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Can the Private Sector Play a Helpful Role in Education? It Can, If it Targets Disadvantaged Students

Harry A. Patrinos's picture

The following piece appeared as a guest blog in the UK's Guardian this past week.

Students from Harlem Childrens' Zone with its president, Geoffrey Canada. A good public education system means public spending – but not necessarily public provision.

In OECD countries, more than 20% of public education expenditure goes to private institutions – communities, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), faith-based organisations, trade unions, private companies, small informal providers and individual practitioners – and about 12% is spent on privately-managed institutions.

But does private participation mean higher quality education? Does it bring better exam results? Can it encourage greater equality?

Evidence shows that in the independent sector, where schools depend on fees, it is often the case that once you control for family background, the actual benefits of private schooling disappear. But in systems where access is not limited by selection or wealth, privately-managed schools can contribute to better outcomes.

In the Netherlands, 70% of enrolments are in "private" schools that receive a fixed amount of government funding per student (with extra funding for disadvantaged students). On average, families tend to be from a lower social class than those of pupils attending "public" schools, and yet test scores achieved are higher. The level of choice offered appears to provide incentives for Dutch schools to keep improving.

Japanese high schools use private tuition support, which has been shown to lower drop-out rates among students taking less academic study pathways.

The Charter schools in the US have had a real impact on narrowing achievement gaps. The Harlem Children's Zone, which combines schooling with community support such as help with healthcare and meals, could reverse the black-white achievement gap in maths, according to trials; the Knowledge is Power schools have been criticised for only improving test scores through selection, but evidence shows that the largest gains are among young people with special educational needs and limited English.

The picture internationally is that involving the private sector can improve school performance – through competition, accountability and autonomy – as well as expand access. However, without strong systems of accountability, private schools with public funding aren't likely to produce large gains.

The best results come where competition is enhanced through choice, disadvantaged areas are targeted and there is plenty of autonomy at school level.

Any new approach – such as the free-schools model in the UK – needs to be subjected to rigorous evaluation of its impact. Small-scale pilots are needed initially, with investment going only to projects that have been proved to work.

And moving forward, each country has a lot to learn from others. Keeping a watch on the international picture, benchmarking education policies, will be important for raising standards and addressing inequality.

Harry Patrinos is lead education economist at the World Bank, on secondment as a visiting research fellow at the UK's CfBT Education Trust.

Photograph: Startraks Photo/Rex Features

 

Comments

Submitted by DANBOYI GARGA MBAYA on
The possible option for improvement on the education espcially in developing countries to reach the disadvantage areas is best combination of public private partnership with school base management participation. The school base management participation can involve simple linkage with education ministry of a country. This could likely give clue to a thorough circle of the education producton for better result to the coummunity.

Submitted by Harry Anthony Patrinos on
Dear Danboyi, I couldn't agree more. A good public education system means public spending - with at least some private provision. This suggests a systems approach is required, where clear standards are formulated by central authorities and measurable outcomes are maintained, and significant decision-making power is devolved to schools through autonomy reforms. At the same time financial resources need to flow to local decision-makers, under a strong accountability framework enforced by government. Above all, innovation in the market for education needs to be accompanied by a strong evaluation program, showing what works, where and for whom. Thank you, Harry

Submitted by Sarana Shrestha on
In a developing country like Nepal, it has a long way to go before it becomes economically advanced. There is a wide gap between public schools and private schools. Students who attend the public (government) schools are mostly from family who survive their earning working as maid/servants in the households. All students who attend private schools mostly come from high income earning family background. The inequality lies just right there between rich and poor with private and public schools. When I visited Nepal recently, I was quite impressed with the school named "Samata" school which charges a fee of Rs100 (US$1.42) only per month from kindergarden to 10th grade. This school was made entirely of bamboo. All students passed with distinction in the last batch in SLC exam (considered as School Leaving Certificate taken in 10th grade). This school runs from donations and funds provided by local business people and charitable organization and sometimes it becomes very difficult to compete with other private schools’ technology and resources. Samata School in Nepal is actually and in reality helping disadvantaged students by providing education for the betterment of their future and lives. Likewise, if private sectors can dig out and help these kinds of disadvantaged students internationally with proper policies and quality education world poverty can be reduced undoubtly.

How to engage the non-state sector? Check out the new toolkit for policymakers: http://www.cfbt.com/epsetoolkit/strategy.aspx For more, read Harry's latest editorial, "Data shows the private sector can improve our schools" at http://www.politics.co.uk/comment-analysis/2011/09/16/comment-data-shows-theprivate-sector-can-impr

Submitted by pjreddy on
I don,t agree fully that, Private schools are doing better in compare to Public schools, this may due to decentralized mgt, resources and the children background. In developing countries like India the poor children are in public schools where as rich are in Private schools. the private schools are also in various levels as per the fee they collect- the street corner school to International schools. Each school as its own set of standards. then how can we compare the children achievement standard from one school to another. The Private schools who getting funding from government, there is no proper accountability, except some missionary schools. Countries like India with unlimited corruption it would not better to support private schools unless rigorous monitoring. In India the government is giving permission to Private professional institutions with unlimited, where there is no proper mechanism to supervise, which resulted in poor performance of students. In public private partnership, people are showing the gimmick results which can not be sustainable for a long time. Only a few are doing with genuinely like Azim premji foundation. The public schools are better if scope is given to take up innovation in their everyday activities. Decentralization of administration will give fruitful results. thank you pjreddy.

Submitted by pjreddy on
I don,t agree fully that, Private schools are doing better in compare to Public schools, this may due to decentralized mgt, resources and the children background. In developing countries like India the poor children are in public schools where as rich are in Private schools. the private schools are also in various levels as per the fee they collect- the street corner school to International schools. Each school as its own set of standards. then how can we compare the children achievement standard from one school to another. The Private schools who getting funding from government, there is no proper accountability, except some missionary schools. Countries like India with unlimited corruption it would not better to support private schools unless rigorous monitoring. In India the government is giving permission to Private professional institutions with unlimited, where there is no proper mechanism to supervise, which resulted in poor performance of students. In public private partnership, people are showing the gimmick results which can not be sustainable for a long time. Only a few are doing with genuinely like Azim premji foundation. The public schools are better if scope is given to take up innovation in their everyday activities. Decentralization of administration will give fruitful results. thank you pjreddy.

Thank you for your comment. I agree that accountability is important for making partnerships work. The whole point of contracting non-state providers is to enhance opportunities and achieve results. It is not that private schools are performing better than public schools. In fact, once you control for socioeconomic factors most private schools perform no better than public schools. Rather the point is to explore opportunities for collaboration that would enhance overall system performance. Therefore, the examples may non-state actors participating in the development of educational resources; non-public management of schools; scholarships for private school attendance by the poor; and so on. Cooperation can be done with contracts with the private schools. Along with resources the schools would agree to performance standards and strict accountability rules. Properly run partnerships are showing good results. Read more on these programs and the conditions for making them better at: Engaging the Private - Non State Sector in Education Toolkit: http://www.cfbt.com/epsetoolkit/home.aspx . At the same time, as you suggest, decentralized administration can help public schools become more innovative, by extending autonomy and empowering parents, teachers and school leaders. But that too needs to be done under a system of strong accountability. See: SABER - School Autonomy and Accountability Scale, http://go.worldbank.org/BW7VX42UK0 .

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