Between 1990 and 2010, the percentage of students enrolled in private primary schools doubled from 11% to 22% in low-income countries.  This growth in private provision is closely connected to the boom in access that has taken place in low-income nations over the past two decades: primary net enrollment increased from 55 to 80 percent between 1990 and 2010 (Baum et al. 2014).

Three recent articles on demonstrate the potential for private education to give the poor a better education.  Writing on Bridge International Academies – which provides schooling for $6 a month in sub-Saharan Africa and South – Catrina Stewart of the Independent (28 July 2015) writes: “A system in which every step of the learning process is remotely dictated could help make schooling affordable for some of the world’s poorest children.”  Along with the scripted lessons, the teachers use e-readers.  Bridge is a multinational for-profit chain, with more than 400 schools in Kenya and Uganda.  According to Stewart: “Bridge is arguably the most audacious answer yet to the question of how to bring education to the masses.”  Bridge was set up by Shannon May with her husband, Jay Kimmelman.  Bridge has received financial backing from Mark Zuckerberg, Gates, Pearson, DfID, the IFC, and others.

The Economist argues that Low-cost private schools (1 August 2015) represent an answer to government failure.  Kaushik Basu, World Bank Chief Economist, is quoted as saying: “ordinary people realised that, in a more globalised economy, they could gain quickly if they were better educated.”  Particular attention is given to the Pakistani province of Punjab. Low-cost chains are also present in the Philippines.

In another article, the Economist argues that The $1-a-week school (1 August 2015) “the boom in private education is excellent news … for three reasons:”

  1. Private schooling brings in money—especially from investors.
  2. Private schools are often better value for money than state ones.
  3. Private schools are innovative.

The scripted model does receive its criticism.  Governments are also wary.  Quality is an issue.  And regulations are often lacking.  Research on low-cost private schools have produced mixed results (see below).

The Economist argues that governments should look to improve the private sector schools by subsidizing them and regulating them to ensure quality.

But raising quality requires appropriate regulation.  The World Bank’s SABER offers guidance on how to regulate the private sector for quality (Baum et al. 2014).

Further reading:

Adelman, M.A. and P.A. Holland. 2015. Increasing Access by Waiving Tuition: Evidence from Haiti.

Andrabi, T., J. Das and A.I. Khwaja. 2015. Delivering Education: A Pragmatic Framework for Improving Education in Low-Income Countries.

Andrabi, T., J. Das and A.I. Khwaja.  2006. A Dime a Day: The Possibilities and Limits of Private Schooling in Pakistan.

Angrist, J., E. Bettinger, E. Bloom, E. King and M. Kremer. 2001. Vouchers for private schooling in Colombia: Evidence from a randomized natural experiment. National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper No. 8343).

Baum, D., L. Lewis, O. Lusk-Stover and H.A. Patrinos.  2014.  SABER: What Matters Most for Engaging the Private Sector in Education: A Framework Paper.

Barrera-Osorio, F. and D. Raju. 2014. Evaluating the impacts of public student subsidies to low-cost private schools in Pakistan.

Barrera-Osorio, F. and D. Raju. 2011. Evaluating public per-student subsidies to low-cost private schools: regression-discontinuity evidence from Pakistan World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 5638.

Barrera-Osorio, F. and D. Raju. 2010. Short-run learning dynamics under a test-based accountability system: evidence from Pakistan.  World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 5465.

Barrera-Osorio, F. 2007. The impact of private provision of public education: empirical evidence from Bogota’s concession schools.  World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 4121.

Härmä, J. 2011. Low cost private schooling in India: Is it pro poor and equitable? International Journal of Educational Development 31(4): 350-356.

Heyneman, S.P. and J.M. Stern. 2014. Low cost private schools for the poor: What public policy is appropriate? International Journal of Educational Development 35: 3-15.

Muralidharan, K. and V. Sundararaman. 2013. The Aggregate Effect of School Choice: Evidence from a Two-Stage Experiment in India.  National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper No. 19441.

Patrinos, H.A., F. Barrera-Osorio and J. Guaqueta, 2009. The Role and Impact of Public-Private Partnerships in Education.

Patrinos, H.A. 2013. Private education provision and public finance: the Netherlands. Education Economics 21(4): 392-414.