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on 4 May 2016
Peter tries to break the taboo that the poor cannot pay for education as that would disqualify them from being called poor. He attempts to show that free schooling for all is a great idea but one that in reality is happening too slowly for those who need it the most. And it is these poor that find a way to pay for the children’s education.

I got Peters point way before he finished making it. I got it at the end of the first chapter, understood it fully by the end of the second and probably could recited the next few chapters without reading the text until he finished making his point – which was at least half way through the book. And then we piled into statistics; great stuff for the academic but not so good for the lay reader interested in the motivations, arguments and politics behind the findings.

It is ironic that Peter, in my view, takes the long route of telling this story. Maybe this is due to his frustration that his argument that poor people do pay for their children to be educated, as being dismissed, or from governments and NGOs wishing to take the long route to free education for all and leaving a legacy gap while this is organised.

I wish those who would rage against him could look closer at what he is saying; and those who through formal structures provide free schooling seek to understand how they could become better in their provision. I had hoped his conclusion would have been stronger.
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on 27 December 2017
Discovering that private education was thriving amongst many of the poorest slums and remote rural areas of the world (Hyderabad, Nigeria, Ghana, China), Professor Tooley then relates that the quality of such education was generally better than free, state sponsored education. His original research uncovering these trends is met with incomprehension and contempt in the development and education industies, though in a helpful postscript the wall of opposition to his conclusions and their implications seems to melt.

Accountability through market forces is the key reason for the success of what Tooley describes.

Hitherto his original contribution to improving standards has been largely confined to poorer areas of the world. Whether the flagging UK state education system can be saved by similar direct accountability remains to be seen. Vested interests of an overweening and powerful educational establishment may yet prove too great for the application of these principles in Tooley's home nation.

The book is worthy of 5 stars for its original content and for the excellent research and historical analysis. Whilst the style is sometimes a touch cumbersome the narrative is repeatedly enlivened by suprises and gems from his search for historical context. For example, The 'Madras system' popularised and implemented by Dr Bell (1753-1832) has left its mark throughout the UK - not least through the popularisation of class 'monitors' (He who teaches, learns). The book is full of such interesting tidbits from the history of education.

The ideas in this book have become game changers in the education of many - particularly amongst the poor. The story of transformation may yet prove to have some way to run - to the benefit of many more.
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on 8 January 2014
Very thought provoking. Made me aware of how many families in poor countries are prepared to spend a substantial proportion of their incomes on educating their children. Mostly because of the inadequacy of government schools where the teachers often do not turn up.
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on 28 October 2015
Wow. Just wow.
Changed the way I see education.
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on 28 January 2014
I loved this book, and think its message needs to be widely heard. But why on earth is it no longer available on Kindle?
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on 18 July 2010
Don't be fooled by the author's description of his "journey". This is not some soft focus third world tourism, but an examination of the waste in public education, and the virtue in private education. Tooley finds schools in the poorest slums where noone thought it was possible for parents to spare the cash to pay for them. And often they prefer to pay cash than to get public education for free. Why? Because public education is wasteful, remote and managed for the benefit of the producer not the consumer. (Teacher absenteeism is as rife in the South as it is in the inner city.)
So the bien pensant Gordon Brown / Guardian / International aid & charity types will hate this book. If you think that playgrounds are more important than blackboards, that quality comes from raising wages, that the poor are too stupid to make wise choices, that children rarely remember a teacher but give daily thanks for an inspiring classroom, then you'll hate it too.
Sadly for those of us who agree instinctively with Tooley, he is a clumsy writer and some of his argumentation is long winded and repetitive, which detracts from the pleasure of reading how even the poorest help themselves and each other. The book only occasionally succeeds in its aim of tugging the heart strings.
The publisher (despite Tooley's laughable claim to be non ideological) is the Cato Institute, a right wing American think tank. Education remains as politically and ideologically divisive as ever. You can however now contribute to private education in the third world through the foundation they have set up to provide loans and scholarships. Of course, the slum schools were already providing bursaries to their poorest pupils long before Tooley came along, but every little helps.
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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?
Er, no.
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.
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