Ideas to Action:

Independent research for global prosperity


Views from the Center


What role -- if any -- can low-cost private schools play in improving and expanding education in the developing world?

After much reflection, my main thought on this topic is that you should never make snarky comments to Duncan Green on twitter. He'll challenge you to back up your snark in a long-form debate on his blog, and pit you against a very well-informed opponent like Kevin Watkins of the Brookings Institution.

Things got heated. Much ink was spilled: over 7,800 words in total. At least one UN agency and one UK political party were caught in the cross-fire (apologies again if I was too hard on UNESCO's Education for All Global Monitoring Report, which is a fascinating read).

For the impatient, here's a quick and totally impartial synopsis.

  • Chapter 1 - In my opening post, "Waiting for Superman in Lahore", I bemoaned the failure of public schools to provide quality education to the poor, and reviewed the recent explosion of private schools in Pakistan, India, and Kenya, producing high test scores at low cost.
  • Chapter 2 - Kevin's response, "Holding out for the super-voucher", highlighted the twin crises in education -- not just a learning deficit but also a lingering enrolment deficit -- and contested the premise that private schools are outperforming their public counterparts.
  • Chapter 3 - I replied with a plea for "Evidence over Ideology" and reiterated the common values underlying our two previous posts: a desire for equal access to quality education, and an affinity for ridiculing Milton Friedman.
  • Chapter 4 - Kevin concluded with "Education wonkwar: the final salvo", highlighting some successful interventions to improve public schools (rather than financing private provision) and pointed to Ghana, Madhya Pradesh & Western Cape as examples of successful reformers.

All in all, I won it was fun. Thanks to Kevin and numerous commenters for a great conversation, and to Duncan and the World Bank's People, Spaces, and Deliberation blog for giving us a platform to debate.



CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.