Thursday, June 30, 2005

Give Africa a private schooling

Poor African children benefit more from independent schools than government ones for a fraction of the cost. Why are aid groups and pop stars against them?

"On BBC's Newsnight last week the international development secretary Hilary Benn showcased free primary education (FPE) in Kenya - supported by $55m from the World Bank and 20m pounds from the British government - as the shining example of aid to Africa not being wasted. He's not the only one clutching at this example for reassurance: Bill Clinton told an American television audience that the person he most wanted to meet was President Kibaki of Kenya, "because he has abolished school fees", which "would affect more lives than any president had done or would ever do . . ."

When Gordon Brown visited Olympic primary school, one of the five government schools located on the outskirts of Kibera, the largest slum in Kenya and in Africa, he told the gathered crowds that British parents fully supported their taxpayers' money being used to provide free places at that school. Bob Geldof and Bono rave about how an extra 1m-plus children are now enrolled in primary school in Kenya. All these children, the accepted wisdom goes, have been saved by the benevolence of the international community - which must give $7 to $8 billion per year more so that other countries can emulate Kenya's success.

The accepted wisdom is wrong. It ignores the remarkable reality that the poor in Africa have not been waiting, helplessly, for the munificence of pop stars and western chancellors to ensure that their children get a decent education. Private schools for the poor have emerged in huge numbers in some of the most impoverished slums and villages in Africa. They cater for a majority of poor children and outperform government schools, for a fraction of the cost.

My research has found this in Kenya - where the international community might excuse the inadequacy of state education as a blip while free primary education beds down. But it's as true in Ghana and Nigeria too - where free primary education has been around for a long time, supported by generous handouts from the British government and the World Bank.

In the poor areas of Lagos State, Nigeria - the same is true in poor areas of Ghana - my research teams combed slums and villages and found 70% or more of all schoolchildren in private school, more than half in schools unregistered and therefore unacknowledged in any official statistics. In the teeming shantytown of Makoko alone, where 50,000 people live, many in wooden houses built on stilts sunk into the dark waters of the Lagos lagoon, we found 32 private schools serving some 4,500 children (75% of those in school from Makoko) from families of impoverished fishermen and fish traders, and all off the state's radar.

Parents gave the same litany of complaints about government schools, that teachers don't turn up, or if they do they don't teach. I visited the three government primary schools on the outskirts of Makoko; although my visit was announced, and I came with the commissioner of education's representative, I saw the headmistress beating children to get them into the classrooms, and found one teacher fast asleep at his desk. The welcoming chorus of the children didn't rouse him.

The commissioner's representative, however, described parents who send their children to the mushrooming private schools as "ignoramuses", wanting the status symbol of private education (saying this, without irony, standing by her brand new silver Mercedes), but hoodwinked by unscrupulous businessmen. "They should all be closed down," she told me. At least she admitted that these schools existed - the British government's representative, co-ordinating the Department for International Development's 20m pounds of aid (all to government schools) denied flatly that private schools for the poor exist.

But was the commissioner's representative right about the low quality in the mushrooming schools? We tested 3,000 children in maths and English, from government and private schools, controlled for background family variables, and found that the children in the unregistered private schools, so despised by the government, achieved 14 percentage points higher in maths and 20 percentage points higher in English than children in government schools. Teachers in the government schools were paid at least four times more than those in the unregistered schools. The private schools were far more effective for a fraction of the cost.

More here

Australian parents to receive reports on schools

Over opposition from teachers, of course

A move by one state to issue detailed school reports allowing parents to compare the performance of schools, teachers and students looks set to revolutionise Australian education. The decision by NSW is expected to be followed by Victoria in the next few weeks, while other states are developing plans to enhance school reporting. NSW Premier Bob Carr yesterday unveiled the new school reports which will gauge student performance in statewide tests and attendance as well as teacher qualifications, and will go to every state-school parent. The reports will be trialled next year in 50 schools for implementation across the state in 2007. "This is the biggest ever reform to the way schools report their performance back to parents," Mr Carr said. "These new annual reports will allow parents to compare the performance of their child's school against similar schools and schools across the state. "It will become a vital tool in how parents decide the best school for their children."

NSW state schools have been reporting to the community since 1996, but those documents do not allow parents from different schools to compare school performance and school management. Now, for the first time, parents will be able to see how many teachers are leaving the school as well as how often they attend.

The NSW Teachers Federation immediately opposed the reporting of staff attending, claiming that absent staff in 500 small schools could easily be identified. Federation president Maree O'Halloran described the reports as a breach of the industrial award and an "act of contempt" for the Government's own Industrial Relations Commission.

Sharryn Brownlee, president of the Federation of Parents and Citizens' Associations of NSW, said the reforms had been driven by federal Government demands for better school reporting and would be welcomed by parents and parents' groups. "I really do understand the sensitivity of the teacher unions, especially with respect to privacy," she said. "But I also think the wider community needs to know and understand what happens to staffing in NSW schools and why it is that we do have high staff turnover in some schools. Staffing is a legitimate issue."

A NSW Government spokesman told The Australian that public reports grading individual students on their standing within the class were also under development and would be unveiled soon. The other states and territories are expected to follow NSW's lead and provide more information about student and staff performance in school reports in accordance with a precondition for $33billion in school funding from the federal Government.

Federal Education Minister Brendan Nelson asked all states to sign up for a rigorous and accessible system of reporting to parents and agreement was reached last week. The agreement mandates that all schools will need to provide report cards in clear language and traditional grades of A-E.

Ted Brierley, national president of the Australian Secondary Principals' Association, said the states were being compelled to issue more detailed reports "because they want the (federal government) money". The association opposed the move towards individual student rankings, he said. "We're at risk of testing far too much. We're at risk of going down the same bad tracks as the USA and the UK which have caused immense dissatisfaction in the education community without improving students' performance."



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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