Friday, May 15, 2015

World Bank President - Out Of Touch With Reality

Over one hundred organisations have issued a statement addressed to World Bank president, Jim Kim, questioning the Bank’s support for a multinational chain of low-fee, profit-making private primary schools targeting poor families, which Kim recently praised as a means to alleviate poverty. 

In his speech of 7 April 2015 titled “Ending Extreme Poverty by 2030: The Final Push” delivered ahead of the 2015 World Bank/IMF Spring Meetings, the president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, praised the for-profit, fee-charging chain of private primary schools based in Kenya and Uganda, Bridge International Academies (BIA). He argues that thanks to these academies, where nearly 120,000 pupils are enrolled, “[a]fter about two years, students’ average scores for reading and math have risen high above their public school peers”. And these results, he said, are achieved for “just” $6 a month.

The figure given of $6 is not accurate. Schools fees at BIA range from about $6.5 to $9, depending on the grade. To this should be added the cost of uniforms, sold by Bridge, which cost about $18.5 per year, the equivalent of another $2 per month over 9 months, and exam fees of $2 to $3 per term. Other costs for textbooks, payment transfers, or other items may be added, and so a conservative estimate of the real monthly amount received by BIA for each child ranges rather between $9 and $13 a month – excluding food, which BIA provides for an additional $7 per month. The total monthly bill including school meals thus ranges between $16 and $20.

Nevertheless, even assuming a cost of $6 per month, the speech reveals the World Bank’s profound lack of understanding of the reality of poor people’s lives. When President Kim argues that schooling at Bridge costs “just” $6, the underlying message is that $6 a month is a small amount of money worth paying for schooling, even in contexts of great poverty. Such a statement is ill-informed and dangerous, especially coming from a world leader with the power to influence directions in global development. It is alarming that charging poor people school fees—something that the global community has worked particularly hard to abolish over the last two decades due to their negative impact on the poor—is being promoted as a means of ending poverty.
“My honest view is this: if the World Bank was genuinely keen in promoting access to basic education for every child, especially those in vulnerable areas, then they would focus more on supporting and enhancing access to free public primary schools rather than supporting private schools which only operate to make profits out of our poor pockets.” - Interview of Hakijamii organization with a resident of Kibera informal settlement (Africa’s largest informal settlement) in Nairobi, Kenya, who is also a member of the community based organization “Soweto Forum”.

We, civil society organisations and citizens of Kenya and Uganda, are appalled that an organisation whose mandate is supposed to be to lift people out of poverty shows such a profound misunderstanding and disconnect from the lives and rights of poor people in Kenya and Uganda. We, who live in Kenya and in Uganda, can testify that $6 per month is much more money than most of our families, friends, and community members can afford without making huge sacrifices. If the World Bank is serious about improving education in Kenya and Uganda, it should support our governments to expand and improve our public education systems, provide quality education to all children free-of-charge, and address other financial barriers to access.

whole article here

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