November 15, 2003
The Indian Spring of private education

One of the great education miracles in the world is happening in India. From the New York Times:

MANUA, India – In this democracy of more than one billion people, an educational revolution is under way, its telltale signs the small children everywhere in uniforms and ties. From slums to villages, the march to private education, once reserved for the elite, is on.

On the four-mile stretch of road between this village in Bihar State, in the north, and the district capital, Hajipur, there are 17 private schools (called here "public" schools).

They range from the Moonlight Public School where, for 40 rupees a month, less than a dollar, 200 children learn in one long room that looks like an educational sweatshop, to the DAV School, which sits backed up to a banana grove and charges up to 150 rupees a month, or more than $3. Eleven months after opening, it already has 600 students from 27 villages.

There are at least 100 more private schools in Hajipur, a city of 300,000; hundreds more in Patna, the state capital; and tens of thousands more across India.

The schools, founded by former teachers, landowners, entrepreneurs and others, and often of uneven quality, have capitalized on parental dismay over the even poorer quality of government schools. Parents say private education, particularly when English is the language of instruction, is their children's only hope for upward mobility.

Such hopes reflect a larger social change in India: a new certainty among many poor parents that if they provide the right education, neither caste nor class will be a barrier to their children's rise.

The writer of the story, Amy Waldman, seems torn between various different axioms, two in particular: whatever poor people in India do must be okay; and: private education bad. How to square that circle?

What's driving this private sector surge is in general, the ghastliness of Indian government schools, and in particular the refusal of government schools to teach in English, which is giving the private schools their sales hook. We teach in English!

Two further paragraphs caught my eye:

If anything should be free, it is primary education," said Amartya Sen, the Nobel Prize-winning economist. No developed country, whether France or Japan, had educated itself using private schools, he noted.

Apart from the small matter of Britain, the first developed country of them all, which was deep into its development by the time state education got seriously dug in. The implication, that development somehow depends on state provided primary education is just plain wrong.

And second, immediately after that, comes this:

A recent census in the slums of Hyderabad, in Andhra Pradesh, found that of 1,000 schools identified, two-thirds were private, according to James Tooley, a professor at the University of Newcastle in England who oversaw the research.

Ah yes, that man Tooley again.

Finally, I note that in India they are calling private schools "public" schools. Ha!

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:02 AM
Category: The private sector