Is private education good for society? | The Economist
Across the world private education is booming. Though private schools and tuition promote inequality, Emma Duncan, our social policy editor, explains why governments should embrace the private sector's rise
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There is a big boom in private education all over the world. You see it in schooling numbers. The numbers of people going to private primary has gone up from 10 to 17 percent over the last 15 years. Secondaries gone up from 9 to 27 percent. Then if you look in particular countries you find for instance in China, there's a big increase in people going to elite private schools. But also huge business in terms of people getting online tuition. Parents are finding ways to spend money on the great competition to improve their children's brains.
The resurgence is happening for a few different reasons and one of them is that incomes are going up, the birth rates are going down. So in families all over the world there is more money to spend on each child. If you look at the Chinese one-child policy you get six people: four grandparents, two parents, all of them willing to invest in the education of one child. At the same time you've had the whole of the world economy changing so that there are fewer unskilled jobs everywhere - almost all decent jobs require you to have a qualification of some sort.
The great advantage of private education is that it's fantastically good at getting children in school. In countries where people are moving around a lot, which is most of the developing world, and where populations are growing swiftly - you get this huge swift urbanization. Governments just can't keep up. You'll get governments like Pakistan struggling with fast growing cities and has partnered up with the with the private sector to send poor kids, who would otherwise not be getting schooling at all, into private schools - and they're doing that with over two million kids. Private schools can also be really really good because you know often parents are willing to spend masses of money and you get a really high quality of education.
It is a dilemma for society. Governments need to concern themselves about equality and about social mobility. Things that the private sector discourages rather than encourages. The problem with private schools is that they do tend to increase inequality. When parents are allowed to spend money on their children they will spend as much as they can so obviously rich kids go to better schools.
You see China which is increasingly putting controls on the expansion in the school's business. It's clearly pretty uncomfortable about it. Rather than trying to shut it down governments need to be trying to work with it. Now there is a cost. If you allow the private sector to operate you are going to get a higher level of inequality but I think that that is a price worth paying for the Liberty, for the resources, for the better brains, for the innovation for the quality of education, and the breadth of education that you get if you allow the private sector to operate. I think governments must look at the private sector as a potential partner, not as they do in some places as an enemy.
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