In the literature, a range of terminology is used to describe the reorganization of public education. In much critical policy sociology the terms marketization, privatization, and commercialization are used interchangeably. Our argument is that each of these denotes distinct, albeit related, characteristics of contemporary schooling and the impact of the Global Education Industry (GEI). We define marketization as the series of policy logics that aim to create quasimarkets in education; privatization as the development of quasimarkets in education that privilege parental choice, school autonomy and venture philanthropy; and commercialization as the creation, marketing, and sale of educational goods and services to schools by external providers. We explain the manifestations of each of these forms and offer two cases of actors situated within the GEI, the OECD, and Pearson PLC, to outline how commercialization and privatization proceed at the level of policy and practice.
Anna Hogan and Greg Thompson
Disha Nawani and Shinjini Sanyal
School education in independent India was recognized as an important priority for state support, as it was neglected under the colonial regime. However, due to perceived financial challenges, it was placed in the newly (1950) drafted Constitution under Directive Principles of State Policy, which were nonjusticiable. Although the state provided for school education for the majority of Indian children, there remained several limitations in terms of access, equity, and equality for children belonging to disadvantaged communities. As a result, in India, the private sector, both for profit and nonprofit, played an important role in providing educational access to children. Between 1950 and the 1990s, the government school system struggled, and several learning surveys reported poor learning of school children, especially those studying in government schools. Concurrently, the private sector spread its influence and work in spaces not just for the rich but for the poor as well, and profit became a legitimate central concern. In the mid-1990s, the state initiated a rather aggressive policy of structural economic reform, leading to liberalization, privatization, and globalization. All this was justified in a neoliberal environment where the state started to withdraw from social sectors like health and education, on one hand, and private sector participation was hailed, on the other, in the name of efficiency, accountability, and performance. Public–private partnership became the new buzzword justifying any kind of relationship between the state and private actors.
Neoliberalism is a political project carried out by the capitalist class to consolidate their ability to generate profits by exercising influence in political processes, such as elections, in order to privatize or direct state institutions and regulatory powers in ways favorable to their interests. These efforts coincide the propagation of a neoliberal common sense that is grounded in an understanding of all aspects of society in economic terms of competition in markets and return on investment. However, in practice, neoliberalism does not promote competitive markets as much as it results in the privatization of public institutions and creation of new sites for private investment through state policies. The field of education, traditionally a site of local democratic control, is increasingly subject to neoliberal governance, as elected school boards are consolidated under appointed leadership, district schools are replaced by charter schools, and school resources, such as curriculum, testing, and even the training of teachers, are provided by private companies. Neoliberalism frames the purpose of education in terms of investments made in the development of students’ human capital. What students should learn and the value of education is relative to their individual prospects for future earnings. This narrowed conception of education raises important questions about the purpose of education and the relationship between schools, democratic life, and state governance. Developing a critical relationship with neoliberal common sense is necessary in order to recognize both how actually existing neoliberal policies primarily serve the interests of capitalists and that there are other, democratic, sources of value and purpose that can ground debates and efforts in the field of education.