and classroom overcrowding.

Related to the quality of the offer is the fact that families may be looking for educational alternatives to the traditional school. In Niger, the increased demand for private Muslim schools can be observed at different levels of education, including higher education.

Beyond these reasons, the study looked at the question of family choice. It emerges that advantaged families, especially in urban areas, have the possibility of sending their children to quality schools with a socially homogeneous public, which allows for social ascension and thus reproduces existing social inequalities. For these families, the choice is open (They can choose between public institutions and a wide range of private structures). It is also true that in urban areas there are very poor people working in the informal sector whose choices are limited to public and private services of lower quality.

For the most disadvantaged families, choices are constrained by limited public schooling, on the one hand, and poor-quality private schooling on the other (mainly secular private schools of poor quality and not recognized by the state), especially at the second level; and families can go into debt to access even these opportunities. For families in rural areas, the choice is almost nonexistent: They mostly send their children to public schools if they exist, or even to community schools of poor quality.

Finally, the research looked at public policies toward privatization. In general, governments have favored the development of the private sector through legislation but without providing the means for regulation. On this last point, there is an inability on the part of states to ensure effective control of privatization. Moreover, beyond the regulation of the private sector itself, privatization mechanisms are visible in the public sector. For example, in Burkina Faso, even though basic education is officially declared free, various costs (school fees, supplies, food, transport, support courses, etc.) are borne by families, including in the public sector, which contributes to the process of increasing privatization.

Recommendations for international cooperation

Our recommendations for international cooperation on the issue include the following:
• Contribute to the effective implementation of international declarations that provide clear guidelines, particularly with regard to the obligations of states for the regulation of the private sector.
• Direct the means of international cooperation to the public. This is a direction that organizations like the World Bank and the Global Partnership for Education have recently taken.
• Encourage cooperation organizations, particularly civil society organizations that campaign for the right to education, to contribute more to the capacity building of national actors rather than acting in their place. From this point of view, it would also be relevant to support states in developing reliable statistical systems in the field of education to allow access to quality data, thus enabling the evolution of privatization to be monitored. It should be noted that one of the main challenges of this research was the difficulty of accessing detailed data on the private sector.