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How Private Schools Are Changing the Education Landscape in Developing Countries

Square bullet next to featured article linksLaunch of the Research Policy Talks series in the Research Department
Square bullet next to featured article linksTalks are meant to bring together a body of research based on a theme and present its implications for policy.
Square bullet next to featured article links

Features one of the department's cross-cutting research themes: the "science of delivery," which researchers define broadly as effective delivery of development, including aid, and service delivery.


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May 16, 2013 - In an effort to provide development professionals with cutting-edge research findings, the World Bank’s research department started a new monthly series: the Policy Research Talks.

“The goal of the monthly event is to facilitate a dialogue between our researchers and development colleagues dealing with operational projects, so that we can challenge and contribute to the World Bank's intellectual climate and re-examine conventional wisdom in current development theories and practices,” said Asli Demirguc-Kunt, director of research at the World Bank.

Rather than presenting individual papers, these talks are meant to bring together a body of research based on a theme and present its implications for policy. One of the department’s cross-cutting research themes is “science of delivery,” which researchers define broadly as effective delivery of development, including aid, and service delivery.

J. Das, Policy Research Talk

Jishnu Das, Senior Economist, Research Department

The first lecture on this theme got off to a good start on May 16, with a focus on delivery of education by Jishnu Das, senior economist at the World Bank’s research department: “How the Rise of Private Schooling Changes Everything.”

Improving education in low-income countries often means building new schools, hiring more teachers and making sure public schools are working as expected. But as private schools become increasingly popular, especially in South Asia and Africa, policy makers should focus on how to improve the learning environment for children in the educational market in general, Das said.

“Since the governments should improve education for all children, we have to broaden the debate to include all types of education, public or private,” he said. In this new environment, we have to understand how we should better finance education, regulate the market and offer performance data.”

“Since the governments should improve education for all children, we have to broaden the debate to include all types of education, public or private.”
Jishnu Das, Senior Economist, Research Department

 

 

B. King, Research Policy Talk

Elisabeth King, Director of Education, Human Development Network

Elizabeth King, director of education in the World Bank’s Human Development Network, applauded the new Policy Research Talk Series in her discussion of the presentation. “You bring out research and relate it to policy,” she said at the event. “This is why the Bank has a research department.”

Since 2003, Das – along with co-authors from various institutions, Tahir Andrabi, Asim Ijaz Khwaja, and Tara Vishwanath – has been running the LEAPS project, which has assembled the largest database – with data comparable over time – on child learning in low-income countries. Das and his colleagues have conducted five comprehensive surveys of education in rural Pakistan, covering more than 24,000 children from 1,800 households and 5,000 teachers in 800 schools.

“You bring out research and relate it to policy. This is why the Bank has a research department.”
Elisabeth King, Director of Education, Human Development Network

 

 
Instead of the textbook case of a village with a single public school and parents deciding whether to send their child to that school, the team found a surprising picture: Parents can choose from an average of seven public and private schools, each offering an educational package that comes with different quality, prices and instruction materials. Das calls this new landscape “Service Delivery Markets.”

Such Service Delivery Markets are becoming more common, especially among rural residents who aren’t the poorest. Since 1987, the number of private schools in Pakistan has increased more than 10 times, from 3,300 in 1987 to 47,000 in 2005, the latest year for which data are available. More than one-third of children in primary schooling in Pakistan are enrolled in such schools.

Unlike elite schools that the term “private school” usually invokes, the standard private school in Pakistan is in the home of the head teacher, with two rooms, a handful of teachers and 120 children. It costs less than a dime a day. These schools hire young, local women without teacher training and then pay them market wages, which are much lower than in the public sector. In fact, private school teachers earn just one-fifth of an average salary of public school teachers.

Pakistan isn’t alone. About 15 percent, more than 50 million children, are attending private schools in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa alone. And the pace is increasing, after a drop between 1980 and 1990.

That, Das says, represents both an opportunity and a challenge for educational policy.

On the one hand, students from private schools have better test scores in mathematics, Urdu and English and a better grasp of civic knowledge than public school students. For example, they are more likely to correctly name the prime minister and the name of a neighboring country.

These differences can’t be explained by the type of children enrolled in these schools. In fact, parental involvement – and accountability – helps schools improve performance. Even those who are illiterate know if children are learning, by, for example, asking their children to recite poems parents know verbally.

On the other hand, the rise of Service Delivery Markets can widen the inequality gap. Private schools, Das’ research shows, tend to locate in populous and relatively wealthy villages. They also require initial public investments, and they are three times more likely to locate in villages with a public secondary school for girls, because students in those schools become teachers in private schools.

The link to inequality can run deep within the family. Their research also exposed an “intelligence gap”: Parents are less likely to enroll children considered less intelligent in private schools. Das is conducting research to understand how the government can step in to improve equality is on the agenda.

To begin with, the government can foster the exchange of information, such as the quality of schools, and use various means to help poor children attend private schools. Using a randomized control trial, Das and colleagues show that the distribution of test-scores in these Service Delivery Markets reduced private school fees and improved test scores in both public and private schools.

Das and his team have worked with policy makers in Pakistan to help improve educational markets. They held three conferences for Pakistani parliamentarians and produced a consensus document with key policy makers. They agreed on the need to test and measure learning achievements, and recognized the teachers needed to be both supported and held accountable for educational outcomes. They also realized the importance of the private sector as an additional provider of education in the country.

Already, the province of Punjab, one of the provinces covered by the study, has started a program for private school subsidies through vouchers. With World Bank assistance, the government of Sindh also recently piloted such an approach.

“The LEAPS project is a prime example of how our researchers’ deep engagement with policy makers can help improve development outcomes on the ground,”
Asli Demirguc-Kunt, Research Director

 

 

The next lecture will be on June 25 by Michael Woolcock, lead social development specialist in the research department. His talk will also be on the theme of science of delivery.




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