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Season 5 - Episode 1
Low-cost private schools

James Tooley is a professor of education policy at Newcastle University and director of the E. G. West Centre. His work demonstrates the benefits of private education for low-income families and identifies ways to make private education more accessible in the developing world, especially among the poor. He has written numerous books, including The Beautiful Tree: A Personal Journey into How the World’s Poorest People Are Educating Themselves (2009).

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All around the world, in the slums of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, a phenomenon many in the West still don’t even know about is transforming the lives of the poorest people on the planet: low-cost private schools. In this fascinating interview, Professor James Tooley talks about how he discovered that these remarkable institutions existed, and why he became their foremost champion.

An expert on private education, Tooley saw for himself, first in India and then in other parts of the world, what was going on: “Poor people, ordinary people, are fed up with the quality of government schools, where teachers don’t turn up, and if they do turn up they don’t teach.” Instead of accepting their lot, entrepreneurs in poor communities have set up low-cost private schools that serve up to 70% of the urban poor.

These schools must deal with resistance from those who think that education should be free, compulsory, and run by government. Yet they outperform public schools, while remaining very affordable. They are, says Tooley, a sustainable, scalable solution provided by the poor themselves. “There’s nothing really to fault here unless you’re rigidly stuck in that ideology that says education must be provided by government and it must be free at the point of delivery.”

Professor Tooley also recounts his brush with corruption in India, where he was arrested without cause in an attempt to get him to pay a hefty bribe in exchange for his freedom. As harrowing as this experience was, it also had its uplifting moments. Importantly, it in no way diminished his enthusiasm for helping the world’s poor help themselves.

Links of interest

James Tooley | The Beautiful Tree: A Personal Journey into How the World’s Poorest People Are Educating Themselves

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