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Education Bookcast

Nov 16, 2020

James Tooley is a specialist in private education. One day, on a work trip to India, he was frustrated that his position seemed to only allow him to help the rich, and not those who were most in need. So he decided to take a walk around the local slum. What did he find?

Private schools. A *lot* of private schools! All affordable, run for and by those living in the slums. As he investigated further, he found that such low-cost private schools abound in the slums and villages of India. Later he went on to Nigeria, Ghana, and Kenya, and found exactly the same thing. He even found some in China.

How can it be that there are private schools for the poor? Why aren't they attending the free government schools? Are these places actually any good? What is the government's response?

Governments and NGOs responded with either dismissal or contempt, saying that the schools were insignificant in number and enrollment, or that they were exploiting poor families and providing low-quality education. What James Tooley found was quite different. It was the government schools that were failing, and the people were exercising their free choice to send their children to the private schools, which were significantly better.

The Beautiful Tree documents Tooley's personal adventure through the world of private schools for the poor; his struggles with government bureaucrats, both well-meaning and corrupt; and his encounters with parents, children, and teachers doing what they can for themselves and each other. He explains his research about the economics and pedagogy of these schools, and explores the little-known history of private schooling in India, and how it has affected instruction in places as far away an the UK and South America.

This is the first book about economics of education on the podcast, and as such it is difficult for me to add much commentary or be very critical. But Tooley provides ample evidence (as well as sharing many personal experiences) about the structure of the education sector in developing countries, and writes in a balanced way that makes him seem trustworthy. In future, I intend to get more into economics of education, as I now see it as one of the key elements in coming to understand the nature of education as a whole.

Enjoy the episode.