Thursday, March 22, 2012

Private Schools for the Poor

One of the Millennium Development Goals is universal primary education. Despite a rise in attendance, 72m school-age children are still not in school, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and Southwest Asia. Governments strive to meet the challenge of a free education for all, but a recent article in The Economist points out “A free education is something that many parents will pay to avoid.”

For instance, in India between a quarter and a third of students attend private schools. In Mumbai, parents are itching to get their kids into Mary Immaculate Girl’s School, which charges $180 a year. Considering there are free options across the street, this has made many reconsider the proper path to universal education.

Throughout India, as state systems expanded, quality slipped. Many teachers failed to show or to correct basic errors in student work. Contrast this with private schools in Ghana, Nigeria and Uganda. Here parents are choosy customers – and they care more about the quality of teaching than the glamor of facilities.

Can fee-based schools ever serve the poorest? Perhaps not. Many non-profits are skeptical of private schools and prefer to reform public schools instead. Nevertheless, for those interested in caring for the educational needs of children across the world, involving local parents as a system of accountability (they vote with their dollars) seems to me like a better solution than more large grants to the state.

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