(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.