For-profit education impact revealed in report

Teachers’ concerns about edu-businesses on the rise

Maurie Mulheron

Federation’s concern regarding the global spread of for-profit schooling is highlighted in current developments in the Philippines and provides a timely warning for all Australian teachers.

A joint venture between Pearson Plc and the politically powerful Ayala Group is employing untrained teachers for low wages in its for-profit chain of low-cost private schools in the Philippines, Corporatised Education in the Philippines: Pearson, Ayala Corporation and the emergence of Affordable Private Education Centres(APEC) by Curtis B Riep reveals.

“The edu-business model implemented by APEC involves a number of cost-cutting techniques designed to minimise production costs while increasing rates of profitability, which have had undesirable effects on teaching and learning,” the Education-International-commissioned report states.

APEC takes out “short-term leases in unused commercial buildings that lack…adequate space for libraries, gymnasiums, science and/or computer laboratories”, Riep observes.

“In the business of low-cost private schooling ‘sometimes quality is compromised because of the companies’ concern for making a profit’ remarked one APEC school manager,” the report also states.

‘Low-cost’ is a misleading term. In reality, the fees are a significant proportion of a family’s income.

Riep cites 2014 research that since 2009 Philippines government allocations to Education Service Contracting and Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education has increased to nearly $USD 700 million. He notes that money “could have financed the construction of more than 60,000 classrooms and addressed the perennial backlogs in public school classrooms by housing approximately 3 million more students”.

APEC “represents a corporate strategy designed to manufacture cheap and flexible labor required by Ayala and other multinational companies through its provision of privatised basic education that aligns with the labor needs of industry”, Riep remarks.

“By ‘reverse-engineering’ its curriculum, APEC intends to produce graduates of a particular disposition with specific skills, values, and knowledge that can be employed in the global labor market. In particular, APEC aims to address the skill shortage in the…call centre industry in the Philippines by focusing on English communication skills.”

Pearson holds the contract for marking NAPLAN examinations in NSW. The company also attempts to sell costly professional development that could be provided on a not-for-profit basis by the Department and other agencies. The corporate slogan of Pearson is “Always Learning”. Many critics across the globe believe it really should be “Always Earning”.

Companies like Pearson are going beyond textbook retailing to establish for-profit schooling, developing and selling test products to governments and then, in an extraordinary conflict of interest, selling solutions based on the data they generate. This behaviour has already been the subject of questions in the NSW Parliament.

Chair of Teacher Education and Director of Learning and Teaching at University of Melbourne Professor Stephen Dinham sounds the warning: “Publishers are now moving into large-scale vertical integration whereby they have commercial involvement with curricula, teaching resources, teaching standards, teacher development and appraisal and student testing, in effect gaining control of the entire education supply chain.” (The Age, April 2, 2014)

In The Worst of Both Worlds: How the US and UK are Influencing Education in Australia Professor Dinham states: “A tsunami comprises waves with very long wave lengths. Often these go unnoticed until it is too late to do anything about them. When they reach land great devastation can result. The ‘long wave’ changes to education…need to be subjected to intense scrutiny before it is too late. If the profession remains silent and passive in the face of some of these developments it will have itself to blame, at least in part, for what might eventuate.”

The Australian Education Union is part of a global response, coordinated by Education International, to the growing commercialisation and privatisation of public schooling.

Education International seeks:

  • free, high-quality, not-for-profit education for all children
  • an end to high-stakes testing regimes that generate profits for edu-businesses at the expense of children’s education.

The new United Nations Sustainable Development Goal on education includes ensuring all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education by 2030.

To see what happens in a deregulated environment in education, look at what has happened to vocational education and training in Australia: profit motive dictates what is taught, who teaches and how it is assessed. In that world, the immediate victims are always students, public education and the teaching profession. Ultimately, the loser is the community, forced to pay, literally, a high price for an education of questionable standards.