How can we ensure that even the world's poorest children have a chance to go to school? University of New Castle professor James Tooley offers a surprising answer in his new book, "The Beautiful Tree."
While working on a World Bank research project in India studying private schools serving the middle class and elite, pangs of guilt drove him to leave the comforts of his five-star hotel to explore the slums of Hyderabad. There, in the dirty, narrow streets, Tooley discovered something that most development experts thought did not exist: a vibrant market of for-profit schools serving working-class children.
Tooley found teachers who were energized and attentive to students' needs and principals who actively supervised classrooms to ensure that teachers were providing quality instruction. Modest tuition payments (what amounted to a few dollars per month) from parents--who included day-laborers, rickshaw pullers, and mechanics, all of whom typically earn about a dollar per day--funded the schools.
The author argues that two powerful forces make these schools possible: entrepreneurialism and parents' desire to provide their children with a better future.
Professor Tooley's pioneering research has turned the development community's conventional wisdom on its head with a message of personal empowerment. He argues that the policy and international-aid community should focus efforts on supporting the private sector--including offering micro-loans to school providers and sponsoring charity scholarships for the neediest students.
"The Beautiful Tree" deserves a wide audience and should be required reading for everyone involved in the struggle to ensure universal education for the world's poor.
Dan Lips is a Senior Policy Analyst at Heritage Foundation and a Goldwater Institute Senior Fellow. A longer version of this article originally appeared on National Review Online.
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