Creeping commercialism in public schools worries NSW Teachers

NSW Teachers Federation released a statement expressing concern over the Commercialisation in Public Schooling study, showing education technology companies benefitting from developing standards and data infrastructure in schools.
Jul 8, 2017

NSW Teachers Federation released a statement expressing concern over the Commercialisation in Public Schooling study (CIPS).

The study shows education technology companies are benefitting financially from developing standards and data infrastructure in schools.

“Significant amounts of commercial activity” are taking place in public schools in Australia, said Dr Greg Thompson, Associate Professor of Education Research at the Queensland University of Technology and one of the co-authors of the report. 

A university survey conducted as part of CIPS found that teachers and school leaders are concerned about this increasing ‘creep’ of commercialism into public schooling.

The survey involved 2,193 teachers and school leaders across Australia, with 51 per cent located in NSW.

Around 74 per cent of those surveyed saw the ethics of having student data in commercial hands as a major concern and 72 per cent were also highly concerned at the way public schools are being run as a business.

For nearly half of those surveyed (45 per cent) the most significant concern was business dictating education policy, and 36 per cent were also highly concerned at teacher activities being outsourced. Fifty-seven per cent were also highly concerned about the lack of departmental support. School principals are also particularly concerned about having to pay for services that were traditionally supplied by the Department of Education, Thompson says.

While some respondents saw some benefits to public-private partnerships, "there’s a really strong sense that commercialisation has no place in public schools."

“The forums that have been established to advance the agenda of standardisation enable commercial actors to shape the demands of users, which in this case are often governments and may further contribute to growing demand for generic products,” the study warns.

The study raises two key issues of importance for teachers’ unions in Australia. Firstly, concerns about data privacy have been successfully mobilised by opponents to commercial involvement in public education in order to block major initiatives such as inBloom in the United States and these concerns have now been identified by the EdTech industry as a major obstacle.

“Privacy regulations will be an important terrain upon which to evaluate and where necessary challenge commercial activity that involves improper private usage of data generated in and by public education systems,” the report finds.

Secondly, the operation of data infrastructure in education provides commercial actors with “hidden and technically complex means to subtly orchestrate activities in schools and school systems”, the report says. As a result, it will be important to monitor any changes to the work practices of educators and the effect on students and learning that may result from new data and software applications.

In future, the needs and capacities of public schools will be subtly shaped by the provision of software, the study says. In the next three to five years, the chief information officers of all education players will see a significant shift in their role in the market. [SOURCE]