There are long-standing debates over whether offering the choice between private and public schools affects the equity and quality of education systems. With little regulation, private school expansion risks happening in an unplanned manner, with little government oversight and potentially exacerbating inequality. With too much, private providers could be deterred, and possible chances for expanding school access could be reduced.
We will be addressing this issue in the GEM 2017 as we take on the broad issue of Accountability in Education, and hope you might share your opinion with us via our online consultation as we gear up to begin our research. We raised the issue in our second twitter poll recently, with eight out of ten respondents saying private schools need to be better regulated.
Regulating private schools can take various forms including by governments providing a sound policy framework for private schools to function within. If governments define the place of private providers in the national education strategy, as in Cote d’Ivoire, or Senegal, it enables their expansion, but can also demarcate how they will fit within the overall education system.
Likewise, countries can impose registration rules over who can enter the education marketplace and how, including ensuring that they follow certain minimum standards. However, these must be designed carefully so as not to deter new providers where they might be needed, or increase their costs to such a degree that it pushes up fees. In addition, too much regulation can push private schools to operate outside of the law as unregistered providers, leaving little or no accountability in practice.
Once set up, countries can look to then regulate the standards maintained by private schools by assessing their performance through school inspectors, for instance. These can be accompanied by school self-evaluations that include perspectives of various stakeholders, such as parents and students. They can take the form of low stakes learning assessments, or a combination of various of these all at once. Whether such official regulation does, in effect, actually safeguard or improve standards in practice, however, tends to vary.
Alternatively, and most frequently cited, regulation could involve caps on fees, and other informal charges to parents linked with attending private schools. Many countries and jurisdictions either limit or attempt to limit the level of tuition fees charged by private schools. In India, private schools are prohibited from making profit on the service, for instance.
The flip side to fee capping is that it risks reducing the level of quality the schools can provide, given that they must operate within a much tighter budget than if they had full freedom over charging fees. This will hit the hardest those who might not operate with the advantages of scale, for instance a local entrepreneur who wishes to give back to the community, but might want to set up specifically in one small area where there’s a dearth of schools. It is no surprise that this particular form of regulation sparks healthy debates worldwide. Just last year, Pakistan and Tanzania have had back and forth over government plans to set indicative fee structures.
And, of course, along with any examination over types of frameworks set up to enforce accountability, we have also to assess whether they are actually effective or not. Rules set on paper, of course, may easily not end up actually applying in practice. In many of the contexts that have seen strong private sector growth, there have been on-going concerns over the efficiency and quality of existing public education systems. The capacity and experiences of current government approaches to hold private schools to account needs to be carefully investigated.
What do you think? And what should we investigate as we begin our research? Join our consultation