Professor James Tooley criticized the United Nations’ proposals to eliminate all fees in state primary schools globally to meet its goal of universal a course in miracles by 2015. Dr. Tooley says the UN, which is placing particular emphasis on those regions doing worse at moving towards ‘education for all’ namely sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, is “backing the wrong horse”.1
On his extensive research in the world poorest countries such as Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, India, and China, Dr. Tooley found that private unaided schools in the slum areas outperform their public counterparts. A significant number of a large majority of school children came from unrecognized schools and children from such schools outperform similar students in government schools in key school subjects.2 Private schools for the poor are counterparts for private schools for the elite. While elite private schools cater the needs of the privilege classes, there come the non-elite private schools which, as the entrepreneurs claimed, were set up in a mixture of philanthropy and commerce, from scarce resources. These private sector aims to serve the poor by offering the best quality they could while charging affordable fees.3
Thus, Dr. Tooley concluded that private education can be made available for all. He suggested that the quality of private education especially the private unaided schools can be raised through the help of International Aid. If the World Bank and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) could find ways to invest in private schools, then genuine education could result. 4 Offering loans to help schools improve their infrastructure or worthwhile teacher training, or creating partial vouchers to help even more of the poor to gain access to private schools are other strategies to be considered. Dr. Tooley holds that since many poor parents use private and not state schools, then “Education for All is going to be much easier to achieve than is currently believed”.
Teachers are the key factor in the learning phenomenon. They must now become the centerpiece of national efforts to achieve the dream that every child can have an education of good quality by 2015. Yet 18 million more teachers are needed if every child is to receive a quality education. 100 million children are still denied the opportunity of going to school. Millions are sitting in over-crowded classrooms for only a few hours a day.5 Too many excellent teachers who make learning exciting will change professions for higher paid opportunities while less productive teachers will retire on the job and coast toward their pension.6 How can we provide millions of more teachers?
Discrimination in girls access to education persists in many areas, owing to customary attitudes, early marriages and pregnancies, inadequate and gender-biased teaching and educational materials, sexual harassment and lack of adequate and physically and other wise accessible schooling facilities. Child labor is common among the third world countries. Too many children undertake heavy domestic works at early age and are expected to manage heavy responsibilities. Numerous children rarely enjoy proper nutrition and are forced to do laborious toils.
Peace and economic struggles are other things to consider. The Bhutan country for example, has to take hurdles of high population growth (3%), vast mountainous areas with low population density, a limited resources base and unemployment. Sri Lanka reported an impressive record, yet, civil war is affecting its ability to mobilize funds since spending on defense eats up a quarter of the national budget.8
Putting children into school may not be enough. Bangladesh’s Education minister, A. S. H. Sadique, announced a 65% literacy rate, 3% increase since Dakar and a 30% rise since 1990. While basic education and literacy had improved in his country, he said that quality had been sacrificed in the pursuit of number.9 According to Nigel Fisher of UNICEF Kathmandu, “fewer children in his country survive to Grade 5 than in any region of the world. Repetition was a gross wastage of resources”.
Furthermore, other challenges in meeting the goal include: (1) How to reach out with education to HIV/AIDS orphans in regions such as Africa when the pandemic is wreaking havoc. (2) How to offer education to ever-increasing number of refugees and displaced people. (3) How to help teachers acquire a new understanding of their role and how to harness the new technologies to benefit the poor. And (4), in a world with 700 million people living in a forty-two highly indebted countries – how to help education overcome poverty and give millions of children a chance to realize their full potential.