on 8 October 2011
The problem is clear; too few people in the developing world are being educated, the solution is clear also, rich western states and international aid agencies must work in cooperation with local state education authorities to provide free education for all. Despite my antipathy towards state education this, I believed had a ring of truth about it. How could the poor do any differently, they are, after all... poor.
After reading James Tooley's feet-on-the-ground, meticulously researched and very readable book this story of the passive, helpless poor and the crusading westerners seemed, not just unpalatable, but utterly fantastic, even risible. Why? Because;
1. "The poor" are not an undifferentiated mass of passive victims, but poor parents are diverse, enterprising, and above all intensely conscious of their responsibility as parents to provide a fit-for-purpose education for their children.
2. Concerned poor parents, together with educational entrepreneurs drawn from the community, are presently educating the poorest of the poor in for-profit schools.
3. Despite massive financial aid from western governments and large institutional donors state education, even when free is, widely shunned by parents who find the quality of service offered by the state accredited teachers and institutions inferior, if not dangerous, compared to the free market alternatives.
4. This phenomenon is not isolated to a particular region, or culture, or political régime, or even a particular continent or time, but is a phenomenon found as far afield as Ghana and China in the seventeenth century up to the present day.
These observations and conclusions have led Mr. Tooley to believe that private schools owned and operated by the poor and for the poor are the "magic bullet" to address the aims of the U.N. and the myriad of N.G.O.'s and state institutions working to educate the needy, at a fraction of the cost of rival plans.
Not only is the status quo analysed, but, helpfully, practical initiatives are proposed to bolster these private schools for the poor including; voucher schemes, venture capital micro-financing, legal help and advice for pressurised enterprises, branding and franchising or even the creation of rival privately-accredited qualifications.
To add to the attractiveness of the private solution Mr. Tooley, a education lecturer in the University of Newcastle is no axe-grinding ideologue, he and his team of researchers have visited thousands of schools, state and private in Africa and Asia. His list of references indicate the depth of academic research in historic and contemporary accounts of education in poorer countries. He is an academic expert in a prestigious and innovative state-licensed university.
All this has, naturally, led to the universal praise of his work by concerned governments, N.G.O.s and his fellow academics?
He catalogues reticence, discomfort, scorn and even a menacing hostility on the ground in the "developing world" and in western countries from the defenders of the education and development status quo.
Not because of his figures, or the methodology used to collect and collate the data, not because the samples were not large enough, not because of anything to do with the empirical data, but, rather, because it was, according to his detractors, impossible;
1. That private schools exist in the poorest areas.
2. That they could provide service comparable to the nearest state schools.
3. That a fee paying school could ever be in the interest of the child.
The objections were ideological, the academics, the educational functionaries, the state-accredited teachers and the N.G.O.s knew, without needing any data that state education was the natural, normal, and only good way way to provide education, despite all the known abuses of the teacher's state-enforced, union-supported privileges. Abuses that ranged from excessive time off work, to physical and sexual abuse of their charges.
Why this wilful blindness? Why this shrill hostility to Tooley's findings?
No explanation is offered,
I have my own ideas, but not enough footnotes.
I thoroughly recommend this book to all the educators I know, in all levels of education but especially to those engaged in developing countries in grass roots efforts to train teachers and promote mother-tongue education. State education is regarded by many as the only "normal" way to do education, it seems, particularly in the West, that it's ascendancy will never be challenged. As a believer in Christ I know that Pharaoh will eventually lose in history, and Pharaoh's schools likewise. I trust that the eclipse of statist education will come very soon and the light of educational freedom will shine and that Christians will take up the challenge to serve their neighbour in providing, real-life-education in the name of King Jesus.