Black Market Private Schooling in the Third World


(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)


Jay, Greg and I all had the chance to see a presentation by Pauline Dixon on private schooling in the third world at a recent conference sponsored by the Friedman Foundation and Clemson Institute for the Study of Capitalism. The information was very compelling.


Dixon and her co-author James Tooley explained their research in the 2005 Cato Institute report Private Education is Good for the Poor. Their two-year in-depth study in India, Ghana, Nigeria, and Kenya found amazing results.

The first component of our research consisted of a systematic census and survey of all primary and secondary schools, government and private, in selected low-income areas. The second component examined a stratified random sample of between 2,000 and 4,000 children from each of those areas. Tests in mathematics, English, and (in Africa) one other subject were administered. Children and teachers were also tested for their IQ, and questionnaires were administered to students, parents, teachers, and school managers or headteachers.

What did they learn? For starters, a large majority of students in each of the low-income areas studies in all four countries were attending private, not public schools. For instance, the census of the low-income area of Ghana found 779 schools total, only 25 percent were government schools. The census found that 64 percent of schoolchildren in the area attended private school. In the surveyed area of Nigeria, 75% of students attended private schools.

Interestingly, the majorities of these schools are unregistered, and in many cases illegal. They are neighborhood proprietary operations, run almost exclusively based upon student fees. The vast majority of these schools and students receive no public subsidy whatsoever. In fact, many of them must pay bribes just to stay in business. Many of these schools provide subsidized spaces for the poorest of the poor, and all of them are the precise opposite of the Dead Poet’s Society stereotype of private schooling.

As you can see from the photo above (taken by the research team), these schools are not housed in fancy facilities. In fact, as Dr. Dixon presented a power point presentation of these schools, it brought to mind the old story about Abraham Lincoln learning to read by writing on a shovel with coal.

The story here isn’t that there aren’t public schools to attend- it’s more that those schools are dysfunctional to an unimagined (by me anyway) scale. Parents told the researchers of rampant absenteeism by teachers, meaning that children simply run wild when their teachers decide not to report- which is frequent.

My impression: the public school system in these countries represent blatant jobs programs, rather than schools. This impression seems borne out by the test score results:

The raw scores from our student achievement tests show considerably higher achievement in the private than in government schools. In Hyderabad, for instance, mean scores in mathematics were about 22 percentage points and 23 percentage points higher in private unrecognized and recognized schools, respectively, than in government schools. The advantage was even more pronounced for English. In all cases, this achievement advantage was obtained at between half and a quarter of the teacher salary costs.

So there you have it- much better and much less expensive. Oh, and often illegal and great for the poor.

11 Responses to Black Market Private Schooling in the Third World

  1. Larry Sheldon says:

    Where are the Administration Buildings?

    What does the NEA say?

  2. tdbwd says:

    What an example for American parents, who have many more resources and options. Imagine little non-government neighborhood schools popping up all over America as parents take their children’s lives and minds back from the state. We should applaud the brave parents and teachers who are so committed to education in these third-world countries — and we should learn from them.

    Tammy Drennan

  3. Greg Forster says:

    Yes, and in many states the legal barriers to entry to create a private school are very low – as opposed to these neighborhoods Tooley and Dixon are studying where the schools are actually illegal. See the Friedman Foundation’s report “Fifty Educational Markets” on the barriers to entry in private schooling in each of the 50 states:

  4. […] unknown to me – the benefits of illegal private schooling in India, Ghana, Nigeria, and Kenya: Black Market Private Schooling in the Third World posted at Jay P. Greene’s Blog. Makes me want to think of alternatives to some of our own […]

  5. Pat says:

    This sounds like charter schools in third world countries to me. It is nice to see where people value education and it is a privilege to get one.

  6. Greg Forster says:

    Except charter schools in the U.S. don’t have men with guns coming around demanding bribes so they’ll allow kids to get an education. Or at least not directly. Not yet.

  7. Jess says:

    I was just curious if these were your images and if not where did you get them from? I am interested in using one for an awareness project I am involved in and would like to contact the owner for copyright purposes. Thanks so much, Jess

    • matthewladner says:

      They are available on the Cato website, somewhere in the vicinity of the study, which I believe is linked to in the post above.

  8. It’s a shame you don’t have a donate button! I’d without a doubt donate to this superb blog!

    I suppose for now i’ll settle for bookmarking and adding your RSS feed to my Google account.
    I look forward to fresh updates and will share this site with my Facebook group.
    Talk soon!

  9. Sara says:

    It seems to be the same in Central America. Do you know of any blogs or resources that focus on education reform in Central America specifically Honduras?

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