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June 30, 2005

Free Schooling in Africa.

James Bartholomew on the aim of providing free schooling to all children in Africa:

One of the ways in which Gordon Brown and Tony Blair think they can help Africa is by offering free education to everyone. It sounds like an obviously good thing. Wouldn't it be marvellous if every young African could learn to read, write and learn much else besides, as well as coming out of poverty? Of course. But there is a problem.

Professor James Tooley of Newcastle University has done a study of schooling in Africa and discovered something that will come as a surprise to many. There are a huge number of private schools there catering for the poor that do not appear in official statistics. They are not regulated and inspected or anything like that. Yet many extremely poor parents in the shanty town of Makoko on the Lagos lagoon in Nigeria make great financial sacrifices to send their children to them.

The danger to Africa is that if Messrs Brown and Blair persuade other members of the G8 to give, say, $7 billion a year to Africa to promote free education, it will have an unintended consequence. Many of the poor parents who send their children to fee-paying, private schools will be tempted to send them to a vastly increased number of free state schools. In the process, the fee-paying schools will be driven out of business or dramatically reduced in size.

Now this should make uncomfortable reading for he is describing a classic case of crowding out...as he has done in his look at the State provision of schooling in the UK...if the private sector is already doing something as well as or, in some cases, better than, the State, why should we support greater State provision? Why send our money to undermine a system that already works?

(There is one part of aid to schooling that I am wholeheartedly in favour of which is the subsidy, even the free provision, of food to children attending. Raises their interest in being there, their parent’s interest in their being there and imrpoves concentration while they are there. Butthere is no particular reason why such subsidy must only go to State schoools.)

Free primary schooling has become one of the great mantras of the development bureaucracy....I’m not sure but I think it is even encapsulated in one of the fine declarations of human rights. To question it is to be marked as a screaming wingnut....but then as I am one of those I can...just why is putting education money through corrupt bureaucracies and crowding out private providers of something a good idea?

June 30, 2005 in Make Poverty History | Permalink


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There is a good reason why many parents choose to send their kids to the private sector schools - they actually get educated. State schools are, for the most part inefficient, corrupt organisations where teachers fail to turn up - they tend to take the paycheck and then do another job - and the parents have no influence in what is taught, by whom or why. If you pay - however modestly - you DO have a say and parents are sending that message loud and clear. B&B may be well meaning, but the "schools and hospitals" mantra just doesn't work in Africa and if they bothered to understand the problem as opposed to trying to grab the headlines over how good" they are - it would be better for all.. Chris

Posted by: Tinxx | Jun 30, 2005 11:18:48 AM

IMNSHO, the proper way to channel aid funds for primary schooling is to pay a large prize to the child who can pass a rigorous standardized test in reading, writing, arithmetic -- and perhaps the fundamentals of music, first aid, knot tying and economics. Whatever the prize-awarding officials deem important. But don't fund the process, fund the results. Don't pay the teachers, pay the child.

The child's parents would be expected to seek out the teachers who could help their child acheive profieciency (SPELLING! put that on the prize list, too! Maybe TYPING! as well ) in the shortest possible time. Why waste six or eight years in school if the task only requires four. On the other hand, why leave off the effort after six years if the child correctly assesses his chances of passing the test and earning the prize improve after another year or two hitting the textbooks?

Now, just me, but I wouldn't want to impose this on poor Africans without trying it out someplace first.

Maybe the US Congress could authorize federal schools in the U.S. District of Columbia to try out the scheme...

Posted by: POUNCER | Jun 30, 2005 4:04:58 PM