By Guest Blogger George Thompson

It seems almost sacrilege to question the Globe and Mail’s recent proclamation that “With a sweeping school law, India secures its future: The superpower-in-waiting makes childhood education compulsory for the first time.”  But while there can be no denial that the recent laws for education reforms of India are desirable (ie. universal education for the poor) the devil of neoliberalism seems to always be worked out in the details. Similar “well-intentioned” reforms such as those of the No Child Left Behind Act in the U.S. have had a way of turning into corporate profits at the public expense under the new model of “public-private partnership” which has been promoted by global corporations and international business organizations such as the OECD, WTO and World Bank. According to the Globe and Mail, India’s announcement that the country would be attempting to ensure that all children in the country received free compulsory education was spurred by a Goldman Sachs study:  “The law is a result of India’s desire to catch up with other rising powers such as China and Brazil, which ranked far higher on the scope and quality of education in a recent study by Goldman Sachs.”

Why does Goldman Sachs care about international education and why are they being given the role of appraisers of global educational value?  Hint: the Goldman Sachs position on education is not based on any kind of humanitarian outreach goals, but rather, according to their own site, “investments in education and health can bolster human capital and support economic growth.” Could the Goldman Sachs Foundation be considered to have similar conflicted interests to those of the Gates Foundation in the US?

“The Goldman Sachs Foundation is a global philanthropic organization funded by The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. The Foundation’s mission is to promote excellence and innovation in education and to improve the academic performance and lifelong productivity of young people worldwide. It achieves this mission through a combination of strategic partnerships, grants, loans, private sector investments, and the deployment of professional talent from Goldman Sachs. Funded in 1999, the Foundation has awarded grants in excess of $40 million since its inception, providing opportunities for young people in more than 20 countries.”

The Globe’s outline of India’s reforms looks suspiciously similar to the ideals of the global school improvement and charter school industries: “Many countries have enshrined the same goal in law, but experts say India is unusual because it has also set a wide variety of performance standards. The government has mandated one teacher for every 30 students, and is promising free textbooks, uniforms and transportation – it is even providing students’ lunches. Teachers will face new scrutiny over punctuality and qualifications, and one million new ones will be trained over five years. The law even regulates school sanitation, right down to the toilets. The cost: an estimated at $35-billion (U.S.) over five years.”

How will an impoverished India that needs an education overhaul in order to join the competition in the global economy be able to finance such a megaproject? As with other “investments”—and this has been framed very much as an “investment”-the money is going to have to come from “partners”. Perhaps the Goldman Sachs Foundation can help India make some useful connections:

“Charter schools are doing a great deal to improve education. There are more than 2,700 charter schools throughout the United States, and that number is rapidly increasing. But often, the teachers and concerned parents who envision these schools lack the necessary skills to launch and manage them effectively. To address this challenge, the Foundation has partnered with the New Schools Services division of New American Schools (NAS), which creates programs and provides services to help charter schools successfully tackle management and operational challenges.”