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The Learning Curve

August 2016

History tells us the reasons why private schooling, as we know it, continues to be the dominant form of imparting education

As the field of education gets more complex, parents world-over face the conundrum of choosing between a public or private school as they venture out to provide their kids with the best. While arguments maybe presented for each case, the last few decades have seen the scale tilt towards privately managed schools owing to a higher degree of autonomy, resources, overall school climate and performance. As a study by OECD involving 26 countries and 19 partner countries and economies showed, principals in privately managed schools tend to report greater school autonomy in resource allocation than principals in publicly managed schools reported. As this segment continues to make rapid strides within the field of education, it is worthwhile to take a trip down history to trace the origins of the same.

The first private school traces itself back to between 143-141 BC to China – Chengdu Shishi High School. While claims around the same are contested given the period and records available, the King’s School, Canterbury, England (597 AD) is well accepted as the oldest private school in the Western world, which continues to operate today. Collegiate School, New York (1628) is recognized as the oldest private school in America.

The growth in the next 2 centuries was gradual and continued to remain overshadowed by the juggernaut of public schools. Private schools saw an impetus over the 19th and 20th century world-over – however, their evolution over the 20th century was largely topsy-turvy moving in a ‘high-low-high’ channel mired by political and economic events. The growth though picked up in a linear manner across the ‘developing world’. Private schools in the developing countries enrolled a much bigger share of primary-school pupils than in rich ones. While the schools in the developed world charge high fees, it is largely the opposite in these economies. As per an estimate, 2010 had an approximate 1 million private schools across the developing economies – many of these were by charities or religious missions. As an example, recent estimates put the number of low-cost private schools in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, as high as 18,000. Fees average between USD 10-USD 25 per term. By comparison, in 2010-11 the city had just 1,600 government schools. A major reason of this is the fact that public schools in these economies are often plagued by teacher strikes and absenteeism.

Within the UAE too, private schools have mushroomed over the last 2 decades – Dubai, for one is recognized as the most privatized education system in the world. As per Government of Dubai’s KHDA’s Report on Private Education in Dubai (2015) statistics, Dubai has 169 private schools with 255,208 students from 186 different nationalities enrolled in them. This approximates nearly 87% of the entire school student population.

To reiterate, competition within the field of education, world-over, is bound to trend higher and the balance between the public versus private schooling debate would continue to dominate this. It would be interesting to see if the sector sees an increasing blend of PPP (Public Private Partnerships) to tackle amongst the biggest stigmas of the modern world – illiteracy.

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