Education should not be left in private hands

2015-08-06 06:01

Lukhanyo Mangona

Lukhanyo Mangona

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Last Friday I sat bored in the office waiting for a 10am meeting.

As I was waiting, I came across two interesting articles on my twitter-line.

Bored as I was, I thought “better amuse myself” than sitting idle.

The articles were published by a well-regarded publication called The Economist.

For those of us who are unfamiliar with the publication, The Economist is a ‘disguised’ free market and pro-Western-Business-Thought mouthpiece owned by Pearson in London.

The two articles chronicle what is believed to be a trend in poor and developing countries, where private schooling is on the rise.

It cites countries in Africa and Asia. Of course we are not talking here about the sort of privatized education that is common in South Africa, where parents pay large sums of money to institutions and turn around to complain about the discomfort their children experience.

The articles cite a business model that uses small scale operations, which charge fees as small as less than a $1 a week (less than R12) and situated in poor communities.

The articles launch into a frenzy of the usual attacks that many of us have directed at public schools, because of their failure to scaffold their arguments that private schooling is a way to go.

They tally the public school failures as “In In India 60% of six- to 14-year-olds cannot read at the level of a child who has finished two years of schooling.”

“In Africa the World Bank found teacher-absenteeism rates of 15-25%. Pakistan recently discovered that it had over 8,000 non-existent state schools, 17% of the total.

Sierra Leone spotted 6,000 “ghost” teachers, nearly a fifth the number on the state payroll.”

“Powerful teachers’ unions are part of the problem. They often see jobs as hereditary sinecures, the state education budget as a revenue stream to be milked and any attempt to monitor the quality of education as an intrusion.

The unions can be fearsome enemies, so governments leave them to run schools in the interests of teachers rather than pupils.” There is an obvious consensus that as parents our collective minds converge with these views.

In some cases township schools and those who service them have not painted themselves in glory although I have worked with exceptionally talented and professional individuals in the sector.

So I did what I normally when I am bored and having too much time on my hands. I popped into google and typed “Low cost private education in low income countries” and I started to download papers and read them.

In their paper The Role and Impact of Private Schools in Developing Countries, researchers Tooley and Longfield cite that “It is now widely accepted that low-cost private schools exist in large numbers across developing countries, in both poor urban and rural settings.”

Amidst the intra-academic war and intellectual muscle-flexing amongst academics researching this area there is strong evidence of that children in low-fee private schools achieve better learning outcomes and teaching in their classrooms is effective.

Closer to home, the Centre for Development Enterprise, a development think-tank based in Johannesburg conferenced(like what these sort organisations usually do) late last on this subject and to their credit they did at least issue a report that is usable for these circumstances.

Their report reveal that “Considerable research in other developing countries has found that, on average, pupils in low-fee independent schools, whether registered or unregistered, score higher in the tests administered than those in nearby public schools.

CDE found the same in the six poor areas of South Africa that it surveyed in 2008 and 2009.” This should be tantalizing to those parents who seek quality education for their children under this rather bleak educational climate in South Africa.

With all these facts coming thick and fast but I still remained with a lump in my thinking about this subject.

Handing over the education of our children to the hands of the market forces just doesn’t sit well with me.

Of course low-fee private school model is a different privatisation scheme from the run-of-the-mill education business as it erupts from the ground up as a response to failures in education.

My view is that education is too pricy to be left to privatisation. Yes I accept that I fall in what the education-privatisation advocates call “trapped in ideological gridlock”.

My view is that, as our constitution says, that everyone has a right to education, so therefore government has a central role in it.

Of course interventions are really needed to strengthen controls in education

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