Private Schools for the Poor

Michael O'Keefe

James Tooley
Education Next
Fall 2005

The United Nations' Millennium Development Plan, to provide basic education for every school-age student in the world by 2015, is failing. Private schools, says British education analyst James Tooley, could be a significant player in helping the UN regain lost ground and reach its admirable goal. From Ghana to Kenya, from India to China, Tooley's report details the large number of private schools (mostly ignored by government bean-counters) that are already functioning in impoverished urban slums. The numbers are staggering. In some poor sections of Hyderabad, India, for example, Tooley estimates that fully 77 percent of children attend school at private institutions. Instead of continuing to pour money into faltering state systems - money that often doesn't even find its way to schools or students - Tooley says the UN should channel some of those dollars to private schools. The UN, of course, is aghast at the notion of funding private education, which it automatically associates with the elite and which many member states wish would go away. But the private schools Tooley examined tend to operate on smaller budgets and in worse conditions than the local public counterparts, yet they still outperform those government institutions. Read about it here, here, and here.