The World Bank is hindering efforts to give children in the developing world a free education, according to a former UN education representative.
Katarina Tomasevski said that by funding private schools and backing sham "fee-free" schemes which impose hefty "back-door" charges, the organisation was pricing the poorest pupils out of the market.
Her comments come in a report, "Why the World Bank should be debarred from education". In it, Professor Tomasevski, founder of the Right to Education project, accuses the World Bank of neglecting the UN's pledge to deliver primary education for all by 2015.
It says: "People in poor countries are forced to pay up to a third of their annual income to keep a child at school. Worse, children are forced to work, even at school, to pay the cost of their primary education."
The report details 22 charges imposed as part of a so-called "fee-free"
primary education in countries such as Malawi, Uganda and Tanzania, often established in return for World Bank loans. "The law, which mandates education to be free and compulsory, has been cast aside. Education should be free, but it is for-fee." it says.
"Fee-free" schemes in developing countries usually charge for books, uniform, tuition, enrolment, exams, transport and more.
The loophole allows governments to keep education on a low budget while using World Bank loans to service their debt or expand their military capability, as in Ethiopia and China, she said.
Two-thirds of South American countries have pledged free state education, compared with slightly more than a third in Africa, where school enrolment is lower for nations without fee-free schooling.
But not everyone agrees. James Tooley, a specialist in educational entrepreneurship at Newcastle university, said: "If the middle classes can pay for schooling, it relieves the government of the burden. There is more interest in private schools for the poor, too. They are easier to support than the government - because if the government is corrupt a lot of the money will get ferried away to Swiss bank accounts."
The UK Department for International Development has pledged pound;8.5bn towards education in the developing world over the next decade but does not specify that it should be fee-free.
A department spokesman said: "Our position is that we support education for all, but we don't tell countries how they should deliver it. We recognise that non-state providers have a role to play."
A spokesman for the World Bank said: "Talk of the bank moving from a free to a for-fee model is simply false.
"We are at the forefront of trying to get the 100 million children who are out of the school system into education by 2015. We cannot dictate policy to developing countries. We supply only 2 per cent of the aid money that goes towards education in the developing world."