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Pearson low cost private schools won’t reach those most in need

9 July 2012
by Ali Louis
The UK education company Pearson has launched an initiative to start low cost private school in Africa and Asia.
On the surface it is brilliant that the private sector is getting involved with development. However it is worrying that the input may only help to increase inequality and reduce social mobility
Sixty eight million children are currently out of school. I know that figure is hard to comprehend.  The entire population of Britain is roughly that number. These children are out of school for reasons that we understand – they live in a conflict of fragile state, they are too poor and it is better for the family for them to work, their culture does not value education in a way that we do, they are girls, or they are disabled. Of course there are more reasons, but these are the most cited.
Poverty, your sex, and your state are the factors most likely to keep you out of school. 2015 fast approaches and we begin to wonder what we could have done better. In 2000 – 2005 there was an incredibly large intake of school children – indeed much of the success of MDG 2 happened during this time. This coincided with the abolition of user fees. We should therefore be wary of schemes which introduce fees.   We also know that paying for school is a barrier to entrance.
I have no doubt that these schools will be full. There will be people who can afford them. Yet they are likely to be the children who were already in schools. In these couple of years running up to 2015 we should be targeting the hardest to reach; the children who have little options and are trapped in a cycle of poverty. Although private schools may offer better quality and teaching, they are only helping those children who are more likely to succeed anyway. This is not to say that these children do not deserve quality. It means that we should be looking at quality that the state can provide, so everyone has equal access to a good education.
I understand that Pearson doesn’t need to do this initiative, and it is excellent that the private sector is getting involved with development. Yet I am worried that the scheme will exaggerate inequalities within these societies and will only benefit children already in schools instead of targeting the children who are in need.
Education is suffering worldwide. The Global Partnership for Education is experiencing ongoing reforms due to concerns over it’s effectiveness. The World Bank has dropped their funding to education and there does not seem to be the political leadership to tackle this area.
What we need at the moment is an international effort to reach those children in the depths of conflict ridden states, who could be the future pioneers of their country. We need donors to give to the GPE and we need leaders around the world to recognise the power of education.
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