Low cost private schools – an alternative view

See excerpt below from Lewin and Little below (NOT Romney)

“Some have argued that low price private schools make a significant contribution to increased access to education by the poor but the evidence for this is often partial and incomplete and fails to demonstrate that such schools generate additional school places rather than provide a choice for those who would otherwise go to government school. It is also clear that those households with little or no cash income are unlikely to be able to afford the costs of the fees necessary to support unsubsidized private schooling…However the analysis shows that it is only households in the top two quintiles of income where the probability of attending private schools begins to increase. Private schools do indeed offer a choice for the relatively wealthy but have little or no impact on the access to education of the poor. The development of private schools has resulted in richer households opting out of the government schools removing the possibility of influential community voices being heard who have a stake in government schooling. It appears that these developments are neither pro-poor nor equitable and that it is clear that the state remains the provider of last resort” (Lewin & Little, 2011: 335).

 This is a very interesting point and one which is not made in the South African press when the topic is discussed (see these articles from EconomistEconomistWorld Bank, and FT). While there have been a number of authors calling for the increase in low cost private schools, less emphasis is made about the research behind these claims. After reading Lewin & Little’s (2011) editorial I am less optimistic about the role of ‘low’ cost private schools in South Africa or, for that matter, most other sub-Saharan African countries. Their argument about the ‘influential community voices’ leaving the public system has many parallels with the fear of ‘white-flight’ during the transition after apartheid. In order to prevent white students (and teachers) fleeing to the private sector when school fees were abolished/equalized, the SA Schools Act made provision for the charging of school fees to supplement government funds. This prescient policy kept many white students and teachers in the public system, which helped to set a bar for appropriate standards of teaching, learning and assessment. It is widely acknowledged that it would have been detrimental if the majority of South Africa’s human capital (teachers) fled to the private sector. We need to think about the unintended consequences of these policies (like low-fee private schools) before jumping on the band-wagon. I’m still undecided about the place of low-fee private schools, but am slightly more skeptical than I was before I read this.
Lewin, K & Little A. 2011. Access to education revisited: Equity, drop out and transitions to secondary school in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. International Journal of Educational Development 31(2011) 333-337

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