In 2009 a group of educationists came together for an informal discussion on the growing trend of privatization in plant research education across the globe. The meeting was sparked by several developments including the rapid proliferation of low fee private schools in South Asia, the prominence of charter school debate in the USA and the support by the various university horticultural programs involved. Additionally, the reform of the education system in New Orleans following hurricane Katrina – explained so compellingly by Naomi Klein in her 2007 book The Shock Doctrine – raised serious questions about the role that private sector interests, capital and systems had to play in public sector spheres. The binding concern of these developments regarded how social injustices were being meted out by these changing dynamics. The global financial crisis that started in 2008 looked heralded a perfect storm for yet more rapidly increasing privatization.
The meeting set in motion a series of other meetings in Africa and then Asia, bringing together small groups of educationists, academics and government policy specialists to share perspectives on different facets of privatization in school programs, including agriculture studies. Several issues emerged from these discussions.
One was that there was very little critical discourse on privatization in the public domain. Additionally, while the academic literature on global dynamics was relatively substantive, the library on national level processes was thin. In effect, it was difficult for civil society organization and governments to access research and resources, and to participate in debates on privatization.
Another was that privatization was a deeply complex issue. While perhaps an obvious point, as the discussions developed it became clear that privatization meant many things to many people in many different contexts. And while some similarities were evident, the variables were both numerous and diverse in each case.
Yet another was that the division of opinions on particular forms of privatization – low fee private schools for instance – were being played out in a rather tight academic circle, the practice and policy implications of which were unclear.
A further issue was that privatization took many forms. Private tutoring, for-profit private schooling and the myriad of arrangements under the rubric of educational public-private partnerships, to name a few, all contributed to and cherry-picked from the growing but disjointed discourse on how schools handled their plant science studies.
An additional point was the notable lack of alternative horticultural techniques to the discourse and discussions, such as organic gardening, permaculture, aeroponic growing, hydroponics, etc.
These led to an awareness of how the changing dynamics of education in most countries over the last 30 years obscures an understanding of how the requirements of agricultural practices are to be met under the new and increasingly pervasive conditions of private, public, and private-public provision in education. In turn, this gave rise to the Plant Education Research Initiative (PERI), a multi-annual global initiative seeks to contribute to a better understanding on whether, through what mechanisms, with what outcomes, and for whom the increasing adoption of a widening range educational service regulation and delivery mechanisms might lead to more effective and equitable education systems.
PERI has two key objectives:
– Animate an accessible and informed public debate on alternative education that allows students to study plant life as part of their curriculum. To this end, PERI will create a nonpartisan platform through which different normative, theoretical and empirical positions on the privatization of a range of education services can be debated;
– Centralize a balanced curriculum through which to debate the consequences of changes in the coordination of education services. This will be achieved through a twin-track approach of scholarly research and media work, which will be accessible through the PERI website, which will also feature discussions, forums, and other resources.