Michael Latham in his paper ‘public-private partnership in education’ released in March 2009, argues that in recent years we have seen an expansion and broadening of the private sector‘s role in the financing and provision of education services in many countries. A key trend has been the emergence of more sophisticated forms of non-state involvement in education through PPPs. These PPPs – or multi-stakeholder partnerships for education (MSPEs) – pull together the public sector, business and civil society in a manner that is different from the traditional method of public sector provision…
But what are these partnerships and who is involved in them? What do they do and who brings what to this new arrangement? Partnerships are not privatisation, which involves the permanent transfer of control from a public agency to one or more private parties. Rather the aim of PPPs is twofold: (i) to promote improvements in the financing and provision of services from both the public and private sectors but not to increase the role of one over the other; and (ii) to improve existing services provided by both sectors with an emphasis directed on system efficiency, effectiveness, quality, equity and accountability. Critically, PPPs involve the public and private sectors working together to achieve important educational, social and economic objectives.
According to Wikipedia, a ‘partnership’ is an arrangement where parties agree to cooperate to advance their mutual interests. Since humans are social beings, partnerships between individuals, businesses, interest-based organizations, schools, governments, and varied combinations thereof, have always been and remain commonplace. Partnerships exist within, and across, sectors. Non-profit, religious, and political organizations may partner together to increase the likelihood of each achieving their mission and to amplify their reach. In education, accrediting agencies increasingly evaluate schools by the level and quality of their partnerships with other schools and a variety of other entities across societal sectors. Partnerships also occur at personal levels, such as when two or more individuals agree to domicile together, while other partnerships are not only personal but private, known only to the involved parties.
The Institute for Education Planning defines ‘partnership’ as the pooling and managing of resources as well as the mobilization of competencies and commitments by public, business and civil society partners to contribute to expansion and quality of education. They are founded on the principles of international rights, ethical principles and organizational agreements underlying education sector development and management; consultation with other stakeholders; and on shared decision-making, risk, benefit and accountability.
On the other side, the World Economic Forum defines ‘partnership’ as a voluntary alliance between various equal actors from different sectors whereby they agree together to reach a common goal or fulfill a specific need that involves shared risks, responsibilities, means and competencies.
In education sector development partnership can be done at different levels starting from household, community up to the national level. The concept of partnership in terms of public-private partnership is highly encouraged in recent years.
Educators sometimes are content to let parents and families take the initiative in becoming involved in their children's education. But for a real partnership to occur, educators must look at ways in which the school can initiate this involvement. In such a partnership, the school and the home share responsibility for children's learning; the relationship is based on mutual respect and acknowledgment of the assets and expertise of each member. As an extension of this partnership, schools can emphasize a broad base of community involvement. When schools develop and implement strategies for promoting effective school-family-community partnerships, the result is improved learning for all students and strengthened schools, families, and communities.
Research done by Center on School, Family, and Community Partnerships
at Johns Hopkins University, indicates that family involvement in schools increases student achievement. The benefits of parent and family involvement include higher test scores and grades, better attendance, more completion of homework, more positive attitudes and behavior, higher graduation rates, and greater enrollment in higher education. A literature review of school-family partnerships indicates that benefits are apparent not only for younger children but all students through high school. Although parent involvement typically is strongest at the primary level, continued involvement through the middle grades and at the secondary school level is important in encouraging and guiding children's development and achievement.
When schools regard their relationship with families as a partnership in which school and home share responsibility for children's learning, the result is an increase in the levels and types of parent involvement as well as the support that families demonstrate for the school. When this partnership is extended to include the larger community, the benefits are greater yet. Perhaps most important is that when responsibility for children's learning is shared by the school, home, and community, children have more opportunities for meaningful, engaged learning. Students are able to see the connection between the curriculum in the school and the skills that are required in the real world.
On the other side, partnership can be at funding level where households, community members, non government agencies, corporate and development partners can support government’s initiatives in enhancing education sector development.
Partnerships bring together the three partners: the public sector, business and civil society, in a manner that differs from either traditional public provision and business contracts or mere philanthropy. In a partnership the public sector is defined as comprising the general government sector, while the private sector is defined as everything that is not the public sector, ranging on a continuum from the for-profit business community to the non-profit groupings that are subsumed under civil society.
According to Michael Latham, partnerships in education are clearly not viable in all instances, so what are the most appropriate areas for possible collaboration among the public, business and civil society partners? The following provides four possible areas that offer the best opportunities:
(a) Improving the Environment
School infrastructure partnerships have highlighted how the business partner can provide useful gains in the creation and maintenance of infrastructure while the philanthropic initiatives have shown how philanthropy supports the learning environment ranging from the provision of IT in education to the provision of scholarships.
(b) Enabling Innovation
If suitably incentivised, the business sector can play a critical role in the production of new teaching materials as well as the introduction of new communication technologies, in particular the development of technologies for education in resource-poor environments.
(c) Enhancing Relevance
The business and civil society have the ability and networks to assist the government in an area where it is traditionally weak, namely providing education and training that is relevant to the economy.
(d) Reaching The Last Mile
Reaching excluded learners of all ages is a major challenge and civil society groups have often been the most successful at developing services that can meet the very diverse social, health and economic needs of these learners as well as overcoming some of the geographic constraints that prevent access to these learners.
Richard Batley of International Development Department at University of Birmingham, comments that partnerships require, at a minimum, a policy environment that enables non-state providers to get established and function. Most governments have now formally adopted policies that endorse non-state service provision. Yet in practice there is frequently little support for such initiatives.
Many non-state providers operate in an uncertain environment in which policies are frequently changed, or their legal position is unclear. Their relationship with government is frequently beset by ambivalence and mutual mistrust, built on histories of policy change and rivalry. Underlying this is a real struggle for ‘territory’ and for control over scarce financial resources.
There might be a number of challenges in the process of establishing partnerships; however, with ensured political will and proper planning, success is inevitable.
The writer Masozi Nyirenda is a specialist in Education Planning, Policy Studies, and Economics of Education and Financing. He is reached through: +255754304181 or [email protected]