“Universal Education” May Not Mean “Free Education”

Every year (at least) there is a call from the United Nations for something called “Universal Education.” The long and short of it is that children all over the developing world do not have access to a quality education, and thus money must be spent by the developed world to help them get it. In general, there is a lot about this that makes sense. Education gives one access to lanes of prosperity that a lack of education blocks. And certainly, there is no shortage of support from the first world to the third on other resources, so education should possibly be no different.

beautiful-tree-191x300That being said, there is something to be said for looking at this differently. Many, many, many millions of dollars have been spent by NGOs and first world governments to subsidize educational systems in the third world, and there is little to show for it.

I would encourage the reader to take note of a book called “The Beautiful Tree” by James Tooley. Dr. Tooley, while researching private education in poverty stricken areas of India, Africa, and even China made a startling discovery: that a VERY large percentage of children in these countries are actually educated by private, for-profit schools in their village or slum. There are even examples where money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, or the DID (UK) or the USAID (Kenya in the 90s is a great example) for the purpose of making education “universal” (translation: free) actually did more damage than good, and resulted in less kids getting education rather than more.

There is a lot to be said for making sure the children of the third world get an education, and we should continue to search for and discover ways in which we can help that happen. But, as usual, we must look outside the standard method of giving to foreign governments, especially those who are not renowned for their lack of corruption or malfeasance, and search for ways to support families and their children directly, so they can choose the best way to make sure their children can be educated.

A recent paper on the topic, by Tooley and David Longfield asks a logical question: if private education is so unattainable, then why are the world’s poorest of the poor being educated privately? A lot to learn here, really.

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