NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

School Choice Lessons From Abroad

April 2, 2003

In Africa and Asia the poor know that government schools won't serve their needs. But they do not sit idly by. Instead they vote with their feet, desert the state schools and move their children to private schools set up by educational entrepreneurs.

In India, the government sponsored Probe Report gives a disturbing picture of "malfunctioning" government schools for low-income families:

  • When researchers called unannounced on their random sample of schools, there was "teaching activity" in only 53 per cent of them.
  • In 33 per cent the head teacher was absent.
  • Significantly, there was a low level of teaching activity even in those schools with relatively good infrastructure, teaching aids and pupil-teacher ratios.

The report notes that the problems found in government schools were not apparent in private schools serving the poor. In the great majority -- visited unannounced and at random -- there was "feverish classroom activity." And what's true for India is increasingly true for countries across Asia and Africa.

  • Private schools, the report said, were successful because they were more accountable.
  • 'The teachers are accountable to the manager (who can fire them) and, through him or her, to the parents (who can withdraw their children).'
  • There is no such accountability in government schools, and "this contrast is perceived with crystal clarity by the vast majority of parents."
  • In government schools teachers have jobs for life, and this security has made them complacent rather than making them better teachers.

Source: James Tooley, "A Lesson from the Third World," Spectator, January 18, 2003,.

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