Aid agencies now looking seriously at non-state education providers to meet demand and to  fill the gaps


There is growing dissatisfaction with the quality of public primary and secondary education systems, in much of the developing world.  The priority attached to Education for All and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that relate most closely to education has resulted in much public investment and external support being directed towards, in the main,  universalising primary schooling (not all of it cost effective). As a result budgetary provision for secondary education has stagnated or even declined. Indeed, the policy debate on the development of secondary schooling has been pretty muted, if not silent.

A new trend, though, is much in evidence. Significantly, in many developing countries any increase in school places has come through the non-state system. In countries like Pakistan, India and across Africa there has been significant expansion in non-state places and indeed informal education. In Pakistan, for example,  the share of the private sector in education has increased from approximately 3% in the early 1980s to approximately 25% today. India‘s Annual Status of Education Report (2009) showed that private school  enrolment increased from 16.3% in 2005 to 22.6% in 2008, an astonishing  increase of  approximately 40%.   (James Stansfield, August 2010).  And demand for private sector education is increasing worldwide. According to the IFC  in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, and Uganda private school  enrolment is up to over 40 percent now . This education   is delivered, in the main,  through low cost low fee schools and it is astonishing how very  poor families are prepared to make considerable sacrifices to send their children to non-state schools.

The last two decades have witnessed a rapid growth of fee paying,   low cost ,private schools serving low income communities across the developing world.  Not only have these schools emerged without any government help or assistance,  they are often unrecognised by education authorities .Nevertheless,   they continue to grow apace and  to develop in sometimes hostile regulatory environments.  Furthermore,  evidence suggests that  that they can often outperform their public counterparts, and at a fraction of the cost.  These developments present international donors, including our own DFID, with a number of new opportunities and challenges. How ,  as a donor,  do you encourage   this spirit of self- help in education and support the growth of private schools to meet obvious demand  without undermining their independence or sustainability, and without upsetting the Government of the target country, which  will argue , inevitably, that aid is best channelled through it?  But , self-evidently you cannot ignore a situation in which many low income families are turning their backs on a state system that is regarded by them, and  with some justification, as  wholly inadequate and which will not meet their aspirations.

Governments ,of course,  around the world recognize the importance of education, and in most countries the state remains both the major financier and provider of education.  However, government efforts to expand schooling have not reached all members of society equally. And it’s the poorest who suffer most. (World Development Report (2004)  If children are lucky to move into secondary education they often have not been taught the basics to succeed there.   While governments may have an interest in promoting and financing the market for education, it does not necessarily follow that the public sector has a monopoly role in providing that education. In many  countries, there are other providers of education, such as  church schools, home schools, charity schools  and  private schools, both for-profit  and not-for-profit. There are also informal providers of education below the states radar but nonetheless popular.  By extending financing to these other education providers through vouchers or grant programmes, governments would give all parents,  regardless of income, the opportunity to participate more fully in their child’s education by  choosing the school that is right for them. Interestingly aid agencies, including our own  DFID have  historically largely ignored the fact that new school places are being offered  by private and not for profit providers in the developing world. International agencies, global charities (with a handful of notable exceptions)  and national governments have previously focused most of their attention on  increasing international aid to help finance the expansion and improve the quality of  government schools across the developing world mainly focused at the Primary level. Corruption absenteeism, nepotism,  poor teacher training, poor regulation and other factors have often undermined state education.  However, a number of factors are now challenging this consensus including: the inability of developing country governments to meet the increasing demand for schooling; an increasing awareness of the poor quality of education being provided by many existing government schools  and finally the rapid growth of fee paying private schools serving low income  communities. These development have been well  documented by  Professor James Tooley in The Beautiful Tree (2009) and  in other reports. Crucially,  most of the expansion in school places in Africa, Pakistan and India appears to be care of the private sector. (profit and not for profit)

Based upon their research in Asia and Africa, Professor James Tooley and Dixon (2005)  came to the following conclusions: First, the majority of children in the poor areas which they studied were  attending private unaided schools.  Second, this meant that the official number of school enrolments was widely underestimated.  Third, children were getting better results in private unaided schools and, finally, the teacher costs in private unaided schools were significantly less than government schools.

There are some encouraging signs that international donors are beginning to take this issue seriously and our own DFID seems to be particularly interested in the role played by  non -state education providers at the Primary and Secondary levels. Significantly one of its commitments in its Business Plan is to ‘ Make DFID more private sector friendly’ and  it wants to bring private sector expertise into  DFID’s strategy particularly in respect to empowering women, signalling  a cultural shift.  This new interest is to be welcomed but carries with it a danger. As James Stansfield points out in Self Help and Sustainability in Education in  Developing  Countries (Newcastle University-2010) ‘ : ‘History has shown,  excessive donor intervention due to a lack of cooperation within the international  community can often undermine sustainable development.  This will apply, in particular, to interventions in this emerging private education sector, where excessive levels of international aid could easily begin to crowd out existing private investment  and discourage future private investment. ‘

Using aid to support poor families aspirations in education looks  like a good idea but  there has to be a strategic approach so that private investment, given  Stansfields warning ,is also encouraged . Its an area where UK Companies  have the potential to play an important role.


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