Verger and The Global Education Industry

1326 hits till Sept. 2019

Anthoni Verger came to Amsterdam after his PhD in Barcelona (2010). In Amsterdam he worked from 2007 - 2011 within the framework of the IS Academie Programme, a collaboration between the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the University of Amsterdam.  It was (and is till end of this year) a joint effort to strengthen the relation between the academic world and policymaking.

Verger researched and published in the areas of the global governance of education, education privatization, and higher education and international development. At the moment he is lecturer at the Department of Sociology of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona.

Via IS Academie I came to know his publications. I was immediately attracted to his work. And I consider ‘The Global Education Industry’ as a first peak in his work. I hope more valuable publications will follow.

‘The Global Education Industry’ (GEI) is the 2016 volume in the World Yearbook of Education series. Antoni Verger is co-editor together with Christopher Lubienski and Gita Steiner-Khams. The volume examines the fast pace with which the private sector is conquering the world of public education as providers, test developers, publishers, policy analysts, and consultants.

From the introduction (p. 3): ‘…. we are seeing with the GEI an increasing attention from private, often for-profit organizations and investors across a range of levels and activities ….. which have traditionally been within the purview of the state. The emergence of the GEI also meant the development of new market niches that are often outside of traditional state control, such as test preparation, edu-marketing, the provision of curriculum packages or school improvement services.’ 

The book draws upon case studies of many global organizations, including: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Pearson Affordable Learning Fund, Bridge International Academies, Teach for All and Omega Schools. It discusses inter alia Charter schools in the US, Academies chains in the UK and low-free private school chains in developing countries. In the US alone, the for-profit education industry revenues more than doubled in the last decade, going from $60 billion in 1999 to $125 billion in 2012 (p. 5). For the Netherlands the trend might be different given the disappearance or downsizing of some famous school support organizations. Seen from another perspective: There seems to be space now for international GEI players to enter the Dutch system.

Apart from a focus on return on investment (now or later) of most of the organizations mentioned above the book highlights several developments that to me are reasons for concern:

- Influence of large foundations (with huge budgets) on educational policymaking at national and international level. Influence without any democratic control. (Although nothing new to developing countries where national educational policy making was and still is ‘guided’ by the choices of donors from Northern countries);

- For-profit businesses hiding behind non-governmental organisations;

- Growing co-operation of large foundations to commonly set the agenda for (neoliberal) educational reform in newly created network governance structures;

- Upcoming of specialized financial consultancy and brokerage on investment in education; upcoming of incubator platforms; 

- Curriculum of Charter Schools, Academies and other schools (for children from low social-economic backgrounds) being narrowed down to what counts for the test under the growing accountability regimes;

- Teacher training courses that focus heavily on measurement and accountability;

- Not-in-school children being seen as a huge market opportunity for low-fee private schools chains;

- International marketing of school concepts or reform packages leading to prescribed roles and protocols for principals and teachers (undercutting professional autonomy and rights);

- Strategic use of evidence (sometimes by hired advocacy researchers) by edu-business and/or their philanthropic arms to frame and package their preferred policy solutions for governments and other education stakeholders;

- Technology being seen as a cost-effective way to compensate for teacher shortages and insufficient teacher training;

The book outlines the field and analyses in a convincing way why GEI is happening at this point in history, and why it is taking the shape that it has. It gathers much evidence about (un)wanted developments. At the same time it is clear that it sketches a rather new field of study (building on sociological and political science approaches - p. 11) showing what we do not yet understand. It also includes many proposals of what (urgently) should be done. And it reads much better and is more specific than many critical theory publications.

On the role of evidence I intend to publish another blog soon. Next week I will visit a lecture of John Ioannidis, who became famous with his article 'Why most published research findings are false' (PLoS Medicine, 2005).

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