In recent years, awareness has grown of the phenomenon of poor parents sending their children to low-cost private schools. In Lagos, Nigeria, around 1.5 million children attend private primary and junior secondary schools (around two thirds of all children) and this pattern is repeated across other major cities in sub-Saharan Africa and poor countries in Asia.
A growing sector
The key reasons for the growth in private schools is that the state sector cannot cope with the demand and they are perceived to deliver better quality education than government schools. There is some limited evidence that suggests that low-cost private schools achieve slightly better learning outcomes than state schools but this difference is at best marginal on what is already an inadequate level of achievement in state schools. If educational quality is to be raised in Nigeria, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Kenya and other poor countries, then the quality of education in low cost private schools – as well as state schools – must be addressed.
Effective private education in Nigeria
We are managing the five-year UK aid-funded Developing Effective Private Education in Nigeria (DEEPEN) programme – thus far the only programme of its kind. DEEPEN engages with the challenge of improving the quality of education in low cost private schools by using the ‘making-markets-work-for the poor’ (M4P) approach. Rather than intervening directly to support schools, the programme seeks to create market conditions that ensure that low cost schools compete on quality as well as price. We do this through creating a fair regulatory framework, introducing a graded assessment of schools, eliminating unfair or irregular taxation, promoting affordable access to finance, incentivising service providers who can supply training and advice, and improving the quality and availability of information about schools for parents.