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date: 07 December 2023

Privatization of Education in Latin American Countriesfree

Privatization of Education in Latin American Countriesfree

  • Theresa AdriãoTheresa AdriãoUniversity of Campinas
  •  and Camilla CrosoCamilla CrosoIndependent Scholar


Privatization of education in Latin America, and particularly in South America, has been an ongoing process since the last decades of the 20th century and continues to be a pressing issue in the present times. It has been leveraged in the context of regional neoliberal consolidation and taken root in legal and policy frameworks, as well as in mainstream public opinion. Education privatization has concretely taken shape through its governance and supply as well as through the different curricular dimensions, including textbooks, teacher training and evaluation procedures, with important consequences in terms of equity and the realization of the right to education for all.


  • Educational Politics and Policy

A version of this article is available in its original language


This article presents how the privatization of education in the compulsory stage has been taking place since the end of the 20th century in countries that were part of the Southern Common Market (Mercosur) since its origin—Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay.1 It also discusses Chile, given that country’s pioneering spirit in relation to models adopted across the region. Privatization in this context is understood to encompass the set of processes discussed here, including phenomena like commodification and the establishment of public-private partnerships, measures that have directly and indirectly subordinated compulsory education to the interests of corporations, private organizations associated with them, and other private agents.

Authors such as Whitfield (2006) have also used the term, arguing that

a focus on privatisation to the exclusion of marketisation is inadequate. Privatisation and marketisation are inseparable, the latter creating the economic and ideological conditions and social relations by which further privatisation is developed.

(Whitfield, 2006, p. 4)

Along similar lines, Belfield and Levin (2002, p. 19) assert that privatization

is an umbrella term referring to many different educational programmes and policies. As an overall definition, “privatization is the transfer of activities, assets and responsibilities from government/public institutions and organizations to private individuals and agencies.” Also, privatization is often thought of as “liberalization”—where agents are freed from government regulations, or as “marketization”—where new markets are created as alternatives to government services or state allocation systems.

To characterize the privatization models employed in the educational systems considered here, we began by mapping productions and publications related to the privatization of compulsory education available in three databases for online consultation recognized by the selectivity of their productions: Web of Knowledge and later Web of Science (WoS) and the Scielo Platform—Brazil, Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay.2 The first two databases carry articles in English, while Scielo publishes in Portuguese and Spanish. From 1990 to 2014 the mapping focused on publications by the Web Knowledge/Web of Science (WoS) (Adrião, 2018). Materials collected on Scielo ranged from 1997 (the year it was created) to 2018.

Data from Mapeo sobre tendencias de la privatización de la educación en América Latina y el Caribe, produced by the Latin American Campaign for the Right to Education (2014),3 was also used. constitutional texts and national education legislation of each country were also consulted, as were the websites of the Ministries of Education, the press, and the most prominent private organizations operating in the field of education in each country.

Aside from Chile, the selected countries were all charter members of Mercosur. Chile was chosen for its preeminent position on this matter. Article 1 of the Mercosur Treaty provides for the free circulation of goods, services, and productive factors between countries through the elimination of customs duties and non-tariff restrictions on the circulation of goods and any other measure with equivalent effect (Tratado de Assunção, 1991). One of the consequences of this treaty was the creation, in 1991, of an Educational Sector of Mercosur, to which the Meeting of Education Ministers of Mercosur (RME) is associated.

Notwithstanding historical specificities, all five countries have relatively new constitutions: Chile (1980); Brazil (1988); Paraguay (1992); Argentina (1994) and Uruguay (1989), which consisted of a reform to the 1967 constitution. National education laws are even more recent, the oldest being those of Brazil (1996) and Paraguay (1998) followed by Argentina (2006), Chile (2009), and Uruguay (2009).

The period selected for the bibliographic survey begins in 1990, the inaugural year of the World Declaration on Education for All: Meeting Basic Learning Needs, an action plan issued by the World Conference on Education in Jomtien, Thailand. Among other guidelines, the Declaration proposed that educational policies should aim to universalize access to compulsory schooling and target public resources to this stage of education.

Studies related to the countries selected were identified by searching through keywords, abstracts, and titles including the following terms: financing, public-private partnership, privatization, charter, choice and subvention and phrases like elementary school and compulsory education.

These descriptors sought to identify works discussing forms of privatizing compulsory education, covering a variety of measures (Levin, 2001) related to the transformation of public education into a field for business (edubusiness; Hill, 2003) to strategies related to exoprivatization (Ball & Youdell, 2007) and ways of withdrawing the direct presence of the state in the provision and management of education. In addition, each of the consulted articles present at least one of the countries under analysis as an empirical field of study. Figure 1 shows the distribution of publications in the period considered in view of the empirical field analyzed.

Figure 1. Total number of academic articles on basic education privatization identified on WoK/WoS and SciELO platforms,1990–2018*.

Note: *Paraguay is not yet a part of the Scielo platform. *‘varios’ refers to more than one country

Sources: Authors, based on Adrião (2015) and consultation of Web of Science, Web of Knowledge, and Scientific Electronic Library Online (SciELO) platforms from Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay. No record of scholarly production on Paraguay.

Of the 193 total articles published between 1993 and 2014 and searchable through the WOS databases for descriptor and country, only seven corresponded to the selected fields: four analyzing Chile, two comparing Chile to Argentina, and one about Brazil. Confirming previous research (Adrião, 2015), the quantity indicates the limited publication of work on these countries in major international journals, although the Chilean case receives more attention than others.

On SciELO, 57 publications were identified between 1997 and 2018, of which 54 met the scope of this article, demonstrating that there is scholarly production on this topic in the academic journals of greatest circulation on the continent, particularly as of the 2000s.

The largest number of articles were located using the descriptor “public-private partnership,” followed by articles located by the descriptor “privatization,” articles that analyzed parental and public grant mechanisms to private organizations, as illustrated in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Articles published in SciELO 1997–2018 by country and descriptor.

Source: Compilation by authors

This article uses the aforementioned information and the analytical matrix presented in Table 1, resulting from a review of the literature (Adrião, 2015) and research into government and institutional documents available on the internet, to synthesize the predominant forms of education privatization of education at the compulsory stage in Mercosur countries. There are three dimensions that constitute, albeit schematically, the field of educational policy under study here: public education administration, educational supply, and curriculum development.

Table 1. Matrix of Dimensions and Recent Forms of Privatization of Elementary Education Based on a Mapping of Existing Literature, 1990–2014

Educational offer

Administration of public education

Curricular development


Public financing to private organizations


Subsidy to supply through agreements andcontracts between governments and private organizations


Tax incentives


Private supply by for-profit schools


Digital tutorships and non-digital private classes


Parental choice policies








Scholarships educational


Privatization of school administration


Transfer of school administration to for-profit organizations


Transfer of school administration to nonprofit organizations


Transfer of school administration to worker cooperatives, parents, or community associations


Privatization of public education administration


Transfer of administration from the educational system to for-profit organizations


Adoption of PPPs


Transferring the management of the educational system to nonprofit organizations;


Introduction of corporate governance structures in government


Purchase or adoption by the state of curricula developed by the private sector


Purchase or adoption by the state of educational technologies and other curricular inputs developed by the private sector


Purchase or adoption by the state of private teaching systems (PTS)

Source: Adrião (2015) and Adrião (2018).

The article also identifies the main private actors involved in the introduction and expansion of these forms of privatizing national education in different countries.

Administration, Supply, and Elementary Education Curriculum as a Field for Privatization

Considering that this is a work of synthesis with an unavoidable degree of arbitrariness, Table 1 presents the forms of privatization that recur most in the literature, distributed in the three dimensions of educational policy considered in this reflection: educational supply, public education administration, and curriculum development.

The first dimension, related to the privatization of educational supply, is operationalized mainly through three mechanisms: public financing of private educational offerings, the provision of enrollment spaces in private schools, and school choice programs. Public financing of the private educational supply is made possible through both agreements or contracts between government entities and private providers and through the presence of fiscal incentive mechanisms for private education. To encourage the expansion of private schools, some governments have sought to stimulate for-profit schools associated with a decrease in the supply of public enrollment spots and systematic private classes or tutoring for remote teaching. When it comes to school choice, the scholarly works we consulted identified three main forms: programs that encourage enrollment in private schools contracted by the government, the adoption of vouchers, and homeschooling.

The privatization of public education administration is the second dynamic considered in this work. For the purposes of characterization, because they are generally applied simultaneously, the processes of privatizing education administration are usually observed in two spheres: in the context of public education systems or networks, assuming a systemic character and substantiating the privatization of educational administration, and within schools themselves, characterized as the privatization of school administration. In both cases, the public sector delegates decisions on the purposes of education and the processes necessary to meet its goals.

Both in systems and in individual schools understanding the depth of privatization processes requires a consideration of the nature of the private institution to which the government has delegated administrative duties: private for-profit institutions or private nonprofits. In the latter case, there has been a reported growth in the transfer of administrative duties to social investors, or philanthrocapitalists, a segment that presents itself as nonprofit despite acting according to a market logic (Bishop & Green, 2008; OECD, 2014).

Another way public education administration is privatized is through the creation of corporate governance mechanisms within the state involving representatives of companies and associated sectors.

The last dimension considered here is the privatization of curricular development. This involves the processes by which the private sector determines for schools, school networks, or public education systems the curriculum designs to be implemented. This can happen through advisory services for teacher training, the provision of educational technologies and other curricular inputs, the purchase of a set of products and services designated as private teaching systems (PTS), and through contracting processes for evaluating school performance. This amounts to the privatization of pedagogical processes, including relationships among teachers, students, and knowledge.

Types of Privatization of Educational Supply in Selected Countries

The first and most comprehensive way of privatizing educational supply is through public subsidies to private schools. In this way, the state plays a subsidiary role in expanding educational services. The most frequent types of public subsidy occur when a government agency transfers a set monetary value per enrolled student or a fixed amount to fund school maintenance (Adrião et al., 2012; Bassi; 2011; Bordoli & Conde, 2016; Borghi & Bertgana, 2016; Brito & Braga, 2016; Domiciano, 2011; Lopez & Moreno, 2016; Pinto, 2016; Souza & Costa, 2009; Torche, 2005; Winkler & Rounds, 1996).

Mechanisms for transferring public funds to private educational institutions, such as paying the salaries of teachers working in private cooperative and social administration schools, are allowed in Argentina, in accordance with criteria established in Article 65 of its national legislative code. It is noteworthy that in Argentina, according to both the 1993 Federal Education Law and the 2006 National Education Law, public education encompasses both state-run and private-run schools.

Such transfers are also permitted in Paraguay, where the state can finance private educational institutions that “fulfill the social function of providing educational service to communities and citizens with unmet basic needs” (Paraguay, 1998). National education laws also authorize the transfer of public resources to private schools operating in regions of greater social vulnerability (Art. 66). Uruguay’s General Education Law does not provide for the transfer of resources to private institutions, even though such subsidies are allowed per the constitution. Finally, in Chile, subsidized private schools and official ones receive a set amount for each student according to the stage of schooling, the length of the school day, and the location of the school, among other criteria.

Another form of privatizing compulsory education is through the use of tax exemption mechanisms for private educational institutions, as is the case in Uruguay, where such schools are exempt from national and municipal taxes. Furthermore, with the 2007 tax reform, the Ministry of Economy and Finance established a tax exemption of 81.25% for business donations to educational and social entities. As a result of this tax waiver, there are free, privately run high schools, some Catholic and some with no religious affiliation (Bordoli & Conde, 2016). An accountability report from Uruguay’s Ministry of Economy and Finance showed that between 2010 and 2014 tax exemptions multiplied fourfold, from US$3.1 million in 2010 to US$12.8 million in 2014.4

A similar situation is provided for in the Paraguayan constitution, a country where private educational institutions are exempt from all taxation. In Argentina, privately managed schools have not paid employer contributions since the approval of presidential decrees in 2001.5 (Narodowski & Andrada, 2001) In Brazil, only nonprofit schools are tax exempt. On the other hand, Brazilian families can deduct a percentage of what they spend on private education from their income tax (Pinto, 2016).

The second set of ways by which the privatization of educational supply is operationalized is through parental school-choice policies. Such policies are generally supported through public subsidies; they are made possible through scholarships or vouchers, publicly funded student mobility mechanisms that allow students to attend private or privately run schools of their family’s choosing, similarly to charter schools in the United States; and, finally, homeschooling, a mechanism that breaks with the principle of compulsory in-school education. All of these have in common that public funds are used to finance educational supply by a private provider of some kind, including the family itself, depending on the family’s choice.

The constitutions of Paraguay and Chile make explicit the state’s submission to the families’ choice of school. However, they differ in the degree to which such “choice” is practiced. Chile is an emblematic model given that it first introduced voucher programs in the 1970s. Shared funds between government and family is provided for as a possibility of attending compulsory school, providing for the progressive expansion of free enrollment subsidized by the state (Elacqua et al., 2012b; Gomez et al., 2012; Joiko & Vásquez, 2016; Orellana et al., 2018; Prawda, 1993; Rambla et al., 2011; Sapelli & Torche, 2002; Sapelli & Vial, 2002).

On the other hand, the constitutions and national education laws of Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay allow for public resources to be used to finance scholarships to private institutions in the absence of a public option. This functions as a kind of palliative measure and not as a financing mechanism for a family’s decision. It is intended for socially vulnerable families, as provided for in Uruguayan law ( Uruguay, 2009), or for private educational institutions that serve at-risk social segments where there are no public schools, as provided for in the Paraguayan case (Paraguay, 1998,). Argentina leaves it up to the provinces and the autonomous region of Buenos Aires to define criteria by which private, cooperative, and other institutions may receive public funds. (CLADE, 2014; Rhoten, 2000)

The establishment of agreements, contracts, or equivalent for the public financing of private or privately managed schools in exchange for a number of free slots occurs in Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina, and Brazil, especially for religious or community schools in regions or stages of schooling lacking the direct presence of the state. In these cases, the justifications for such contracts or agreements are not based on replacing public education with parental choice programs because there is no choice in the absence of a public option. Thus, for some authors (Feldfeber et al., 2004; Moschetti & Gottau, 2016), only specific experiments like the self-managed schools (escuelas experimentales autogestionadas) in Argentina resemble the U.S. charter school model.

In Brazil, notwithstanding information disseminated by private foundations in the field of public education about private schools under contract (charter), there has been an expansion of policies transferring public school management to private providers through agreements, contracts, and concessions in the form of public-private partnerships (Adrião et al., 2012; Arelaro, 2007; Cunha; 2007; Martins et al., 2013). Such policies do not fall within the scope of parental choice mechanisms because they do not replace georeferenced enrollments and do not constitute a way of subsidizing demand (Perosa & Dantas, 2017).

In every country considered here, school attendance is mandatory in the stages corresponding to basic education, with no provision for home education, although recent studies indicate the pressure for its implementation in Brazil (Barbosa, 2016; Vasconcelos, 2017).

of the school-choice coin is the advantage it provides to private education, including for-profit institutions. The nature of the school is a key topic given debates about the freedom of teaching in different educational systems. It is worth noting, however, that societies colonized by Catholic countries tend to be quite acquiescent about religious schools, sometimes not even identifying them as private institutions (CLADE, 2014; Cunha, 2007; Narodowski et al., 2017). This is the case in Argentina and Paraguay, countries that differentiate educational institutions based on how they are administered and not on their providers. Paraguayan legislation also establishes that municipalities and community members must promote communal educational activities, support parents’ organizations for educational provision, and encourage private contributions to educational provision.

In Brazil, public schools are those managed and financed by the government. The private sector is free to operate in the field of education through the creation of schools by corporate, religious, or philanthropic entities (Adrião & Peroni, 2007; Oliveira, 2009). In Chile, there are official (state) and private schools that can charge tuition fees to families or be subsidized by the state (Donoso-Diaz et al., 2015), while Uruguayan legislation allows for the operation of private schools, distinguishing them from state-run public schools.

Direct allocation of public funds to private actors offering mandatory schooling is a supply-side subsidy mechanism, while tax exemptions for families subsidize demand. In both cases, public resources go to private providers.

Due to relatively recent developments, as well as historical conditions and omissions, private education in compulsory education has grown in the region. This development has been fueled by insufficient government investments in public education, especially in large urban centers, and the dissemination of the notion that private schools are better, an idea without empirical evidence, as research on the subject shows (Cavieres, 2014; Elacqua et al., 2012; Narodowski & Nores, 2002; Perosa & Dantas, 2017; Quaresma, 2015, Resende et al., 2011; Silva et al., 2011; and Siqueira & Nogeueira, 2017).

Private classes and tutoring for remote teaching are also forms of privatizing education associated with mechanisms that deepen educational inequalities and the precariousness of teaching activity. These educational modalities have been “professionalized” as classes once offered by independent teachers are replaced by companies organized in franchises and the dissemination of digital platforms specifically for this purpose. In Mercosur countries, there are companies that offer classes in every subject through platforms like—which calls itself the largest private lessons franchise in Latin America—, or, which offer services to students from Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Chile.6

Privatization of Public Education Administration

The privatization of public education administration is not limited to hiring private consultants to oversee training processes or to business pressures to adhere to corporate strategic interests. It refers to the presence of corporations and associated segments in the definition of educational priorities during the implementation of policies and procedures for managing these priorities. Sometimes this presence manifests with near-term profit seeking aims that can be met with, for example, the sale of products or services. But financial returns can also occur indirectly when these organizations mediate the adoption of policies or services formulated or carried out by “partners.” Both cases represent a shift to private business actors in managing public education.

Due to its federal model of government, Brazil has distinct rhythms and qualities in the programs of subnational governments that allow for the transfer of education administration (Abicalil, 2013; Arelaro, 2005) in most cases. Such processes for shifting educational management to private hands introduce the systematic monitorization of pedagogical work and school activities, guided by the promise of generating data to inform decision-making and improve educational systems. Alternatives involve the adoption of digital platforms for collecting and managing information about students and school performance, controlling the attendance of teachers and students, creating educational databases that draw from education systems managed by the private sector, and so on (Adrião et al., 2012; Adriâo et al., 2016).

Another form of privatizing educational administration is the introduction of corporate governance structures in education systems (CLADE, 2014), as has occurred in Brazil, Chile, and Argentina. Referred to as pacts or education commitments in Brazil, they differ from advocacy networks or business-minded reformers (Freitas, 2012) because they are part of the government structure and, as such, set educational priorities and policies. Such corporate structures are composed of representatives of business groups associated or not with the field of education. In Chile, particularly in regions of precarious living conditions, links between business groups and the media support projects such as the Network of Leader Schools (Red de Escuelas Líderes).7

There are two initiatives encouraging the privatization of education administration in Argentina. First, the Argentine Observatory for Education, made up of businesspeople from domestic and foreign companies tasked with evaluating educational policies and monitoring commitments made by government administrations, signed an agreement with the Ministry of Education in 2017 to analyze the performance of the education system.8 Second, the Leadership & Innovation program for training school administrators in three provinces (Mendonza, Jujui, and Buenos Aires) was implemented by the Varkey Foundation between 2016 and 2017, at a cost of US$12.7 million to the Argentine government. This is the same foundation that promotes and selects teachers for the Global Teacher Prize.

One way that school network administration is transferred to for-profit sectors is through project financing of public-private partnerships or alliances (PPP), the aim is to create a financing mechanism for large-scale projects. The main source of income to service the resulting debt comes from the activity/service provided.

In general terms, PPPs imply the direct provision of a service to the public sector by a private company, under a contract that includes the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of an infrastructure project. The central idea is to seek efficiency gains that arise from aligning the interests of whoever designs, constructs, and operates the job or service in question.

(Tinto, 2018, p. 3)

In Uruguay, Law 18.786 of 2011 defines the scope of PPPs and includes education as one of its areas, although it does not cover education services per se. Since 2015, the National Public Education Administration (ANEP) has invested around US$400 million to carry out 150 infrastructure projects in the field of education through PPPs.9 For 20 years, early childhood education establishments and schools are to be built and managed by consortia such as Basiney, Nelit, y Conami, or Berkes, Saceem, y Stiler.10

In Brazil, PPPs in education were signed by some subnational governments, especially for child care. The first bid was won by the INOVA-BH consortium integrated by the Odebrecht Group, which was involved in serious corruption cases. In 2018, it was taken over by a transportation company.

In addition to the possibility of managing public school networks and implementing the corporate administration of education, the private sector takes on the administration of specific schools, which characterizes a third form of privatizing public education administration. When considering the forms of school management privatization, it is important to clarify the understanding, in each context, of what is a public educational institution.

In Brazil, only state schools are public education institutions. Since 1998, however, legislative changes have expanded the mechanisms by which the state can transfer the administration of schools to private nonprofit organizations such as NGOs, foundations, and institutes that comprise the social arms of private corporations (Adrião & Peroni, 2007; Chattopadhay & Nogueira, 2014; Oliveira & Haddad, 2001; Peroni et al., 2009).

On the one hand, Article 62 of Argentina’s National Education Law (Argentina, 2006) states: “Private educational services will be subject to the authorization, recognition, and supervision of the corresponding jurisdictional educational authorities.” Article 63, on the other hand, asserts that “the Catholic Church, religious sects registered in the National Registry of Religious Faiths; societies, cooperatives, social organizations, unions, associations, foundations and companies with legal status and natural persons will have the right to provide these services.”

Finally, another way of transferring public school administration to private entities found in the international literature is through cooperatives of education professionals and/or parents and by companies like Movimiento por la Educación de Gestión Social y Cooperativa in Argentina (Vior & Rodríguez, 2012).11

In every format, these are policies that empower private providers to manage public schools or private schools that receive subsidies rather than parental school-choice mechanisms.

Privatization of Curricular Development

The privatization of curricular development does not only refer to the traditional processes by which governments purchase materials necessary for teaching (books, games, educational toys, etc.). It refers, more broadly, to transferring the decision-making process over what, how, and when to teach to the private sector, including processes of teacher training and verification of learning, through different forms of school evaluation. In short, it involves defining and monitoring curriculum design.

Consulting government websites and literature, we have identified three main ways in which school curricula are subordinated to private forces in the countries under consideration. (1) Purchase by governments of educational policies in a “basket” of inputs and services composed of standardized teaching materials, including virtual ones; in-service training of teachers and managers; performance evaluation systems; and on-site supervision of teaching activities. (2) Curriculum guidelines prepared by foundations associated with private business, such as those found in Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, and Chile. (3) Corporate influence in defining curricular policies. These companies operate in telecommunications, information technologies, or in the publishing market and are reflected in programs that link curricular reforms to new digital platforms.

The first way that public education curricular development is privatized can be seen in Brazil and occurs when governments purchase so-called private teaching systems (PTS). These consist of an assortment of activities traditionally developed by pedagogical teams of public administration bodies and schools (Adrião et al., 2009, p. 806), such as in-service training of teachers to use teaching materials, mechanisms to monitor the performance of schools and students, organizing curricular content in prescriptive materials, and so forth.

The dissemination of PTS in public networks began in Brazil in 1998, with national groups that expanded their role in the “educational market” by incorporating smaller schools and establishing franchises with private schools and public systems to sell their “teaching systems.” As of 2010, leading PTS are marketed by publicly traded companies associated with investment funds, such as the COC group, which was acquired by Pearson, and the UNO Teaching System, acquired by the Prisa/Santillana Group and the Tarpon Fund. More recently, SOMOS Educação, the largest private group operating in Brazil, emerged from the incorporation of several educational segments leveraged by private equity investment funds (Adrião et al, 2016).

In Chile,12 there are initiatives that link private conglomerates and business associations in projects like Puentes Educactivos.13 According to Inter-American Development Bank material (Cabrol, 2014), the Chilean initiative is the first in Latin America to implement programs such as the one in 2002 in the Philippines by Nokia and Pearson. Created in 2001 by the Ministry of Education and Fundación Chile, Educar Chile, which manages an online portal for curriculum content financed by the government with the aim of standardizing the national curriculum, also stands out.14 In Paraguay, the Fondo Nacional de Inversión Pública y Desarrollo (FONACIDE)15 finances an agreement with the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE)16 to develop digital platforms linked to student performance of students in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).

In Paraguay and Brazil, the international organization Junior Achievement works to define programs for secondary education.17 In Uruguay, Eduy21, financed by the Confederation of Business Chambers, Zona América, Fundação Itaú, Corporacao Navíos SA, VISA, among others, proposes a curriculum reform called Livro Aberto focused on developing skills and the creation of student performance assessment and monitoring systems.

In every country, technology giants finance access to digital platforms by distributing computers to students. Microsoft’s Alliance for Education in Argentina, which claims to expand the digital inclusion of students by producing curricular content via MS Office is one example of this approach.18 In 2013, the government of the City of Buenos Aires joined the Alliance for Education through an agreement with Bill Gates’s company. Paraguay has instituted a program called One Computer Per Child.19 The Google for Education platform is freely available to schools in Brazil, Argentina, and Chile, with tools to manage classes and administer contacts between schools and individual families.

Another way that elementary education curricula have been privatized can be seen through the presence of venture philanthropy in curricular input and innovations. Presented as “educational technologies,” the alternatives consist of offering books, digital content, access to platforms, and information systems for public networks and private schools. Such products and resources even go beyond teacher-student relationships, extending to homework, communication between school and families, and so forth. Examples include Google education and the similar Windows for education.

In Paraguay, since 2006, the Alda Foundation, associated with Spanish foundations, has developed an agreement with the Ministry of Education to advise schools on implementing the Institutional Educational Project.20

In Brazil, venture philanthropy is best exemplified by the Lemann Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Lemann Group. The foundation, through private social investment, sponsors government programs and policies and integrates corporate governance structures in education, proposing curricular innovations like “hybrid education,” developed in partnership with the Peninsula and Clayton Christensen institutes for public and private schools (Adrião, 2018). At the same time, the Lemann Group expands its network of private schools by associating itself with investment funds. The key Chilean example is the Telefónica Foundation, which directly oversees some schools, teacher training, and pedagogical processes.

Venture philanthropy has acted more directly as carriers of alternatives for curricular innovation, intermediating proposals from corporations in the ICT segment and government action, as seen in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay.

Most Prominent Private Actors in the Field of Education in Countries Under Consideration

Based on studies of the privatization of education administration in the contexts considered here, three main private segments were identified that focus on public networks and systems: venture philanthropy (OECD, 2014; Scott, 2009); corporations themselves; and the social arms of these corporations organized as foundations, institutes, and advocacy networks.

One detail that emerges from close analysis is that these organizations prioritize curricular development. The Center for Curriculum Redesign (CCR), an entity constituted by international organizations, government agencies, academic institutions, corporations, and nonprofit organizations, is one example. CCR endorsers and partners include Google, IBM, Intel, Microsoft and Pearson, in addition to the World Bank.

Risk philanthropists (OECD, 2014), or philocapitalists (Bishop & Green, 2008), are donors whose actions are characterized as an “investment for socially-oriented business profits.” Conceptually, the idea of “risk philanthropy” became widespread after 1997 with the publication of the article “Virtuous Capital: What Foundations Can Learn from Venture Capitalists” in the Harvard Business Review (Letts et al., 1997), in which the authors identify the use by such philanthropists of tools usually used in the risk market, such as risk management and performance management considered for the purpose of solving society’s problems (Adrião, 2015, p. 211).

This segment, which links the social arms of business groups to financial returns for social investments, has been stimulated by the netFWD network linked to the OECD’s Development Center and composed of a small group of foundations. In poor and developing countries where public funding for education is limited, key objectives of this kind of investment include “optimising and accelerating the impact of philanthropy for development through the sharing of experiences and lessons, policy influence and the development of innovative partnerships” (OECD, 2014, p. 19).

In Brazil, as noted, the Lemann Foundation is a prime example, particularly through its Start-Ed Lab program, which selects and finances education entrepreneurs to develop products and services associated with the implementation of the Common National Curriculum Base (BNCC), a national reform effort led by the foundation. Foundations associated with the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industries, such as the Gates Foundation and the Telefónica Foundation, operate in Brazil by “offering” curriculum content linked to the platforms or systems that they sell.

The Natura Institute is a model of what is described as the social arm of a corporation. The institute is linked to the Brazilian business group Natura & Co. and operates transnationally in teacher training programs in countries where the company is commercially active. Its most important program is the Learning Community (Comunidade de Aprendizagem) and is present in 281 Brazilian public schools and 434 across Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru.21 Natura also financed a map of Education Policy in Latin America (MAPEAL), the goal being to chart educational policies implemented in countries across the region that participated in the PISA in 2000 and 2012. MAPEAL, in turn, was coordinated by the Center for Implementing Public Policies for Equality and Growth (CIPPEC) in partnership with Educación 2020 (Chile), Businessmen for Education (Empresarios por la Educación) (Colombia), Vía Educación (Mexico), and GRADE (Peru). These organization are all networks of entrepreneurs who advocate for the social responsibility of member companies, a practice identified in other networks such as Todos pela Educação in Brazil (Martins, 2013), Educación 2020 (Chile), Reaching U (Uruguay), Juntos por la Educación (Paraguay), and Proyecto Educar 2050 (Argentina).

Education across the region is also frequently the object of attention from global NGOs like Teach for All, which seeks to develop leadership in classrooms and communities, accelerating the impact of social enterprises that cultivate the necessary leadership for change, and Junior Achievement, which aims to train future entrepreneurs and operates in countries with local business support.22

Among corporations themselves, aside from the aforementioned ICT sectors, the editorial groups Pearson and Santillana, along with the educational giant Kogna, stand out.

Last but not least, investment funds are now part of the slate of private actors influencing and contesting educational policies either as “levers” for the emergence of new startups or as owners of shares in companies in the educational field. The following LAVCA statement is illustrative:

Latin American investors that seek both profits and the opportunity to expand quality education in their countries have a very large target market. The region has over 100 million students in hundreds of thousands of schools in highly fragmented systems in need of professionalization and better management. It is a perfect opportunity for private equity investors to both make money and improve the competitiveness of their societies. In fact, in LAVCA’s latest survey of 105 private equity investors from around the world, education is the third most attractive sector, after consumer/retail and financial services.23

In Brazil, Mind Lab, a company associated with Instituto Ayrton Senna, was financed by BID Invest to implement an experimental evaluation related to the development of socio-emotional skills in 160 public schools.24

Table 2 schematically summarizes the forms of privatization of compulsory education found in legislation, on government websites, and identified in the literature in different countries, presented throughout this article.

Table 2. Forms of Education Privatization by Country and Area of Education Policy Affected

Area of education policy affected

Forms of privatization


Educational supply

Public grants for scholarships and agreements/contracts with private organizations for educational provision

Tax incentives for families and private providers

Growth of for-profit private schools, tutoring, and private lessons;

Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay

Public education administration


Private administration of public schools

Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay

Public school administration by cooperatives and civil society organizations

Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay

Corporate management of education

Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Paraguay

Public school system curriculum

Implementation of curricula designs prepared and financed by sectors associated with companies or corporations

Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay

Purchase of Private Teaching Systems sold by corporations


Adoption of educational technologies and curricular inputs developed by the private sector;

Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Paraguay

Source: Authors based on Adrião (2018).

An analysis of this table demonstrates the regularity in the forms of privatization of educational supply in all five countries. The same is true when it comes to the forms of privatizing education administration through PPPs and the exercise of public school management by a private organization, in all cases not for profit. When it comes to curricula, the most common form of privatization is the implementation of curriculum designs developed or financed by companies.

Table 3. Characterization of the Main Private Actors Associated With Business Acting in National Education, Selected Countries, 2017–2018


Type of organization

Organization name


Venture philanthropy

Fundação Lemann, Instituto Ayrton Senna,

Fundação Roberto Marinho, Fundação Itaú-Social

Social responsibility/volunteering

Instituto Natura


Pearson, Kroton, Microsoft, Google, Santillana, Vivo

Investment funds

Tarpon, BID-Invest, 3G

Advocacy networks

Todos pela Educação

Global NGOs

Junior Achievements


Venture philanthropy

Fundação Itaú-Social, Fundacion ReachingU

Social responsibility/volunteering


Telefônica,, VISA, Corporação Bavíos

Advocacy networks


Global NGOs


Venture philanthropy

Social responsibility/volunteering


Telefônica, Google,

Advocacy networks

Juntos por la Educación

Global NGOs

Global International Society for Technology in Education, Junior Achievements


Venture philanthropy

Fundação Varkey, Fundação Cimentos,, Eidos

Social responsibility/volunteering


Telefônica, Microsoft, Natura,, Google

Advocacy networks

Observatorio Argentinos por la Educación, Movimiento por la Educación de Gestión Social y Cooperativa, Aliança pela Educação, Proyecto Educar 2050

Global NGOs

Junior Achievement


Venture philanthropy

Fundación Chile

Social responsibility/volunteering

Instituto Natura


Telefônica;, Nokia, Pearson and Google

Advocacy networks

Educación 2020

Global NGOs

Junior Achievements, Teach for All

Note: (—) no relevant information on the national level.

Source: Authors.

Table 3, which draws on information regarding the incidence of business actors in national education between 2017 and 2018, illustrates that the same corporations are active in most countries, even though investment funds are included, at least explicitly, only in the Brazilian case. The diversity among philanthrocapitalists is explained, in part, by the national origin of the actors. On the other hand, the international NGO Junior Achievements, dedicated to programs fostering entrepreneurship, operates in every country except Uruguay. Finally, each country has a network of businesspeople intent on influencing educational policy. Argentina, with four such networks, stands out in this regard.

Final Considerations

This article has presented the main mechanisms through which key elements of public education are deliberately transferred to the private sector, a process involving the privatization of this human right (Croso & Modé, 2016).

The first aspect to be highlighted from the preceding discussion is the that basic education is not necessarily privatized in the same way in every South American context, yet such processes were identified in all education systems.

This is the case when it comes to subsidy policies for parental school-choice policies. Chile has a radical voucher model, whereas in Uruguay no such mechanism exists. Despite this difference, every country had public subsidies for private educational supply through contracts between governments and nonprofit organizations, scholarships, tax incentives for private sponsors or families, and the authorization of commercial educational services such as for-profit private lessons and tutoring. The latter has grown as a segment of edubusiness (Ball & Youdell, 2007; Dale, 1994; Hill, 2003), fueled by Mercosur agreements that liberalized distance learning.

The privatization of publicly funded education through the introduction of de-schooling measures like homeschooling, pushed by ideological and commercial conservative guidelines, has to contend with the constitutional provision of mandatory school attendance in all countries.

The study also identified differences in how school administration is privatized because, in three countries, the management of public schools by nonprofit, religious, or cooperative organizations is a constitutive part of the educational model associated with the historically limited reach of the state.

PPPs, a key mechanism in the privatization of education administration, were identified in three countries, carried out through the concession of parts of the “educational service” to corporations. This model will likely change existing formats for the provision and management of education since it involves transferring the construction and administration of a significant number of schools to the same private corporate group. The introduction of corporate management techniques, including the installation of a “co-management” approach to education, is being implemented in Brazil, Chile, and Argentina. Advocacy networks made up of reformers from the business world were also observed in all the countries studied. In these cases, educational policy itself is privatized, with private actors determining the priorities, agenda, and meaning of education. Acting alone or in a network, these actors occupy and reconfigure the public space.

It is important to note that the transposition of policies developed in advanced economies, enhanced by the processes of economic globalization, is deepened in the countries examined here by the alignment of actors participating in the corporate management of education. This can be seen in the proposals for curricular reform financed by business segments discussed in this article.

Regarding the privatization of curricular development, the purchase of (private) teaching systems marketed by educational and publishing giants (Adrião et al., 2016) is, according to an IDB document, one of the 10 most promising innovation initiatives for Latin America out of a total of 120 catalogued by that organization (Cabrol, 2014). The same document, corroborating the trend described in this study, highlights the growth in the performance of telephone companies associated with government computer distribution programs, such as Telefónica in Chile and Uruguay and Vivo in Brazil (Cabrol, 2014). Each country, to some degree, adopted technologies and curricular inputs disseminated or marketed by private companies, or organizations supported by them, and by giants in the field of publishing, such as Pearson and Santillana. These groups have diversified their insertion in the entire segment, including by acquiring private schools and associating with investment funds, which measure their assets by the number of public enrollments accounted for in their businesses.

A second form of curricular privatization addressed in this article is the implementation of curriculum designs sponsored by private actors organized in advocacy networks made up of national and transnational companies and organizations, and by organizations that maintain private social investments as philanthrocapitalists, as systematized in Table 3. Every country experienced this in some way.

Philocapitalists are private actors that do not hide their intention of profiting from their involvement in social areas. This sets them apart from the traditional social or voluntary arms of business groups, which, in turn, act on the fringe of “social responsibility business” with the strategic function of enhancing the brand/product of the group to which they are linked.

To a greater or lesser extent, venture philanthropy and social investors operating in the countries examined here push for educational reforms that directly or indirectly benefit strategies and principles that contribute to their financial success or to the success of their “partner” brands and products. The study identified the actors most active in this segment in each country, with the exception of Fundação Itaú Social, present in Brazil and Uruguay. The organizations that present themselves as social arms of companies were also diverse, including the Brazilian Instituto Natura, which focuses on education in three countries: Brazil, Argentina, and Chile.

Furthermore, organizations operating globally and presenting themselves as nonprofits were active in each country, Junior Achievement, as inferred from Table 3, being a standout.

This group of private actors compete with unions, educators, and government agencies to determine the contours of educational policies. Such tensions, given cuts in public funding stemming from recent crises and fiscal adjustment policies, are likely to intensify.

In this way, these sectors that compete in one moment and serve certain strategic interests in another represent the link between segments of capital strengthened by accumulation strategies in a financialized economy (investment funds and banks) and segments that accumulate by investing in the production and development of information technologies (Adrião, 2018, p. 22).

This condition is, under the direction of philanthrocapitalists or corporations, perfectly extensible to public education systems. It is, therefore, a qualitative change in the processes of privatization compared to what was seen in the 1990s: It is not about school donation programs or volunteering, nor is it about the historic and permanent dispute between the interests of the majority and the elites over the definition of educational purposes, a dispute whose most important terrain is the classroom itself. In this context, “corporate power has become systemic, capturing one by one the different dimensions of expression and exercise of power, and generating a new dynamic, or a new architecture of actually existing power” (Dowbor, 2016).

Confronting the privatization of education in South America requires oppositions at a global level supported by locally produced empirical evidence. Indeed, it is striking how little international attention academic production on this topic has gained in inventoried and selected databases, not to mention in the construction of responses to locally implemented policies and programs. As an expression of this confrontation, it is worth remembering that, in 2005, the then ministers of education of Brazil and Argentina signed the Declaration of Brasília, excluding education from free trade agreements. In the case of Argentina, the veto was included in the National Education Law, which determined that the state will not subscribe to bilateral or multilateral free trade treaties that imply conceiving education as a profitable enterprise or that promote the commodification of public education.

It cannot be stressed enough that privatization hurts the public spirit of education by excluding legal subjects from defining its content and practice; it also hurts a conception of education as a basic human right by identifying market values, profitability, and other private interests as its guiding principles.


The authors would like to thank the São Paulo State Foundation for Research Support (FAPESP) and the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq).