The building has cement floors, bathrooms, and clean water. Inside, female students are dressed in pale yellow blouses and brown skirts. Male students are dressed in button-down, short-sleeve shirts and brown trousers. Nutritious lunches are served hot. Together with tuition, books, and exam, everything can be had at the cost of 75 cents per day, a number far beyond imaginable for parents around the world. Do not be mistaken however. The school being talked about is neither in Asia, Australia, Europe, nor North America, but in a continent generally thought as one big tragedy: Africa.
Omega Schools tries to improve the quality of and extend education to low income families at the lowest cost. With ten schools located in the Greater Accra region of Ghana serving 6,000 students, the for-profit social enterprise has developed a sustainable private school model to make education accessible for many working poor. As the Stanford Social Innovation Review reports, poor parents all across the developing world are investing their income in low cost private education for their children.
More children in places of poverty are attending school than ever before thanks to the building of new schools, elimination of public school tuition, and laws that allow children the right to mandatory primary education.
Yet among the good news, there is some bad. Millions of children, especially those in Sub-Saharan Africa, are still not going to school. Research found that the lack of accountability among teachers in government classrooms is a huge cause. Teachers were simply not present in classrooms and according to a 2005 World Bank survey, only 1 in 3,000 head teachers had ever fired a teacher for repeated absences. Classrooms of more than 100 were common in public schools. Government teachers could go on strike over the lack of pay. As a result, parents turn to private schools as an alternative.
Private schools that are affordable, provide quality education, and ensure teachers are present while removing poor-performing ones sound enticing to most parents, especially those suffering from poverty. James Tooley, co-founder of Omega Schools, tested that students in affordable private schools scored better than their peers in government schools. Still, the case for private education for the poor is not happening without some counterargument.
Government officials are worried that without a system to monitor or regulate running private schools, it is difficult to make sure genuine people are running the schools. When a customer selects schools based on standardized test scores, the school owners may focus on rote learning to improve scores and lure in students. There is too an argument on private schools having tension between more profits and better education.
Regardless of stance, the facts are clear. Weak governments do not have the means to provide adequate education for the most vulnerable. So long as this is true, students have no opportunity to learn, and that is where the private sector aims to fill a gap. Private schools can extend education to the poor while government tries to produce long-term change in education.
Photo from Omega Schools.
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