Thu, Nov 08, 2012 - Page 9 News List

Private schools could catalyze African nations

By Olusegun Obasanjo and Sunny Varkey

Similarly, skilled teachers can now deliver interactive e-lessons to many classrooms at once, even if they are hundreds of kilometers away. As a result, students in places where schools have not yet been built, or too few qualified teachers are available, can still get an education. After all, a lecture from a good teacher — even if it is broadcast over the Internet — is preferable to face time with an untrained adult.

International policymakers must recognize the private sector’s potential to play a crucial role in educational provision, just as it does in the provision of healthcare and drugs. Private sector education — subject to the buying decisions of parents — is the best long-term guarantor of quality.

That has been a highly controversial proposition in the West, but there is widespread consensus that Africa will need a massive increase in educational capacity over the next few decades.

As the World Bank’s International Finance Corp said in 2010: “The demand for education services [in Africa] is rising at a faster rate than governments can supply.”

In other words, meeting Africa’s need for significantly higher educational capacity over the next few decades will require private providers. However, some families will be unable to afford private education for their children, no matter how low the fees are. So the private sector must share expertise with public schools and, where possible, offer free places to the poorest children.

Moreover, private education providers must be accredited, regulated and closely monitored. Just as some private companies perform better than others, some schools might shine, but all must adhere to established performance standards.

For decades, education has been the preserve of governments and charities in Africa, cut off from the expertise and investment that private companies can provide. Now Africa has reached the point that, without a drastic increase in private education, its economic transformation could stall.

Olusegun Obasanjo was president of Nigeria from 1999 to 2007. Sunny Varkey is the founder and chairman of GEMS Education.

Copyright: Project Syndicate

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