Non-state activity often increases in education during conflict and crises

Myth 2: The extent of privatization is known.

The debate about the role that non-state actors should take in education is divisive. Discussion is made all the more difficult because of the prevalence of myths circulating on the theme. A series of blogs on this site will cover the 10 myths listed in the 2021/2 GEM Report on non-state actors, aiming to spark discussion. Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.

How public is an education system that outsources textbooks, assessment or data management, or even catering and transport? Is a government policy written by a lobbyist still considered public? How do countries keep track of public school teachers who supplement their income by teaching students after hours?

The answer is that there is no clear answer. It is a myth that the extent of privatization is known.

Descriptions of trends in the role of non-state actors often rely on the share of private institutions in total enrolment. According to this definition, you can conclude that, after the share grew by 7 percentage points to 17% in primary and 26% in secondary education within a 10-year period, it has remained relatively stable since 2014.

Four examples indicate that statistics are not able to capture the full picture.

Firstly, in some poor countries these statistics underestimate the extent of private engagement if they exclude unregistered institutions, as we showed in our latest 2021/2 GEM Report. This is as a result of school registration often being cumbersome, slow and corruption-prone, leading to many schools operating without a licence and without meeting minimum conditions. In Gujarat state, India, for instance, four years after the 2012 State Right to Education Rules took effect, more than 2,000 schools were operating without a certificate of recognition.

The situation is similar in sub-Saharan Africa, where many schools remain unregistered or unrecognized, with governments lacking capacity to enforce the rules and resources to staff inspectorates. A survey of 1,000 schools in five cities found that 56% were unregistered, and one third of those had been operating for at least five years. In Burkina Faso, government inspection visits in 13 regions revealed that 649 schools did not meet minimum registration criteria. Of those, 65% were deemed ‘unrecognized, but recoverable’ with ministry support; the other 35% were ‘unrecognized and irrecoverable’ and ordered to close.

Nigeria faces considerable challenges with registration. In Lagos state, the number of new private schools registered more than doubled between 2019 and 2020, from 729 to 1,660. But as of 2021, the government had approved just 1 in 4 of about 20,000 private schools in the state. About 40% of surveyed schools in the Makoko slum said they would remain unregistered, mainly because it was impossible for them to meet the regulations’ conditions. In Abuja, Federal Capital Territory, 66% of non-state schools were unregistered in 2016.

Secondly, in rich countries they overestimate the extent of private engagement if they classify as private institutions that, for all intents and purposes, are public in the sense that their expenditure are largely covered by the state. As shown in the first blog in this series, distinctions between public and private actors can be very blurred.

Thirdly, these statistics are also unable to reflect the fact that technical, vocational and adult education largely takes place at work or generally outside the government’s purview. Non-formal and employer-sponsored training is better placed than formal education and training to adjust skills development to current needs. In Europe, employer-sponsored job-related training amounted to 85% of non-formal job-related training in 2016. The share of firms providing internal and external continuing vocational training increased from 48% in 2005 to 59% in 2015.

Although there are fewer opportunities, still almost one in three firms in lower-middle-income countries provide training to full-time permanent employees. An employer survey conducted as part of the World Bank’s STEP Skills Measurement Program in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Sri Lanka, Viet Nam and China’s Yunnan province showed that employers tended to prefer on-the-job training over external programmes provided by formal public or private providers, especially as both the general and vocational education systems were not perceived as responsive to employers’ skills needs.

And, fourthly, it is similarly very difficult to capture the full extent of supplementary private tutoring. Even in countries with no official non-state provision, including Cuba and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the private tutoring industry has grown in recent years.

All this to emphasize that there can be no degree of certainty about the extent of privatization in education. The only thing we can be certain about is that no area remains untouched. Keep following as we bust eight more myths over the course of this month to challenge assumptions over the role and impact of non-state actors in education and engage you in the findings of our latest Report.

Read the Report/Summary



  1. Is myth 1 meant to be the introductory article? I could’t find no keyword “myth 1” searchin the article.

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