Over at Aid Watch, Laura Freschi has a quick review of James Tooley's book, The Beautiful Tree. Tooley spent four years studying informal private schools that exist in the poorest parts of some of the poorest nations on earth. From Freschi's review:
When James Tooley first discovered low-cost private schools for the poor in urban slums and rural areas in India, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, and China, aid agency officials and local government administrators did not receive the news warmly.
Most flat out denied that such schools existed. Even if they do exist, said the experts, they can't possibly be any good. School owners that run for-profit schools in shantytowns and poor villages are just exploiting poor communities. Their teachers are untrained and poorly paid. Their buildings are cramped, dark and filthy. Worst of all, kids don't learn anything there—they come out "half-baked," one education official told him.
Actually, what Tooley found was that most of the schools outperformed the alternatives that local governments were providing. Moreover, the "free" public education in some of these countries isn't actually free—Kenyan parents had to come up with money for uniforms and maintenance funds even for the kids in government schools, for example. The informal schools aren't perfect, and their students don't perform quite as well as those in formally registered private schools, but in many cases they scored better on average than students in public schools.
Tooley provides yet another example of people who've been let down by their governments finding a way to solve their own problems. Rather than belittling these schools, aid agencies and government experts ought to be studying them and figuring out how to support their work and expand it.
Previous Reason coverage of Tooley's work here.