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Role and Impact of Private Schools in Developing Countries

 Within many lower income country contexts, where government's ability to ensure Education for All has been questioned, the emergence of low-fee private schools (LFPs) was considered a way of reaching more children with better quality education. A new report called The Role and Impact of Private Schools in Developing Countries released by the United Kingdom's Department for International Development (DFID) reviews the research available on the role and impact of private schools in developing countries. Specifically, it focused upon private school delivery of education to poorer sections of societies, including schools with low fees. The comprehensive research review was guided by the question: Can private schools improve education for children in developing countries?

The conceptual framework of the report hypothesized how private schools might improve educational outcomes for children in low-income countries and rigorously tested and analyzed assumptions that have informed an increasingly polarized debate on the role and impact of private schools. Since the late 1990s, evidence has shown a "mushrooming" of LFPs in developing countries and in a larger dialogue about whether it is appropriate to involve the private sector in the provision of education, particularly if they are subsidized by the state and/or private donors. More recently, there has been a surge of research and policy interest in private schools thought to be fueled by these debates, and research-based evidence is brought forward to support relative sides. The report, therefore, sought to scrutinize the strength of the available evidence.

Key findings from the report reveal where the evidence is strong, moderate, or weak/inconclusive. For example, there is strong evidence that for countries represented by the research, teaching is better in private schools than in state schools, as measured in terms of teacher presence and teaching approaches that are more likely to lead to improved learning outcomes. However, available evidence is inconclusive about whether private schools are improving access to education for economically impoverished children in either urban or rural contexts. Interestingly, although there is moderate evidence that learning outcomes are better in private schools, there is ambiguity about the overall net effect on quality of education by private schools. Despite being in private schools, children may not be achieving basic competencies.

As a result of the review, several gaps in the available research were revealed. The report therefore recommends areas of focus for future research to better inform the growing debate about private school's role in education provision, including quality, equity, affordability, choice, and accountability. Forthcoming research in these areas should be designed to answer several concerns highlighted by the report: What is the true private school effect, accounting for pupil social background? Are private school teachers' salaries and working conditions compromised? What welfare sacrifices do poorer households make if they pay school fees? Are some states promoting school privatization without adequate regulation and quality controls?

The report is important for informing education policy, reform, and initiatives on the international, regional, and country levels. Education stakeholders should be aware of the evidence base available regarding the role and impact of private schools in developing countries if they are to make sound decisions about expansion, funding, and ways to improve access and learning for less-advantaged children. Coordinated efforts also should be made to fill the research gaps on a broad, aggregate level and according to regional and country-level contexts.

For More Information:

The Role and Impact of Private Schools in Developing Countries (report download)
Privatisation in Education Research Initiative (website)