• Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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The poor teach us a lesson


James Tooley

Exam time is tough for children and parents but the results will hold a big surprise from some of the poorest people in the world: children who don’t officially exist getting high marks. Their impoverished parents pay for so-called slum schools because they offer better value than free government schools.
“When you compare their examinations marks you will be able to see private school pupil is performing well while that from government is poor,” a mother in Nairobi’s Kibera told me. In and around this biggest slum in Africa there were 76 low-cost private schools in 2003 (the last proper survey) and the number is constantly rising: they already had 12,000 pupils, compared to around 9,000 in government schools in the area.
Conventional wisdom claims the poor need government education, supported with dollops of international aid. I often visit such government schools in poor countries and find most of the teachers absent. Eager children will be doing nothing, wishing so much to be doing something. As an 11-year-old Kenyan boy told me: “In government schools, there are too many children and too few teachers.”
Millenium Development Goals, Commonwealth education ministers and the aid industry all promise free education for all: some countries even pass laws to that effect–with little effect. The poor are moving ahead without them. In Ga in Ghana, only 35.6percent of pupils are in government schools, the rest in private, unaided schools.

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In poor areas of Nigeria’s Lagos State, unaided private schools are even more successful: 42percent of pupils are in officially-recognised ones, 33percent in unrecognised and only 26percent in free government schools.
Most slum-dwellers are not officially recognised as residents so their children often cannot even go to a government school. But that’s not the main attraction of slum schools.
“The reason why the private schools are better than the government school is because there is a private owner. If you don’t teach as expected, you’ll be fired and replaced,” a Ghanaian fisherman told me.