• Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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BusinessDay

The poor teach us a lesson (II)

Poverty-Nigeria

JAMES TOOLEY

His wife, who sells thei rfish, revealedwhyparents care so very much about learning: “My father couldn’t afford my education, that’s why I want Victoria to go to school, so that she won’t be disgraced like me. In the private school, they love and care so much for the kids, and are very serious with the teaching and learning. That’s why we decided to put our child there.” In Ghana I was visiting the Atlantic coast, where scores of private schools charge about US$7 per month. In South Africa I have seen them in abandoned office buildings of central Johannesburg. And for the last two years I have been in India, where research reveals at least 300,000 low-cost private schools in the poorest places, charging US$2 to US$5 a month, affordable to rickshaw pullers and daily labourers.
These schools all over Africa, India and China often teach a majority of schoolchildren in urban slums and a significant minority in villages.
If ministers and aid groups acknowledge them at all, they usually allege they are ripping off the poor. But our tests of 24,000 poor children in four countries, including India, found in all cases that low-cost private schools outperformed government schools.

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Furthermore, pupils in unregistered private schools, off the government’s radar, mean more children are at school than official statistics admit. In Lagos State, for instance, official figures say around 50percent of children are out of school. But including children in unregistered schools makes that around 26percent–still 26percent too many but far less severe.
This market is dynamic and innovative. Less successful schools get taken over. Other entrepreneurs open new schools nearby. Already, embryonic chains are emerging and investors are coming forward, using economies of scale to make improvements that no individual school could afford.

Millions of lives are touched by superior education being offered to the marginalised.
Governments and the aid industry should embrace this movement and accept the limitations of government control. They could make life easier for low-cost private schools by liberalising regulations. Aid donors could help by creating microfinance loans to help the schools improve facilities and by giving vouchers to the poorest of the poor.
Instead, they try to ignore or repress them, keeping pupils out of examinations and closing uncertified schools. But it is too late to stop the poor improving their own lives: officials must join the revolution.