Right now, there is considerable attention being focused on a growing phenomenon in a number of developing countries — private primary schools that charge relatively low fees. They are described in miraculous terms, as private schools, once the bastion of the well-to-do, are now reaching disadvantaged families and thus have become essential to the provision of quality primary school for all, as envisioned in the Millennium Development Goals and the Education for All compact. As the economists say, poor people “vote with their feet” by sending their children to private schools where they have to pay instead of public schools. What could possibly be wrong with low-cost private schools for the poor? Plenty.
Steven J. Klees is the R. W. Benjamin Professor of International and Comparative Education at the University of Maryland. He did his Ph.D. at Stanford University and has taught at Cornell University, Stanford University, Florida State University, and the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil.