Abidjan’s Roadmap for Free and Quality Public Education
I had to take three flights and it took me almost 24 hours to get to Abidjan, Ivory Coast, from Medellin, my hometown. Once there, the weather, the music, the food and the roads immediately reminded me of the Colombian coast. I travelled to Abidjan last week and from there to the former capital of the French colony, Grand-Bassam, to participate as an expert in the global conference of adoption of the Abidjan Principles. These principles aspire to specify the obligations of States in ensuring public and quality education, and the obligation to regulate private involvement in education. The Abidjan Principles adoption conference ended, at this stage, a process of consultations and work that lasted almost three years, and during which non-governmental organizations, academics and other actors worked hard to write and clarify these principles.
Apart from the drafting committee, twenty experts (mostly women) from Senegal, Burkina Faso, Kenya, United States, France, United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa, India, Brazil, and Colombia, among others, and more than 60 observers from civil society around the world arrived in Abidjan last week. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, Madame Koumbou Boly Barry was also one of the guest experts at the meeting. For two days, we intensively discussed the proposal presented by the drafting committee, a group of ten world authorities on the right to education, taking into account our different contexts and the complex realities of the different regions in the world.
The selection of Abidjan as the place for the conference was not accidental. Neither was the fact that my country, Colombia, was called to participate in this meeting. The Ivory Coast used to have a strong public education system that was highly regarded in West Africa. However, in recent years, the quality of education has diminished and there is an ongoing proliferation of private education institutions, some of them for profit, which has led to uneven academic results. This reality is similar in other African countries, and other parts of the world, including Colombia. Part of the problem seems to be the lack of a strict regulation on private involvement in education.
Bearing this in mind, the Abidjan Principles recognize the reality of the private provision of education around the world and do not pretend to abolish that reality. They also admit the autonomy of parents and guardians to decide the educational institution that is best for their children. However, the Principles also acknowledge that there are tensions and loopholes in the international human rights law with respect to States’ obligations vis-à-vis the private providers of education. Therefore, the Principles develop a guide that, in accordance with international law, specifies the content of the right to education – in particular, States’ obligations with regard to the public and private provision of education.
The discussion that took place in Abidjan is key for countries like Colombia. It is essential that once the Principles are published, social organizations, parents, families, teachers and students take advantage of that instrument in the discussions on public and quality education. Likewise, public authorities should adopt and adapt the obligations of the Abidjan Principles at the domestic level, especially the obligation of regulation of private providers of education. Finally, countries like mine should adopt measures that strengthen the public education system at all levels, avoiding the type of segmentation in education that deepens our inequalities. That is the roadmap of Abidjan.
If you want to know more information regarding the Abidjan Principles, please visit www.abidjanprinciples.org.