263 Million children, around the world are either out of school or denied access to quality education.  

There could be several reasons to account for this figure, but poverty and marginalization top the list. Children in remote communities still struggle to access quality education. But, growing awareness about the importance of education has created a surge in demand for quality schooling among low-income communities. But can good quality education be offered at an affordable cost?

Low Cost Private schools seem to offer a solution to this problem. This concept shot into limelight in the early 2000’s. It was James Tooley (a researcher), who bought this term into limelight. In his research on primary education in the slums of Hyderabad, India, he was shocked to find a low cost private school on almost every street corner. Peace School, one of the several such schools especially stood out for Mr. Tooley.

What made it so special?

There were around 285 students and 13 teachers in this school, with fees ranging from Rs 60 to Rs 100 per month depending on their grades. Parents found it affordable and preferred sending their kids to this school, because it met their requirements. Inspired by his findings in India, Tooley went back & continued his research across the developing world in places like Africa & China. Every place he went, he found teachers who were accountable and sought to deliver the best to their students.

But is this the same everywhere?

In the last decade, entrepreneurs have been establishing Affordable Private Schools (APS) for low-income families at a rapid pace. The sheer scale of this sector demonstrates the dramatic change in the education sector.

Nearly, 28% of students in the rural parts of India have started attending private schools. In the last 5 years, about 15% regional language Government schools in Maharashtra have shut down and 80,000 students in Maharashtra have exited FREE government schools in the same period. Low Cost Private English medium schools have grown almost 3 times during this course of time.

Several reasons have been given to explain this growth. The key reasons cited are falling teaching standards in government schools and the desire of parents for instruction in English.

Private schools perform significantly better on these fronts. Market dynamics force accountability on the school & its teachers while English is the default selling proposition for most of these schools.

But Are Low-Cost Private Schools the Answer to Quality Education For All?

Overwhelmingly, studies show that APS’s keep costs low by hiring unqualified, short-term contract teachers and paying them low wages. The key is to recruit young, local women since they are “the cheapest source of labour”.

In an age of quick fixes and silver bullets, we are constantly looking for immediate solutions.  The goal of quality education for all is a lofty one, maybe even unreachable. APS’s fulfil the utilitarian goal of providing a certain minimum level of education to the last kid. There are no off-the-shelf solutions around, but APS’s seem to serve a huge gap in the market. However, we should remember that even when parents choose to go with APS’s, they are forced to make a choice between quality and affordability.

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