Privatized education in the developing world

Interesting column in the NYT by Nicholas Kristof on third world educational choice.  The gist of it reminds me of James Tooley’s book The Beautiful Tree, about how the privatization of schools in the world’s poorest regions greatly benefit children.  Two takes on a similar subject.  One big difference between the two POVs is that Kristof sees the glass as empty, and Tooey sees it as half full.

Kristof observes:    It’s a blunt truth that is politically incorrect, heartbreaking, frustrating and ubiquitous:  It’s that if the poorest families spent as much money educating their children as they do on wine, cigarettes and prostitutes, their children’s prospects would be transformed.

The column explains that school tuition in the Congo Republic is $2.50 a month, but some families (namely the male heads of household) spend much more per month on cell phones ($10), booze ($12), cigarettes ($12), and other vices, and cannot afford to keep their kids in school.

My capitalist eyes read this and I think “Wow, a quality private education is very affordable for all kids there!”.

Mr. Kristof fails to the see the beauty of the free market, and has some ideas on how to solve the problem of a few parents not properly tending to their child’s education.  He sums up his meddling colonial pessimistic view with, “we need to look unflinchingly at uncomfortable truths — and then try to redirect the family money now spent on wine and prostitution.”  The column suggests forced savings accounts, and putting family funds in the wife’s name only, and other draconian methods that revert to brute force to solve a problem that can better be solved with education, encouragement, shame, peer pressure, and any number of non-violent measures.  t least have the kids try a pouty puppy lip when the ask “Pleeeeeze can you skip the bar one night a week so we go back to school, Daddy?”.

Contrast and compare Kristof’s take on the matter with Publisher’s Weekly’s description of Tooley’s The Beautiful Tree: “A moving account of how poor parents struggle against great odds to provide a rich educational experience to their children.”  Tooley’s book is sub-titled “A Personal Journey Into How the World’s Poorest People Are Educating Themselves”.

You can read an excerpt, see a video by Tooley, and hear a podcast about The Beautiful Tree at the CATO Institute’s website http://store.cato.org/index.asp?fa=ProductDetails&method=&pid=1441426 

BTW, the slug description sums it up well :

Named after Mahatma Gandhi’s phrase for the schools of pre-colonial India, The Beautiful Tree is not another book lamenting what has gone wrong in the Third World. It is a book about what is going right, and it offers a simple lesson: both the entrepreneurial spirit and the love of parents for their children can be found in every corner of the globe.

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