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Back alley schools

Book>> The Beautiful Tree, A personal journey into how the poorest are educating themselves James Tooley Penguin Rs 499

 
By Veerendra Rawal
Published: Thursday 31 December 2009

DownToEarth Book>> The Beautiful Tree, A personal journey into how the poorest are educating themselves James Tooley Penguin Rs 499

In 2000, James Tooley was offered a commission by the World Banks International Finance Corporation to study private schools in a dozen developing countries. Hyderabad figured in his itinerary. He reached the city on January 26. Left with some leisure on a national holiday, he decided to go sight seeing in an autorickshaw. Travelling through middle-class suburbs, Tooley was struck by the ubiquity of private schools. To his surprise the private schools had not thinned out as he went from one of the poshest parts of city to the poorest.

Tooley went back on a working day to find teachers attentive to students needs. The Beautiful Tree tells the story of private education among the worlds poor.

Tooleys journeys into the poorest corners of Africa and Asia revealed similar low-cost, fee-charging private schools. He documents how such schools, often unrecognized by the government, are educating kids in some of the worlds poorest communities. He found scruplous principals and attentive teachers.

Down to Earth  
 
Private run community schools often do a better job than government schools
 

But at the World Bank office in Delhi, his project funders were not impressed. One World Bank staffer launched a tirade on how such schools ripped off the poor. To prove his point, Tooley undertook a survey. Mean scores of children in government schools were 24.5 per cent, whereas they were 42.1 per cent in private unrecognized schoolsalmost the same as that of private recognized schools.

Back-alley schools need to be celebrated as Tooley does. But celebrating such efforts is one thing, holding them as alternatives to government-sponsored education is another.

What is the check on fly-by-night operators who abound in India? Do communities keep a tab on the quality of education? Do they have the wherewithal for that?

Veerendra Rawal works with the Sarv Siksha Abhyan

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