NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Private Education Benefits the World's Poor

May 12, 2004

Private schools in developing countries produce greater student achievement than government schools, and they do so without leaving the poor behind, concludes a new report by the Liberales Institut in Switzerland.

According to researcher James Tooley, contrary to popular belief, private school enrollment is fairly common in developing countries. For instance, 80 percent of youths in India's urban areas attend private schools. Pakistan also has high rates of enrollment, where even 37 percent of the poorest students attend private schools as compared to 40 percent in government schools. He says the poor have enjoyed access to private education:

  • Schools in India offer free and subsidized places to children coming from poor families that amount to more than 7 percent of their total expenditures and comprise 15 percent of total school enrollment.
  • In China, private schools charge low income families 50 percent less than fees required for public schooling.

Research from India suggests private schools have also been more effective, primarily as a result of being more accountable and more responsive to parents. With respect to school performance, private school students achieved standard scores of 17.9 in mathematics and 19.0 in language, while government schools produced average scores of 16.3 and 17.4 respectively.

Most government schools in India suffer from poor physical facilities, high teacher absenteeism, high pupil-teacher ratios, and generally act more as a daycare rather than educational center. Tooley suggests foreign competition for education services will improve school infrastructure, lower fees and improve test scores.

Source: James Tooley, "Could the Globalization of Education Benefit the Poor?" Occasional Paper 3, Liberales Institut, November 2003.


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