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Private, NGO, religious and community schools: How do ‘non-state actors’ affect teaching and teachers?


A global consultation meeting tackles the theme of the forthcoming 2021/2 Global Education Monitoring Report.

Around the world, education is provided not only by governments but also by local associations, non-government organizations, religious bodies, private enterprise and other “non-state actors”. How do these groups affect access to education, quality of provision and teaching and learning conditions? Moreover, how well do governments regulate non-state actors?

These questions will be at the heart of the next edition of the international community’s major annual education report, the Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report. Teachers and teaching are central to the report’s theme, so the International Task Force on Teachers for Education 2030 hosted an online consultation meeting on 30 November 2020 to discuss the theme, in collaboration with the GEM Report team and Education International.

Eighty-six people joined the meeting, including teachers, school leaders and representatives of teacher unions and international and regional organisations, working to support teacher policy development. The meeting was chaired by Borhene Chakroun, Director, Division for Policies and Lifelong Learning Systems, UNESCO, and Dennis Sinyolo, Senior Coordinator, Education International.

Borhene Chakroun highlighted the influence of non-state actors in the teaching profession and the way COVID-19 had demonstrated the importance of involving teachers in the policy process. Dennis Sinyolo welcomed the 2021/22 GEM Report on non-state actors as an opportunity to reaffirm the critical role of teachers and their representatives. He also underlined that education is a fundamental right and that non-state actors should contribute to strengthening and complementing public education systems, but not to replace them.

Every year the GEM Report assesses the world’s progress towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4 (“Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”) as well as its related targets and the Education 2030 Agenda more broadly.

The Teacher Task Force consultation meeting broke into four in-depth group discussions that reflected the types of non-state education activity that the 2021 GEM Report will be examining: working conditions in non-state schools; governance and regulations; influence (social dialogue and education technology); and teacher professional development.


Working conditions in non-state schools: Mind the gap

The session on working conditions in non-state schools looked at questions such as: What working conditions and salary levels are offered to teachers in private and community schools run by non-state actors?  How are private sector innovations such as mobile payments improving or worsening working conditions?

Participants highlighted the gaps between state and non-state schools in terms of salaries and other contractual benefits. In Uganda, for example, private school teachers are paid 40% less than public school teachers. Differences in workload (class size, additional support), working environment (school infrastructure, materials, autonomy, support, access to technology) and working conditions were also mentioned.

There was agreement that COVID-19 had exacerbated existing challenges – in Italy, for example, some teachers lost 40% of their income due to the pandemicand that there is a need to provide abundant support to all teachers, to ensure they are qualified and motivated in their work. The session recommended that teachers and head teachers receive better support; that regulations exist to ensure health and safety at school that the fundamental right to education is protected.


Governance, regulations and private tutoring: A need for monitoring

The discussion on governance, regulations and private supplementary tutoring weighed questions such as: How do governments regulate the qualification and certification of teachers to ensure the quality of education in non-state schools?  How does this affect teacher recruitment? What are the implications for the growth of private tutoring conducted by teachers and other actors?

One key question was if government regulations and accountability mechanisms for the teaching profession within the non-state education sector are achieving their aim. The group agreed that there are not enough monitoring mechanisms to verify how teachers are protected, and this should be a key responsibility of governments. Many teachers in private schools were greatly affected during the COVID-19 pandemic as private schools are not regulated by state actors and often stopped payment of salaries.


Weighing the influence of social dialogue and education technology

The discussion on the influence on education of unions and other non-state groups examined questions such as: How do education unions contribute to the achievement of SDG 4? What is the influence on education policy of non-state actors, the private sector, development agencies and education technology?

Non-state groups have brought many innovative approaches to schools, especially during the COVID-19 crisis. But there is a risk that these approaches may become long-term after the crisis without having been negotiated as part of formal curriculum reform. Teachers’ role in implementing innovations is critical, as they have important experience of what happens when policy is implemented.

Education technology has been essential during lockdowns. Education technology facilitates 1-to-1 interaction and there are many advantages of online collaboration spaces. If access to technology is limited, however, gaps in equality can widen. In addition, technology has upset the work-life balance for teachers, sometimes requiring them to be available 24/7 and doubling their workload, online and on paper. Teachers need support and training on how to be leaders online.

COVID-19 has shown the importance of involving teachers and unions in policy dialogue. Many consultations and collaborative work have been established through webinars. For example, Zambia has worked with the teachers’ union to help improve the conditions of service for teachers in private schools. Private school teachers which are not covered by main public sector unions have made attempts to reinforce their position by developing private sector teachers’ unions including in Togo (i.e. SYNEP-Togo).

The session recommended that policy be contextualized, not only on a country level but also more locally, even at school level; that public universities and public actors participate in the design of technology platforms; that governments create mechanisms to enhance dialogue between all stakeholders, promote online consultation with non-state actor and involve teachers’ unions in conversations with ministries.


Teachers’ professional development: sharing opportunities

The session on teachers’ professional development looked at the role of private non-state actors in pre-service teacher training and continuous professional development. Certification standards, effectiveness of training, monitoring and teachers’ qualifications all came under scrutiny, along with whether COVID-19 has changed the role of non-state actors in teacher training.

The group examined the roles of non-state actors in providing initial and in-service teacher training, including research, funding solutions, provision of experts, delivery of training methods and materials, and targeted teacher professional development based on specialized areas.

Participants called on the GEM Report to look at how fairly professional development opportunities were distributed among teachers in urban and rural areas, and rich and poor neighborhoods. It was emphasized that teacher education is the role of the state and that non-state actors can fill the gaps left by state actors cooperatively but not competitively.

It was noted that COVID-19 gave non-state actors an opportunity to respond to the needs of teachers and learners in different areas, including as teacher trainers. In many cases this transformation has empowered teachers with online teaching techniques and strategies, as the representative from the Ministry of Education of Jamaica highlighted. This impact was felt mainly in well-resourced urban areas, however, leaving rural and poor areas behind. Since equity concerns are universal, this remains an issue not just for the global south but also for high-income countries. Furthermore, beyond a profit orientation, private sector educational technology may also shape the type of learning that is valued and thus narrow pedagogy, ignoring the social aspects of teaching and learning.

The session recommended that the GEM report should examine the role of non-state actors in enhancing standards of quality for both pre-service teacher education and in-service training within a common framework, while also introducing flexible approaches. Moreover, the report should address how continuous professional development and training should be connected to the new skills required in remote and distance teaching; and that teachers with ICT skills be encouraged to mentor other teachers. Additionally, the growth of shadow tutoring system during COVID-19 was identified as a further area for examination.

All participants in the consultation meeting agreed that equity and inclusion – giving every child, from every background, a fair chance of a quality education – must remain at the heart of the discussion about the role of non-state actors in helping to achieve SDG 4. There was general agreement that the COVID-19 pandemic and measures to contain it had amplified existing challenges and inequalities. For teachers, especially, the greatest effects have been the strain that the pandemic has placed on working conditions and the balance between personal and work life.

Photo image:  with the photo by Hugo Infante.