Outsourcing Governance to Private Interests

Consulting Firms Put in Charge of Managing Education in Ontario

– Enver Villamizar –

According to a report from July 2021 from Press Progress, the global consulting firm McKinsey & Company was paid $3.2 million to "manage" Ontario's 2020 school reopening. This is in addition to testimony from the commission that investigated the government's response to COVID-19 in long-term care homes according to which McKinsey won a sole-sourced contract worth $1.6 million to set up the Ontario government's pandemic command.

As most of the dealings between consulting firms and the government are secret, it is unclear exactly what McKinsey's role was and what it suggested the Ontario government do. However, a McKinsey report, titled School-system Priorities in the Age of Coronavirus, encourages school officials to outsource services to private education providers to meet the unique challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Crises can be a spur to creative problem solving," the report states. "Under the pressure of the COVID-19 crisis, school systems can take the chance to rethink some of their traditional ways of doing things."

The report suggests that to "provide more direct student support, schools can start internally" but "eventually, partnerships with external providers and nonprofits may be required."

As examples of what this could look like McKinsey points to "teacher-collaboration platforms," including a pair of private U.S. businesses called "Teachers Pay Teachers" and "BetterLesson" which sell teaching resources and services. It is of note in this respect that prior to the pandemic the Ford government had established that Ontario would use TV Ontario to produce e-learning courses which would be sold to other jurisdictions as "gold standard" courses, very much in line with the ideas McKinsey is promoting.

In addition, many school boards have begun regularly using various private web-based applications in math and literacy which require board-wide subscriptions and which collect massive amounts of academic data on students. This is taking place at a time when there is less and less public investment in the human resources required to reduce class sizes and enhance one-on-one supports for students.

The report further suggests schools "respond to the crisis by exploring collaboration" with the private sector.

"There are some things that schools can start doing now -- for example, looking for savings in areas such as utilities and transportation, and asking vendors for discounts. There is a limit to what schools and school districts can do alone however. Many will have to seek additional funds to help their students recover, whether from governments, bilateral donors, or philanthropists. Creating post-coronavirus budgets needs to be a joint process between schools, which understand the needs on the ground, and district, state, and federal governments, which may be able to provide access to resources. Collaboration across the public, private, and nonprofit sectors may become easier to achieve."

This U.S.-speak from the private sector is also very much in line with what the Ford government is doing, amongst other things, by paying parents with public funds to access private tutoring so that students can "catch-up on their learning" as a result of losses during the pandemic. Furthermore, the government now employs large numbers of "tutors" in classrooms with funds it is not putting into public education. It pays them $24-25 an hour despite the fact that they are not teachers or education workers but an additional problem both teachers and education workers have to look after. The fact they are hired privately also causes a problem of not being part of collective agreements and union life which contributes to the atmosphere of anxiety and tension in the schools.

McKinsey's website on "Education" touts its past experience "helping both for-profit and philanthropic investors deploy their capital to deliver outcomes for students, while generating financial returns for those who require it." In other words, putting the fox in charge of the hen house has become the role of government at the behest of narrow private interests like McKinsey & Company which are now operating in many countries, taking over the role of the state in providing education at a very hefty cost to "taxpayers."

The conception of societies with human beings as members whose education must be looked after so as to raise the standards and culture of the society itself and activate the human factor/social consciousness does not exist for the Ford government.

This reveals that the demands of education workers and teachers for investments in social programs like education directly challenge the direction dictated by the likes of McKinsey & Company which have usurped the state power to use public funds to pay private interests. In this respect the demand for investments in education goes against the use of the public purse for self-serving private gain.

This article was published in
Number 6 - November 30, 2022

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