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Voucher schemes and low-fee private schools are not the answer

3 January 2012

Kevin Watkins, senior research fellow at the Brookings Institution, argues in a recent article for the Guardian that a global fund is needed to meet the MDG Goal to achieve universal primary school education by 2015. In arguing for a global fund Watkin’s criticises the Conservative government for advocating the use of voucher schemes and support for low-fee private schools.

Around $16bn in aid is needed each year to achieve universal basic education in the poorest countries. Unfortunately, development assistance flows have stagnated at around $3bn and several major donors – including the US, the Netherlands and Spain – are cutting back.

Some donors have responded to the crisis in education by advocating what they like to describe as “innovative” solutions. One of them, favoured by the British government, is the use of aid to expand choice and competition in education through vouchers and support for low-fee private providers. While popular with libertarian and right-wing thinktanks, this is an idea that combines an implausible and ideologically driven faith in markets with a failure to confront the real challenge – namely, building public education systems that offer decent quality, free education to all children.

What the world needs is a properly financed global fund for education like those that have delivered such striking results in the health sector. By creating a mechanism that brings together governments, donors, non governmental organisations and the private sector, such a fund could galvanise international action and deliver results.

In these financially constrained times, some donors will doubtless reject the idea. Yet the resources could be mobilised. How about using proceeds from a global financial transaction tax to pay for an initiative that could bring hope to millions of the world’s most disadvantaged children? Now that would be innovative financing.

You can read the full article here.

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