Self-Help Schooling


In 2000, James Tooley took a detour from his research in the well-heeled districts of Hyderabad, India, and stumbled into an invisible network of private schools for the poor:

Out of curiosity, I left my work–looking at private schools for the elite and middle classes–and took an autorickshaw into the slum areas behind the imposing 16th-century Charminar in the center of the Old City. And to my surprise, I found private schools on almost every street corner. Inspired by that, I grew to know many of the school owners, teachers, parents, and children; I learned of their motivations and difficulties and their successes and requirements.

Since then I have found private schools in battle-scarred buildings in Somaliland and Sierra Leone; in the shanty town of Makoko built on stilts above the Lagos lagoons in Nigeria; scattered among the tin and cardboard huts of Africa's largest slum, Kibera, Kenya; in the teeming townships perched on the shoreline of Accra, Ghana; in slums and villages across India; among the "floating population" in Beijing; and in remote Himalayan villages in China. Indeed, I have yet to find a developing country environment where private schools for the poor don't exist.

Among his discoveries: The schools tend to be for-profit operations run by local entrepreneurs, and they tend to provide a better education than the government schools do.