Embrace private sector education in post-conflict states to improve standards


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IEA releases report on education in post-conflict countries

Low-cost private schools in post-conflict countries have a positive social impact and provide a superior standard of education compared to that of the state. They should therefore be a permanent feature in these countries’ education systems.

In the poorest slums of Liberia, for example, over 71 per cent of children are in private education. But low-cost private schools are only seen as temporary and should be overridden with a government education system as soon as possible. This ignores the evidence that these schools offer better value for money, provide higher educational standards and reduce the temptation for governments to use education for their own ends.

Evidence found in a new Institute of Economic Affairs study by James Tooley – which looks at education in three conflict-affected countries – shows that education should be left to the private sector as far as possible. Furthermore, donor agencies such as the Department for International Development should be shifting the focus away from state education, not towards it.

Why low-cost private schools are better than state education:

  • Affordable to the poor – the average cost of sending a child to a state school is 75 per cent of the cost of sending a child to private school

  • Better value for money– children in private schools typically do better academically than those in government schools & they do it for a fraction of the teacher salary cost

  • Higher educational standards – therefore they are more effective at creating an educated populace

  • Not a drain on government treasuries – who in post-conflict countries are likely to be extremely stretched in terms of finance and management capacity

  • Able to reach more remote areas – evidence shows that as you move away from city centres the only schools available are private schools

  • Reduces the potential for corruption – in fragile states this threat is very real and scaling back the state’s role in education is a good defence mechanism against this

  • Frees up state resources for other services – including promoting the rule of law which is vital in a post-conflict country

Why getting the state out of education in post-conflict countries is so important:

  • Reducing governments’ role in education reduces the size of government overall, therefore lessening the threat of corruption

  • Limiting state power in education reduces the opportunity for patronage with groups using government education for other means

  • A better educated populace is one way of defending against further oppression by failed states

Commenting on the study, Jamie Whyte, Research Director at the Institute of Economic Affairs, said: 

“Education is one area in which freedom must be extended, particularly in countries that have experienced recent turmoil or conflict. The successes of low-cost private education as outlined in this report show how well this philosophy works, not only in ensuring the best possible education is provided, but also to lessen the burden on a potentially fragile government and reduce the risk of the education system being used as a tool of oppression.”

Notes to editors: 

For media enquiries please contact Nerissa Chesterfield, Communications Officer: [email protected] or 020 7799 8920 or 07791 390268

To download a copy of ‘Education: War and Peace’ please click here.

In December 2004, the IEA published ‘The Global Education Industry’ also written by James Tooley. To download a copy please click here.

Further IEA Reading: Getting the State out of Pre-School & Childcare

The mission of the Institute of Economic Affairs is to improve understanding of the fundamental institutions of a free society by analysing and expounding the role of markets in solving economic and social problems and seeks to provide analysis in order to improve the public understanding of economics.

The IEA is a registered educational charity and independent of all political parties.