There is no robust evidence that private schools aimed at low-income families provide a better education than public schools in developing countries, according to GCE's new major report on for-profit, privatised education. The report sets out the corrosive consequences – greater inequality and social segregation – of increasing privatisation in education, and casts serious doubt on the ability of for-profit, low-fee private schools to achieve quality education for all.
‘Low-fee’ private schools have been put forward as way to fix the failings of public education systems in several developing countries, with advocates – which include the multinational publishing giant Pearson PLC, billionaires Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, the World Bank Group, and the UK’s Department for International Development - claiming they deliver a quality education, for the poorest families, at a low cost. Private Profit, Public Loss: why the push for low-fee private schools is throwing quality education off track explores these claims and, on examination of a broad spread of evidence, finds such claims wanting. In reality, such schools worsen social inequality by creating an unfair system where the quality of a child’s education is determined by how much their family can afford to pay.
The report argues that governments must stop this dangerous experiment with these for-profit, private schools and instead commit to improving their public education systems. With proper funding, strong policies, and plenty of political will, governments can provide a free, quality education that’s accessible to everyone.
The report finds that these schools:
- Stay low-fee by providing low quality: chronic underfunding of the education sector has led to dismal outcomes, but private schools are also performing poorly. Trained teachers are acknowledged by States as one of the most critical factors in realising quality – but they are being substituted for standardised lessons, often taught by tablet, and by teachers who in the most extreme situations have had only 4 days training.
- Price families in poverty out of classrooms: In Nigeria, the average cost to send two children to a low-fee private school consumes almost 40% of the monthly minimum wage – yet 60% of the population live below the poverty line, earning at most only 72% of minimum wage.
- Put up barriers for girls’ education: When parents in India, Pakistan, and Kenya couldn’t afford to enrol multiple children, evidence shows boys are often picked over girls to go to school.
- Fail to reach children with disabilities: Even if parents of children with disabilities can afford the fees, their children can be discriminated against, or even flatly denied admission, as one study in Nepal found.
The report outlines a path to providing quality education for all children, but warns that there are no quick fixes. Governments should stop subsidising private schools and instead fully fund public schools. This includes well-trained teachers, qualified support staff, and school facilities which are fit for purpose. In addition, public schools must be accountable and transparent to curb corruption and misuse of funds, while private schools must also be held to account and regulated to ensure they are meeting national education standards.
Smarter tax policies can help provide countries with the funds needed for these improvements. The report notes that the IMF estimates that developing countries lose US $200 billion a year due to companies using tax havens. Just 20% of that would be enough the cover the shortfall in funds needed to provide everyone with a quality education.
Donor governments and institutions should support these policies and boost their own levels of aid, which the report says have stagnated and fallen in recent years. The report warns that diverting the funds which do exist to for-profit private sector providers will further erode already weak public systems, and deny another generation of their right to free, quality education.