Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

UN Thwarts Slum Schools – Part 1

Instructs UK to stop assisting parent-financed schools – under the guise of enforcing the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Screengrab from the James Tooley video listed at the bottom of this post.

A UN committee, associated with the international Convention on the Rights of the Child, recently gave the UK government 20+ pages of detailed instructions.

In order to be compliant with this treaty, the UK was urged to alter its national budget process, outlaw all physical punishment by parents, make sex education compulsory in every school, do more to combat bullying, increase the number of playgrounds, and many, many other things.

Lurking amongst this interminable list of demands, was a truly evil one. On page 4, the UK was told to stop funding certain kinds of schools in poor countries.

There’s only one acceptable education model, you see: mammoth, state-controlled, state-funded, centralized bureaucracies of the sort that exist in the West. No other model will be tolerated – not even in the desperate slums of India, Kenya, and Nigeria.

Apparently, slum-dwelling parents are too stupid to make sound decisions about their children’s education. Here’s what the UN wrote:

The committee is concerned about the [UK’s] funding of low-fee, private and informal schools run by for-profit business enterprises in recipient States. Rapid increase in the number of such schools may contribute to substandard education, less investment in free and quality public schools and deepened inequalities in the recipient countries, leaving behind children who cannot afford even low-fee schools. [bold added]

It continues:

The Committee recommends that the State party ensure that its international development cooperation supports the recipient States in guaranteeing the right to free compulsory primary education for all, by prioritizing free and quality primary education in public schools, refraining from funding for-profit private schools and facilitating registration and regulation of private schools. [bold added]

In plain English, rich nations and charitable organizations have provided tons of money so that poor nations might build shiny new schools and establish educational bureaucracies. Everyone involved believes, with the strength of a religious conviction, that primary school education should be ‘free’ and that the only way to achieve that goal is for schools to be controlled and funded by governments.

But in many of these countries, there’s no system of accountability. Teachers frequently don’t show up for work. They ignore their students and sleep at their desks. They abuse their students physically and sexually. Because they’ve been hired by the government (political connections often play a role), these teachers cannot be fired. School principals have no leverage, no ability to improve matters.

Which means the quality of education provided by government-run schools is often abysmal. Everyone knows this. Even slum dwellers.

The shiny new government school doesn’t get built in the midst of the slum, but on the outskirts. Which translates to a long trek to and from school. Parents are understandably anxious about the safety of younger kids and girls in this context. Once they realize their kids aren’t learning anything in these new government buildings, they fall back on informal, small schools in their own neighbourhoods. Schools that they, themselves, pay for.

These schools are not attractive (they are, after all, located in slums). They frequently begin as nurseries/daycare centres run by women in the community who need to earn a living. Parents are charged a modest fee per child and the proprietors are able to feed their families.

When children reach school age, many parents would like the arrangement to continue. The facility is close to home. The class sizes are small. The children are happy there. Could these women please teach the subjects that kids typically learn in the early grades?

These are the dreaded “for-profit private schools” the UN committee thinks deserve no foreign financial assistance. These are the “for profit business enterprises” it wants to smother out of existence.

The fact that Starbucks makes a profit when it sells a latte is fine. But miserly profits earned by individuals providing a valued service within a slum community are immoral.

Having considered their other options, having weighed the pros and cons, parents choose to continue paying fees rather than take advantage of government-funded education.

Yet educational experts and foreign aid/development experts adamantly refuse to think outside the box. In their universe, education should be free. Teachers should be well-paid. Bureaucrats should be in control.

To them, it isn’t ‘quality’ education if poor parents scrape together the money to fund it themselves.

It isn’t ‘quality’ education if parents can choose who will teach their children.

It isn’t ‘quality’ education if market forces do something public education cannot – keep everyone honest and accountable. These schools frequently have nearby competitors, which means parents can go elsewhere if they aren’t satisfied with the results.

The big picture behind this grotesque ideological battle is outlined in James Tooley’s book, The Beautiful Tree: A personal journey into how the world’s poorest people are educating themselves.

[To be continued…] UN Thwarts Slum Schools – Part 2

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The Beautiful Tree: A personal journey into how the world’s poorest people are educating themselves
James Tooley
  • watch an 18-minute TEDx video, in which James Tooley explains the importance of private schools in poor countries here
  • a similar 15-minute TEDx video featuring Pauline Dixon, Tooley’s research colleague, is here
  • the 2016 scolding of the UK by the UN committee associated with the Convention on the Rights of the Child may be downloaded here
  • my previous commentary: What Happens When We Sign a UN Treaty?


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This entry was posted on February 11, 2019 by in children, education, ethical & philosophical and tagged , , .
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