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Questioning the Global Scaling-up of Low-fee Private Schooling: the nexus between business, philanthropy, and PPPs



This chapter argues that we are entering a ‘second-wave’ in our understandings and analyses of the low-fee private sector; as is the sector, of its evolution. What first seemed like small, disconnected, individual schools ‘mushrooming’ in specific contexts where there was little or poor quality state provision, has taken root as a phenomenon, purportedly of scale, backed by corporate actors, particularly in some parts of Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. I argue that the second wave sees a shift from ‘one-off mom-and-pop teaching shops’ in schooling micro-ecosystems (individual villages, slum communities, and urban neighbourhoods), to their coexistence with corporate-backed school chains and allied service providers. These chains operate as part of a micro-system within themselves, sometimes across geographical boundaries beyond the local (across districts, cities, regions, and countries). The entry of ‘big’ corporate capital, both domestic and international, and the emergence of an ecosystem of allied service providers for this sector (education micro-finance institutions; rating systems; scripted curriculum delivery systems; education technology providers (low- and high-tech, etc.)), many of which are also corporate-backed or run, are markers of institutional evolution (DiMaggio & Powell 1983).
Copy-edited proof to appear in: A. Verger, C. Lubienski, & G. Steiner-Khamsi (Eds.) (2016). The global
education industryWorld yearbook of education 2016. New York: Routledge.
Questioning the Global Scaling Up of Low-fee Private Schooling: the nexus
between business, philanthropy and PPPs
Prachi Srivastava
1. The LFP Sector: The Second-Wave
In view of generally accepted claims of poor state sector quality in many countries of the
Global South, the low-fee private sector has often been posited as ‘the poor’s best
chance’ (Tooley, 2000) against broader concerns of the state’s fundamental duty to
provide basic education to all (Watkins, 2004). The initial emergence of the low-fee
private sector and its subsequent evolution into an attractive sector for business backed
by domestic and international corporate investment, holds an important and divisive
place as we enter the post-2015 era in global education.
As I have discussed elsewhere (Srivastava, 2013), at the beginning of the international
Education for All (EFA) movement, the emergence of the low-fee private sector was
dismissed in high-level policy circles, and by academics and right to education
advocates as an atomised phenomenon, fragmented and insufficient in scope to warrant
concerted study. This was in view of more pressing EFA goals to ensure, quite rightly,
that all children are able to access free basic education. However, what first seemed like
small, disconnected, individual schools ‘mushrooming’ in specific contexts where there
was little or poor quality state provision, has taken root as a phenomenon, purportedly
of scale, backed by corporate actors, particularly in some parts of Sub-Saharan Africa
and Asia.
This has attracted widespread attention as part of a broader trend of privatisation of
and in education, and quite unlike dismissals of the past, has reached the highest levels
of global education policy-makers, influencers, and advocates. For example, the UNESCO
Education for All Global Monitoring Report began including a section on low-fee private
schooling since the 2009 report. Global civil society actors such as the Right to
Education Project, the Soros Open Society Foundations, and the Global Initiative for
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights have been spurred into developing a human rights
framework for private sector engagement in education. The most vehement criticism
has come from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education who
has referred to the existence of corporate-backed schools and providers in education as
being indicative of ‘abusive practices’ (United Nations, 2014) of the private sector,
calling on states to sanction them:
89. By definition, business is profit-oriented. Education is all the more attractive
since it denotes a certain respectability, which can be projected to disguise business
interests, fraudulent practices and corruption […]
90. As regulators, States must sanction abusive practices by private education
establishments (United Nations, 2014)
Given the earlier dismissive response of the academic and global policy community, the
urgency expressed to examine the potential centrality of the sector as inimical to
equitable access to education for all in just a decade, is remarkable. In essence, we are
Copy-edited proof to appear in: A. Verger, C. Lubienski, & G. Steiner-Khamsi (Eds.) (2016). The global
education industryWorld yearbook of education 2016. New York: Routledge.
entering a ‘second-wave’ in our understandings and analyses of the low-fee private
sector; as is the sector, of its evolution.
I argue that the second wave sees a shift from one-off mom-and-pop teaching shops’ in
schooling micro-ecosystems (e.g. individual villages, slum communities, and urban
neighbourhoods), to their coexistence with corporate-backed school chains and service
providers. These chains operate as part of a micro-system within themselves across
geographical boundaries beyond the local (e.g. across districts, cities, regions, and
countries). The entry of ‘big’ corporate capital, both domestic and international, and the
emergence of an ecosystem of allied service providers for this sector (e.g. education
microfinance institutions; rating systems; scripted curriculum delivery systems;
education technology providers (low- and high-tech), etc.), many of which are also
corporate-backed or run, are markers of institutional evolution (DiMaggio & Powell,
1983). Thus, though the scale and reach of the low-fee private sector may not be as
grand and wide as the operators purport, the second wave is strongly entrenched
within increased corporate engagement, business practice, and commercialisation. And
this warrants serious attention.
The second wave seems comprised of at least three intertwining and enabling trends,
resulting in the emergence of corporate-backed low-fee private school chains and
service providers in the Global South. Of these, this chapter will focus on the first two, in
the main:
(1) Mobilizing discourse and filtering evidence in particular, morphing the
metaphor of the market to illogical consequence
(2) The opening up of domestic formal education spaces through state-sanctioned
public-private partnership (PPP) arrangements, and framing mental models
accepting of the discourse of ‘partnership’
(3) Increasingly opaque, intertwined, and complex sets of ‘new/non-traditional’
non-state private actors operating in education in the Global South, with direct
or arm’s length corporate connections that operate by blurring the lines between
‘doing business’, profit-making, and ‘doing good’ (Olmedo, 2013)
These arguments are posited against three caveats. Firstly, claims of ‘scale’ purported
by the corporate-backed low-fee private sector should not be taken at face value. In fact,
when we examine the reach and numbers of some of the most publicised chains, we find
the total numbers to be miniscule as a proportion of state provision.
Secondly, the corporate-backed low-fee private sector does not operate equally across
all areas of the Global South. As a concerted business venture with desired results on
investment, we see the emergence of this second wave primarily in middle-income
countries with significant ‘buzz’ around the engine of economic growth. India, with its
relatively stable political climate and as one of the top five largest world economies, is a
favoured location.
Finally, the act of ‘doing good’ may be broadly termed ‘philanthropic’, but is of a nature
quite different from traditional non-profit grant-making philanthropies in the ‘business
Copy-edited proof to appear in: A. Verger, C. Lubienski, & G. Steiner-Khamsi (Eds.) (2016). The global
education industryWorld yearbook of education 2016. New York: Routledge.
of charity. Many of the non-state actors (e.g. venture philanthropies, social
entrepreneurship firms, corporate social responsibility units, etc.) involved with the
diffusion of corporate-backed low-fee private school chains and their allied service
providers operate with mental models framed by and the modalities of the ‘business of
making money’ with an added offshoot of ‘doing good’. This is similar to Ball and
Olmedo’s (2011) characterisation of ‘creative capitalism’, or ‘an approach where
governments, businesses, and nonprofits work together to stretch the reach of market
forces so that more people can make a profit, or gain recognition, doing work that eases
the world’s inequities’ (Microsoft, 2008 qtd. in Ball & Olmedo, 2011, p. 84).
2. Morphing the Metaphor of the Market and Filtering Evidence
The emergence of the second wave of the evolution of the low-fee private sector and its
research is linked to strong enabling discourse that morphs’ (Cowen, 2009) the
metaphor of the market and filters evidence. A number of recent reviews raise queries
about the low-fee private sector, and point to inconclusive evidence on relative
achievement, inputs, and affordability (see Day et al., 2014; Mcloughlin, 2013;
Srivastava, 2013). Overlooked work includes that of influential low-fee private sector
advocate and investor, James Tooley, and his colleagues’ own scholarly and refereed
published research which is technical in tone and, when closely read, reveals important
On relative achievement, their work in Kenya and India showed that private school
students did not universally achieve better results in every subject, taking account of
background variables (Dixon et al., 2013; Tooley et al., 2010). On equity concerns, their
work in Nigeria and India showed that the most disadvantaged, described as orphans,
migrants, and financially unstable families, could not afford the ‘low’ fees charged
(Tooley & Dixon, 2005b). Finally, their work revealed education corruption at the
highest levels, showing that such schools in India gained recognition through bribery
(Tooley & Dixon, 2005a). These findings are similar to results of other studies in
contexts including Ghana, India, Nigeria, Malawi, and Pakistan, among others (e.g.
Akaguri, 2011; Chudgar & Quin, 2012; Fennell & Malik, 2012; Härmä, 2009; 2011;
Ohara, 2013; Rose, 2005; Rose & Adelabu, 2007; Srivastava, 2007; 2008).
Despite much contrary research evidence, including that from his own work, Tooley’s
‘catchy’ journalistic commentary, grey and informal reports, and book on his ‘personal
journey’ into the ‘education of the poor’ (Tooley, 2009) have been highly publicised.
This work has caught the attention of high-level policy circles and networks of non-state
private actors. Nambissan and Ball’s (2010) detailed analysis suggests that this is a
result of Tooley and his network’s ‘policy entrepreneurship’ par excellence on school
choice and the low-fee private sector in deep and far-reaching transnational networks.
Recommendations include establishing public and private voucher schemes, education
service companies for school improvement and accreditation, education
microcredit/loan companies, and ‘the liberalisation of the regulatory environment
regarding privateschools making a surplus’ (Tooley & Dixon, 2003, p. 22),
acknowledging that this may, in fact, be illegal. These have inspired many second-wave
low-fee private sector players to act. Examples referring to Tooley’s work in particular,
Copy-edited proof to appear in: A. Verger, C. Lubienski, & G. Steiner-Khamsi (Eds.) (2016). The global
education industryWorld yearbook of education 2016. New York: Routledge.
include India’s Centre for Civil Society advocating state-subsidised vouchers to access
low-fee private schools; Gray Matters India creating a school performance system for
‘affordable private schools’; co-founder of Omega Schools, Ken Donkoh to start a chain
in Ghana (eventually in collaboration with Tooley); IDP Foundation’s Rising Schools
Program, a micro-credit initiative for the sector in Ghana.
The decided enthusiasm about the low-fee sector is not based in sentiment alone. It is
imbibed with the motivation to actively create a global market for the corporate-backed
low-fee private sector. This is helped by extending the metaphor of the market and the
reach of its ‘Three Musketeers branding, competition, and profit: ‘Assisting the
market in the creation of educational brand names…is another possible area for outside
actionfor philanthropy, investment, and aid if required to satisfy investors of the
viability of the market’ (Tooley, 2009, p. 260).
The potential for investors to capitalise on establishing branded chains and services to
the sector, with a focus on replication and standardisation, is key. Tooley asserts, school
chains with names such as EasyLearn or Virgin Opportunity could be as reliable as, say,
Sainsbury’s or Boots’ (Wilby, 2013). Bridge International Academies, purportedly the
world’s largest chain of low-fee nursery and primary schools, bills itself as ‘the
Starbucks of schools in developing countries (Olopade, 2013).
In this idealised market, ‘competition would be a chief spur’ (Tooley, 2009, p. 261).
Unbranded or unchained schools ‘could suffer or go out of business’ (Tooley, 2009, p.
261), or others could ‘soon enter the market establishing competing brand names’ (p.
261). There is little consideration for what would happen to children in instances where
they are attending schools that close and others do not step in to fill the gap.
The profitability of low-fee private schools even as relatively small, single operations by
individuals without the backing of ‘big’ capital, was noted early on: ‘running a school
even for low-income families was potentially a profitable undertaking, with estimated
profits of about 25% in the year of [school] recognition’ (Tooley & Dixon, 2003, p. 19).
The profitability of scaling up the sector did not go unnoticed. In 2012, Pearson, owner
of the Financial Times, and the world’s largest educational publisher, launched the
Pearson Affordable Learning Fund (PALF), a $15 million fund to invest in the low-fee
private sector across Asia and Africa (Tran, 2012). PALF has quite possibly, and with
speed, become the most influential player in supporting the scaling up of the corporate-
backed low-fee private sector. ‘In January 2015 we [PALF] announced Pearson will
invest a further $50 million over the next 3 years’ (PALF, 2015, website). Michael
Barber, PALF’s Chief Education Advisor, and reportedly ‘an old friend’ of Tooley’s
(Wilby, 2013), stated in an interview on BBC HardTalk: ‘It’s absolutely for profit. But get
this right—it’s important to demonstrate profit because we want other investors to
come in (Barber qtd. in. Riep, 2014, p. 264). As Riep (2014) notes, in the early attempts
to create a market in this sector, demonstrating profitability is key to attracting
For those with interests in the corporate-backed low-fee sector and for advocates of
increased private provision, the impetus to draw big capital into the fold is a welcome
development. Acknowledged state sector dysfunctions in many countries are proposed
as the impetus to expand the low-fee private sector, rather than actively injecting capital
Copy-edited proof to appear in: A. Verger, C. Lubienski, & G. Steiner-Khamsi (Eds.) (2016). The global
education industryWorld yearbook of education 2016. New York: Routledge.
to improve the state sector. For example, Michael Barber asserts: The question every
education leader needs to answer is: 'How do we get every child in this district, city,
state, province or country a good education as soon as possible?' Low-cost private
education is an important part of the answer, in almost every country in the developing
world’ (PALF, website, 2015).
However, the current discourse framing the development of the low-fee private sector
morphs the metaphor of the market to such degree that there is little consideration of
whether the claim to a fundamental right and the provision of a social good to the
economically and socially disadvantaged are really comparable to middle-class
supermarkets, pharmacies, and coffee shops. Even Milton Friedman, the revered
champion of the marketization of education, conceded the role of the state in ensuring
basic education for all. He noted two peculiarities of education as a good, which add to
the complications of treating markets in education as pure competitive markets.
The first was related to what he termed, ‘neighbourhood effects’. These are
circumstances under which the action of one individual imposes significant costs on
other individuals for which it is not feasible to make him[/her] compensate them, or
yields significant gains to other individuals for which it is not feasible to make them
compensate him [/her]’ (Friedman, 1962, pp. 85-86). In other words, education has
social consequences beyond the individual. The effect, for example, of choices made by
one group of parents at a specific point in time that lead to school closures can have
resounding effects for other children in the present, and for future children. This can
lead to deleterious effects on society.
The second was termed as the ‘paternalistic concern for children and other
irresponsible individuals’ (Friedman, 1962, p. 86). There is the need for the state to be
involved in education (particularly in developing countries) where schooling may not
be universal, making it compulsory to some minimal level, and enforcing that
compulsion to uphold children’s right to education. In addition, there may be equity
concerns regarding mechanisms that disproportionately benefit relatively advantaged
Nonetheless, the corporate-backed expansion of the second-wave of the low-fee private
sector, sometimes with the financial support of bilateral agencies and multilateral
development banks exists (e.g. Bridge International Academies). This is despite
inconclusive evidence and amidst calls against profiteering and, in certain cases, is in
contravention of legal frameworks. Bridge International Academies, which receives
funding from the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the
International Finance Corporation (IFC), and the CDC (the UK’s development finance
institution), openly admits it: ‘Technically, we're breaking the law’, as stated by Chief
Strategy Officer Shannon May in an interview with the Times Education Supplement
(Exley, 2013).
The primary strategy for keeping costs ‘low’ across the sector is the common practice of
hiring teachers at below the minimum wage, or in most cases, certainly below the
teacher’s state salary scale (e.g. India, Pakistan, Ghana, Nigeria, etc.). This is against
labour laws. There are laws against the commercialisation of schools and running
schools for a profit (e.g. India). There are additional concerns that such operators may
Copy-edited proof to appear in: A. Verger, C. Lubienski, & G. Steiner-Khamsi (Eds.) (2016). The global
education industryWorld yearbook of education 2016. New York: Routledge.
receive undue taxation benefit and in the acquisition of land at much below market
rates in certain contexts (e.g. Pakistan; India). Despite this, the scaling up of the
corporate-backed sector is enabled by the tacit and willing involvement of government
and international agencies through the mental models and modalities of partnership.
3. Scaling Up: Tacit ‘Partnerships’ and PPP Modalities
The involvement of certain non-state private actors, corporate actors, in particular, may
be more immediately explained by a commercial motive. However, scaling up the
corporate-backed low-fee private sector is many times tacitly, but also explicitly,
enabled by national governments and supported by bilateral and multilateral agencies,
most recently, under the modalities of PPPs and the discourse of ‘partnership’.
The argument here resists the idea that the second wave of the low-fee private sector
naturally evolved as the result of default due to state sector dysfunction. While areas of
consensus between sympathisers and critics of the low-fee sector are few, as the first
wave of low-fee private sector studies emerged, both groups seemed to initially agree
that spontaneous, ‘de-facto privatization’ of education emerged because of state failure
(Tooley & Dixon, 2006); a response that ‘grew by default rather than design’ (Rose,
2003, p. 80). I contend that there has been inadequate provision of state schooling in
many contexts but, privatisation (or slices of privatisation), which may once have been a
default strategy, is becoming the strategy of design. This is specifically the case with PPP
modalities, which in particular, have enabled the evolution of the second wave of the
low-fee private sector, keeping the centrality of partnership discourse in mind.
Partnership constitutes the education buzzword du jour. Cornwall (2007) explains:
‘buzzwords gain their purchase and power through their vague and euphemistic
qualities, their capacity to embrace a multitude of possible meanings, and their
normative resonance’ (p. 472). Their ability to signify what is en vogue is ensconced
within a logic of taken-for-grantedness and can ‘cloud meanings…through a language of
evasion’ (Cornwall, 2010, p. 3). Currently, ‘partnership’ is as ‘ubiquitous as community,
evoking much the same warm mutuality’ (Cornwall, 2007, p. 475). But, it is precisely its
ubiquity that renders partnership ‘a floating empty signifier’ (Burgos, 2004).
In an attempt to more radically define the term, Pickard (2007) suggests that:
partnership denotes a special relationship between equal participants, or yes, partners,
who enjoy a distinctive bond of trust, a shared analysis of existing conditions in society,
and thus in general a common orientation of what needs to be done to construct a more
just, equitable, and democratic world’ (p. 575, emphasis added). However, the social
justice ideal mentioned above is conspicuously missing from most discussions in favour
of the vagaries of partnership as ‘a universal – almost a neutral value upon which all
specific agents and governments in general, would agree’ (Burgos, 2004, p. 58).
I argue that the seemingly convivial mutuality of the term ‘partnership’ obscures the
fundamentally altered mode of governance under PPP modalities, particularly with the
introduction of new/non-traditional (and for-profit) non-state private actors in
education. While the partnership discourse normatively neutralises the involvement of
profit-motivated actors in particular, state-sanctioned PPP modalities may insert them
Copy-edited proof to appear in: A. Verger, C. Lubienski, & G. Steiner-Khamsi (Eds.) (2016). The global
education industryWorld yearbook of education 2016. New York: Routledge.
in complex, opaque, and intertwined arrangements, in which the motivations of
individual actors may not resonate. Despite this, the notion of mutuality persists.
This notion of mutuality enables PPP modalities to be legitimised in spite of lessons
from countries with longer histories of PPP-friendly institutional frameworks that
large-scale PPP arrangements are riskier for the public sector as there are fewer actors
to bear the risk, but also that they operate with vested interests against those of the
public’s, can lead to more complicated regulatory frameworks not less, and that they
have the potential of becoming ‘abusive’ if the stronger partner dominates (Coulson
2005; van Marrewijk et al., 2008).
India, Pakistan, and Uganda are examples of countries that have instituted PPP
arrangements relatively recently for non-state actors (including, in some cases, private
entrepreneurs or ‘edupreneurs’, corporates, and international organisations) to take
over the management, operation, and establishment of schools. Words such as ‘nurture’,
‘encourage’, and ‘facilitate’ are repeatedly used in government documents to outline
desired action regarding PPPs and the involvement of non-state actors. These
arrangements and the accompanying discourse fuel evolution of the second wave of the
low-fee private sector by design, not default.
In 2007, Uganda’s Ministry of Education and Sports (MOES) adopted a PPP policy to
universalise secondary education. In the MOES vision, PPPs are positioned as vehicles
through which quality education can be achieved (MOES, no date, section ‘The
Department's Mission and Vision’). A PPP programme has been launched with the aim
of: ‘Identifying private schools to partner with government in implementing USE
[universal secondary education]’ (MOES, no date, section ‘Programmes’). This has
enabled external non-state actors to set up schools in Uganda and apply for state
In Pakistan, the Sindh Education Foundation launched the Promoting Private Schooling
in Rural Sindh Project in 2008, designed in collaboration with the World Bank. The
scheme aims to support 1000 new private schools in underserved areas in 10 districts
(Sindh Education Foundation, no date, p. 7). ‘Entrepreneurs’ are invited to establish
lower-fee private schools in rural areas but are barred from charging tuition fees to
students. Schools are meant to receive a subsidy of Rs. 350/month/boy and Rs.
450/month/girl enrolled. This model is predated by the Punjab Education Foundation’s
Foundation Assisted School programme which runs along similar lines (Punjab
Education Foundation, 2014).
Recently, the All Private School Management Association
appealed to the government to view low-fee schools in Sindh outside the scheme as
necessary partners in expanding education access. It asked for government grants to
fund these private schools to salvage their crumbling finances (The International
News, 2014), as they were unsustainable without them.
My analysis of India’s Tenth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Five Year Development Plans
showed that the broader macro-planning process successively facilitated PPPs in
education, and decreased the role for the state in education financing, management, and
The Sindh Education Foundation and the Punjab Education Foundation were established by the government
as semi-autonomous and autonomous institutions, respectively.
Copy-edited proof to appear in: A. Verger, C. Lubienski, & G. Steiner-Khamsi (Eds.) (2016). The global
education industryWorld yearbook of education 2016. New York: Routledge.
regulation (Srivastava 2010; Srivastava et al., 2013). Verger and Vanderkaaij (2012)
provide a compelling analysis in the Indian context of the use of PPPs as political
instruments of ‘reform’. This is despite the limited role officially accorded to the private
sector in the Government of India’s Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (Education for All)
programme, which focused on expanding state provision since 2000. Under an
unspecified ‘PPP mode’, the PPP discourse has been sufficiently broadened to allow a
range of actors with different motives to enter the schooling space. This has included
opening up the sector to private companies under their philanthropic arms to start/run
low-fee private schools, including a host of international non-state actors.
Positioning low-fee private schools as PPP initiatives is a notable shift in policy
discourse and practice, which should not go amiss. In the countries cited above,
traditional models that could be likened to public-private arrangements before the term
was en vogue did not include the possibility of corporations or individual
‘entrepreneurs’ running schools, or schools running for a profit. Instead, these were
usually community-run, or run by a charity, religious order, or trust (e.g. private-aided
schools, madrasas, missionary schools, etc.) under very different regulatory
environments and compulsions.
In the first wave of research on the low-fee private sector, the language of PPPs was
neither used to describe low-fee private schools, nor were such schools thus
conceptualised. Conversely, until very recently, none of the research on low-fee private
schools (including Tooley’s) positioned them as PPPs. It focused instead on their for-
profit or unregulated/unrecognised nature which fell outside the regulatory framework
of most countries. In essence, the ‘PPP creep’ in the low-fee private sector normalises
and encourages the expansion of a sector that, until recently, was seen as usurping state
regulation, and in certain contexts, still does.
4. Scaling Up (?)
As is apparent from the discussion thus far, evidence of initiatives on the second wave
of the sector is nascent. Available information is fragmented and opaque, and
concentrated in a small range of countries in the Global South, and on a relatively small
number of actors. This makes it difficult to map the evolution of the sector, its size, and
to draw broad conclusions. Nonetheless, a few notable examples are presented here. For
the purposes of this discussion, and given its influence, we focus on PALF, specifically on
its portfolio of education chains (Table 1).
Stated Scale
Published Fees
Type of Linked
13 schoolsx
Grade 7:
P 24,850/yr
Grade 8:
P 25,350/yr
Grades 9-12: N/A
Ayala Corporation
Corporate group
(holding company)
12 centres
[5 stand-
centres; 7 in-
Echoing Green
Draper Richards
Pan IIT Alumni
UnLtd India
Copy-edited proof to appear in: A. Verger, C. Lubienski, & G. Steiner-Khamsi (Eds.) (2016). The global
education industryWorld yearbook of education 2016. New York: Routledge.
(Chennai and
Nigeria for
359 schools;
Bill Gates
Khosla Ventures
Learn Capital
Investment Co.
-Venture capital
and private
investment firms
-Bilateral aid
-Bilateral donor
38 schools;
5 schools
(+ 1 for
R 17,955/yr
-Private schools
23 pre-
-Private investors
Table 1 Pearson Affordable Learning Fund (PALF) Portfolio of Chains
Source: All data extracted from PALF and organisational websites. Last verified March 2015.
Note: * Calculated in the currency used by the provider. Latest lowest wage rates were used. South Africa (farming and agriculture,
March 1 2014- 29 February 2015); Philippines (mean of four groups, 2015); Ghana (local daily wage rate, 1 May 2014- 30 May
2015); Kenya (lowest wage 2014-2015). Monthly rate calculated on 30 working days, and on the basis of one full-time adult worker.
+The organisational links may not be exhaustive, as not all data may be publicly available. Some websites were more developed than
X: A news report states that APEC plans to expand by adding 11 new schools by the end of 2015.
According to Pearson’s earlier website, it ‘makes minority equity investments in for
profit companies to meet a growing demand for affordable education services’ (Pearson
PLC, 2012, para 1). As mentioned above, as of January 2015, Pearson announced a
further $50 million investment in addition to its initial $12 million over the next three
years. According to PALF, ‘This is a testament to Pearson’s commitment to educate
children in the developing world and brings our total assets under management to $80
PALF has a portfolio of 10 investments in what it calls ‘affordable education services’,
more specifically, in chains and ancillary service providers. Of these, six are school
chains from pre-school to secondary, and one is a chain of private tuition centres
focusing on secondary school exam preparation. The remaining three are investments
in education technology and learning materials.
Geographically, four of the investments
These are Zaya (India) ‘“LabKit” solution [which] includes ClassCloud, an adaptive learning platform that can
store and deliver digital content in both online and offline environments’ and ‘End-to-end solution that
includes tablets pre-loaded with curriculum content, a classroom projector, a Wifi router, content storage,
teacher training, and a classroom management tool’; Experifun (India) providing science experiments and
Copy-edited proof to appear in: A. Verger, C. Lubienski, & G. Steiner-Khamsi (Eds.) (2016). The global
education industryWorld yearbook of education 2016. New York: Routledge.
are in India, and the rest are spread out in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Philippines, South
Africa, and Tanzania. Crucially, what constitutes ‘affordable learning’ for PALF is neither
precisely defined, nor consistently applied, as a cursory look at the fees charged by its
chain operators reveals.
Of these, Omega Schools and Bridge Academies International are best known. In 2008,
while a student, Ken Donkoh, a native of Ghana, and previously an employee of the
World Bank and IFC approached Tooley with a business plan (Riep, 2014). As relayed
by Donkoh and Tooley to me in personal communications, Omega started with the
investment of personal capital, until PALF took a stake in Omega Schools in 2013. This
allowed the chain to expand to 38 schools and reportedly to 20,000 students. In 2013,
Tooley predicted 100 schools with 50,000 students by 2014 (Wilby, 2013). This does
not seemed to have materialised at the time of writing, and may point to the potential
limits of scalability.
As of June 2012, Pearson is reported to have invested in Bridge. Its Academy-in-a-Box
approach is marketed as having ‘re-engineered the entire lifecycle of basic education,
leveraging data, technology, and scale to keep quality up and prices low (Bridge
International Academies, 2013a). From its first academy in 2009 in Kenya, Bridge had
359 schools in 2014, and plans to expand to Uganda and Nigeria in 2015. According to
the Omidyar Network, one of its investors, Bridge plans to operate in at least 12
countries across Sub-Saharan African and India, and have more than 10 million students
by 2023 (Omidyar Network, no date).
Though it is premature to make definitive claims based on available information, we
can, nonetheless make a number of initial observations. Firstly, it is clear that chain
operators are linked to a number of various kinds of actors, included an expanded array
of new/non-traditional non-state private actors, sometimes alongside government, not-
for-profit, and aid agencies in complex arrangements. The relationship between the
actors is opaque, their roles, and their influence on the chain operator is unclear. In
many instances they are sets of investors, but not always (e.g. SPARK schools). While
Bridge, the largest operator, also has the largest and most diversified sources of funding,
this is not true of Omega, the second largest. Much more concerted analysis is required
to make sense of the links, and to ascertain whether or to what degree each operator
would be part of a network.
Secondly, claims of scale are over-zealous. It is unclear if this is a marketing ploy by
chain operators to inspire confidence in attracting PALF and other investors; mobilizing
discourse by PALF to gain global legitimacy; or plain naiveté and misplaced optimism.
Simple observation reveals that with the exception of Bridge, the actual number of
schools/centres for each operator is quite small. They constitute a miniscule proportion
of total provision in these countries, as well as a miniscule proportion of public
provision. Simple calculations would reveal these to be much below 1%.
Even in
Bridge’s case, coverage would constitute approximately 1.8% as a proportion of public
learning materials; and Ubongo (Tanzania) ‘a social enterprise that creates interactive edutainment for
learners in Africa’ geared to teaching math through ‘edutoons’ on television.
Estimates for Sudiksha and Avanti are difficult to provide as public data on the number of registered private
tuition centres and pre-primary centres are unavailable.
Copy-edited proof to appear in: A. Verger, C. Lubienski, & G. Steiner-Khamsi (Eds.) (2016). The global
education industryWorld yearbook of education 2016. New York: Routledge.
provision in Kenya with 19,397 public primary schools, and less if this included the total
number of primary schools.
Thirdly, published fee rates were difficult to obtain publicly. Only APEC, Bridge, Omega,
and Spark published their fees. In the case of APEC, only rates for the first two years
(Grade 7 and 8) were available, even though the schools run until Grade 12. Based on
APEC’s increasing fee structure between Grade 7 and 8 it would be reasonable to
assume that this continues until the end of the cycle. Finally, other than in Omega’s case,
it was unclear if the fees charged represented the total out-of-pocket costs households
would need to pay. SPARK provided a breakdown of tuition, stationery, and registration
fees, but though the uniform and meal plan were mentioned, costs were not available.
Finally, all operators frequently used terms such as ‘affordability’, ‘disadvantaged, and
‘bottom of the pyramid’ on their promotional websites. The analysis here shows that
this can be severely questioned by: (a) the paucity of information and lack of
transparency on the fee structure and fee amounts; (b) any specific operationalisation
of what is meant by ‘affordable’; and (c) estimates showing published fees as a
proportion of local daily/minimum wage rates.
There is no universally agreed figure on what constitutes ‘affordable’ expenditure on
education. Estimates here are provided as a general rule of thumb, and a more detailed
cost analysis and comparisons with costs of accessing public providers would need to
be conducted.
However, as the bulk of literature on household education expenditure
confirms, families in the bottom quintile are highly sensitive to income and other
insecurities (i.e., health, food price shocks, seasonal migration, etc.), and are unlikely to
be able to access fee-paying providers for any sustained period. It would be hard to
argue that Omega Schools and SPARK, in particular, whose costs amount to 41% and
62% as a proportion of local daily/minimum wage rates per child would be affordable to
this group, even if estimates included more two full-time adult workers.
This raises serious questions about how and on what basis PALF judges affordability
and invests in school chains; and further, how chain operators raise money in the name
of reaching disadvantaged children in the Global South. This analysis assumes urgency
where public monies in such initiatives are directly invested by bilateral agencies, or
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through their own funds or through direct budgetary support offered via official
development assistance. We must seriously question whether the expanded array of
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government, and international donors facilitated by PPP arrangements can lend itself to
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... The growing involvement of private actors in education has expanded globally over the last decades, particularly since the neoliberal reforms of the 1980s and 1990s, accelerating in some regions during the 2000s (Verger et al., 2016;Srivastava 2016). This significant increase in the scale and scope of private involvement, and concomitant changes in the management, funding, and provision of education, has, in many places, transformed the State role and the governance and regulation education systems (Ball 2012). ...
... Private providers "may be for-profit or charitable, fee charging or free, driven by companies and entrepreneurs or by communities and non-governmental organizations, formal or informal, supported by the State or totally independent" (Aubry & Zondani, 2017: 200), each with different motives and relationships to the State (Robertson et al., 2012). In countries in the Global South, the rapid and de facto increase in private delivery has largely occurred in the form of low-fee private schools (LFPS) targeting poor households (Srivastava 2013;Verger et al., 2016), increasingly supported through PPP arrangements (Srivastava 2016), such as in Pakistan, Uganda, and Liberia. More recent expansions include private funding and investments by corporations, private foundations, social entrepreneurs, think tanks, consultancy firms, and other actors in the provision of schooling or education services Srivastava & Read 2019). ...
... These actors promote LFPSs as a strategy to increase access to education in countries where the State does not have the necessary resources or technical capacity to develop a public supply capable of absorbing the growing educational demand. In addition, these organizations have also been instrumental in providing funding and credit to LFPSs-which, in turn, has contributed to increasing the interest of private companies and corporations in this sector (Srivastava, 2016). ...
... Regardless, when it comes to teachers that work in LPFSs, they are predominantly talked about and often in quite instrumental ways (Singh, 2021). It is highlighted that their salaries are very low, that employments are insecure (Day Ashley et al., 2014;Edwards et al., 2015;Heyneman & Stern, 2014) and that the use of uncertified teachers and scripted lessons risk de-professionalising the teaching profession (Riep, 2017;Srivastava, 2017Srivastava, , 2013. Little in-depth focus is placed on teachers in their own right, as Singh (2021) argues for, by talking to teachers about teachers (for exceptions, see, McKay et al., 2018). ...
... Consequently, in many cases, the supply side of education quasi-markets is becoming much more diversified. Rather than just traditional categories of state, independent, and private schools, quasi-markets now often include state-funded but privately run schools (such as charter schools), schools owned or managed by corporate chains and for-profit businesses, various forms of virtual schools, supplemental or 'shadow' education services, and low-fee schools aimed at economically challenged communities, just to name a few (Srivastava 2016). Certainly, the ways that these different types of schools participate and interact in the milieu of suppliers can have implications for equitable access and student sorting. ...
In recent decades, policymakers around the globe have adopted market mechanisms such as consumer-style choice, provider autonomy and competition. Such policies may improve educational equity since families can choose options outside of their assigned local school. Yet research from multiple countries is finding a link between greater use of such policies and increases in social segregation in schooling. This comprehensive analysis is a first step in examining the specific policies and institutional and contextual factors that may alleviate or exacerbate different types of student sorting. Rather than focus only on the question of causation, we instead examine the potential pathways through which market mechanisms might impact student sorting, and highlight the role of incentives in shaping these pathways. In specifying several such pathways, we then present a framework through which further research might conceptualize and theorize the relationship between market mechanisms and student opportunity.
... Thus, the nature of the relationship between the public sector and PST is less clear and largely unspoken. The relation has been described as blurred and the role of PST in the educational landscape in need of recognition and reconceptualisation ( Srivastava, 2008( Srivastava, , 2016. Consequently, an exploration of the publicprivate interplay is called for. ...
... Questioning initial depictions of LFPSs mainly as a spontaneous response to demand-side pressures (Walford, 2013), such accounts have traced the role played by powerful international actors and supply-side factors in the diffusion of this schooling modality in many low-income countries (for an overview, see for instance Verger et al., 2018). In the past, international players such as the World Bank or the UK Department for International Development have advocated and directly promoted the expansion of LFPSs (Baum, 2012), and the rise of LFPS chains is now well documented in the literature (Junemann, Ball, & Santori, 2016;Srivastava, 2016). Evidence also points to a rising modality of public-private partnerships (PPPs) between governments and local or international LFPSs -which has been documented for countries such as India, Pakistan, Uganda and Liberia (cf. ...
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Over the last decades, Peru has experienced an extraordinary rise of low-fee private schools (LFPSs). While global debates on the quality of this modality of schooling have been gaining currency, research on the organizational practices of LFPSs remains comparatively underdeveloped. This paper aims at identifying and describing the managerial, business and organizational practices exhibited by Peruvian LFPSs– and at understanding them in relation to the social norms and institutional arrangements specific to the context in which they operate. The study draws on a combination of archival analysis, interviews with decision-makers, and interviews with school owners and principals. The results of our research show that the specificities of the socioeconomic, cultural and regulative environments in which Peruvian LFPSs operate have led to the consolidation of a particular subsistence model of LFPS where profit-making appears to play a limited role. This model is also characterized by the low formalization of management routines, the impossibility to generate economies of scale, and the reliance on interpersonal trust as a means to reduce risk – in a context of low bureaucratization and limited regulatory oversight. We argue that, in view of the distinctly low achievement levels of Peruvian LFPSs, gaining a fine-grained understanding of their organizational practices (and the incentives they respond to) remains a relevant task, and a necessary step to devise effective policy strategies.
In Anglophone countries, narratives of public schooling tend to emphasise generic hopes about schooling as central to the idea of a public good, including fostering community, delivering equality and protecting broad notions of democracy. However, as public systems become more open to privatised logics, these hopes sit alongside fears for the future of ‘publicness’. Through analysis of participant interviews in four education systems in Canada, England, New Zealand and Australia, this paper shows that these fears emerge from the specific nature of privatisation evident within specific contexts. Our argument is that while hopes remain in common, parochial policies and histories inform particular fears about how public school systems are losing their ‘publicness’. There is evidence of a ‘cruel optimism’ among participants as they try to hold onto their belief in the good of publicness, even as their institutions become hybridised by creeping privatisation.
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How are equity strategies and legislation experienced in local contexts? What specific processes and discourses are relevant for more inclusive educational experiences especially in developing country contexts of the global south? These are complex and problematic questions that linger in contemporary international debates and require wide investigation and critical examination. This book is apt because it offers much in this regard. Bringing together insights from a diverse line-up of contributors, it presents wide-ranging exploration of these questions. Through a rich range of contexts, conditions, subjects, theoretical lenses and empirical evidence, the book contributes significantly to the important debates around social and educational inclusion as well as key arguments against sustained exclusions and social reproduction. (From the Introduction) This book, a collection of 15 quality essays and an insightful introduction, was founded in the International Education and Development programme of the University of Sussex and SEVHAGE Literary and Development Initiative. Contributors include Jennifer Jomafuvwe Agbaire, Su’ur Su’eddie Vershima Agema, Juhi Kumari, Haruka Sano, Endurance Abavo Smart, Tatsuji Shinohara, Swayamsiddha Sahoo, Prashant Singh, Emilia Soto Echeverri, Jennifer Chinenye Emelife, Catherine Hiza, Dorji Lhamo, Tia Han, India Connolly, Kikelomo Ladipo and Onyinye Nkwocha.
Der Beitrag reflektiert den Aufstieg neuer Akteure in der internationalen Bildungspolitik anhand von zwei globalen Bildungsallianzen: der Globalen Bildungskampagne (GCE: Global Campaign for Education) und der Globalen Bildungspartnerschaft (GPE: Global Partnership for Education).
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Partnership is a word that can be associated with the idea of corporation, company, firm, business, legal relation involving rights and duties, joint venture, participation, close cooperation, and collaboration. It frequently appears in national and particularly in educational policies resembling a universal—almost a natural—value upon which all specific agents and governments in general, would agree. However, the meaning of this word changes in each particular moment and site of enunciation. This entails the examination of two discursive political operations: on the one hand, circulation and partial fixation; on the other, ambiguity and political moves.
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We are experiencing a global paradigmatic change in the relationships between government(s), education, philanthropy and business. The ways in which social and educational problems are being organised and addressed, nationally and globally, are changing in response to the methods of ‘new’ philanthropy and the privileging of ‘market-based’ solutions to these problems. The new sensibilities of giving and social ‘investment’ have led to increasing use of commercial and enterprise models of practice as a new generic form of philanthropic organisation, practice and language — venture philanthropy, philanthropic investments and portfolios, due diligence, entrepreneurial solutions, etc. New philanthropy is bringing new players into the field of social and education policy, repopulating and reworking existing policy networks. The first part of the article explores succinctly some key concepts involved in the ongoing changes in the roles and methods of philanthropy, configuring what the authors refer to as ‘philanthropic governance’. The second part focuses on the identification of sets of new actors within new networks of policy, of which philanthropy is a part. More concretely, the authors analyse here specific ‘generative nodes’, such as the Clinton Global Initiative, which connect and facilitate the creation of partnerships between actors from the public and the private sector. The article concludes by highlighting how the shifts and moves involved here are made up of and driven by a complex set of advocacy networks, business interests, ‘new’ philanthropy, and changes in the form and modalities of the state.
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Recent studies show that despite their growing popularity, megaprojects – large-scale, complex projects delivered through various partnerships between public and private organisations – often fail to meet costs estimations, time schedules and project outcomes and are motivated by vested interests which operate against the public interest. This paper presents a more benign and theoretically-grounded view on what goes wrong by comparing the project designs, daily practices, project cultures and management approaches of two recent megaprojects in The Netherlands and Australia, showing how these projects made sense of uncertainty, ambiguity and risk. We conclude that project design and project cultures play a role in determining how managers and partners cooperate to achieve project objectives to a greater or lesser extent.
This paper contributes to the important but small body of research on the role of private schools in Indian education. It uses a household dataset from India with a rich set of household covariates and student performance data on reading, writing, and mathematics. For both rural and urban India the results from regression analyses indicate that private school students perform better on tests controlling for covariates. In both contexts, however, the private school benefit becomes largely, statistically, insignificant after conducting multivariate analysis on data balanced using the propensity score matching technique. The paper also makes an initial attempt to identify ‘low-fee’ private schools; within the regression framework it finds that children in such schools may perform no better than their public school counterparts. The data and methods used in this paper are not without limitations; however these analyses call into question the claim that private school effect may be unequivocally positive and highlights the potential heterogeneity in private school performance in the Indian context.
This article revisits a topic central to the past and the present of comparative education: the theme of ‘transfer’. It outlines four ideas. First, that comparative education as a field of study, having begun in the study of ‘mobilities’, became diverted by other anxieties. Second, the article notes that the theme of ‘transfer’ is far broader than just exporting a quality assurance process or some other ‘fix‐it’ educational technique to another country. Third, the article asks how we may think freshly about ‘mobility’ and ‘transfer’ as a theoretical problematique. The conclusion of the article is that if we, as academics, are going to take themes such as mobilities, border‐crossing, and translation seriously, we have some unexpected challenges to sort out, including complex questions about ‘geometries of insertion’. For questions as difficult as those, ‘more research’ is not the only or even the best initial answer.
This article is based on interviews with several staff members of NGOs located in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico, regarding partnerships between them and their funding sources, such as foundations or agencies of the North that do or support development work in the South. The motive behind the interviews was an interest in the word ‘partnerships’, in particular strategic ones. Do partnerships exist now and, if they do, what does it mean for the NGOs to have a partnership with a funding source? The general conclusion was that strategic partnerships have indeed existed in the past, and may again emerge in the future, but that currently they exist only sporadically, given the distinct ways of viewing and carrying out development work within NGOs on the one hand, and foundations or agencies on the other.
This paper examines the manner in which consumers and providers of education operate within, and how they withdraw from, the educational marketplace in Pakistan. It focuses on the use of exit and voice mechanisms used by households in response to the range of educational provision available from state and non-state providers.The conceptual framework is drawn from the original model of exit, voice and loyalty created by Hirschman in 1970. The paper uses a range of exit, voice and loyalty types to map how households of different socio-economic status make schooling choices when they are faced with a range of educational providers. The evidence shows that the better-off households are benefiting more than the poorer households from the higher quality education provided by low-fee private schools. The poorer households face economic, social and political hierarchies that work against equal access. The implication of our findings regarding the diminished exit and voice mechanisms exercised by poorer households is that these are unlikely to halt further deterioration in the quality of education currently experienced in local government schools.
The “mushrooming” of private schools for low-income families has been widely noted in the literature; however, very little is known about the quality of these schools. This research explored the relative quality of private unaided (recognised and unrecognised) and government schools in low-income areas of Hyderabad, India. A preliminary census to locate unrecognised private schools – not on official lists – was conducted. Data were collected on achievement and background variables for 3,910 pupils from a stratified random sample of schools. Using multilevel modelling shows that pupils in private unrecognised and recognised schools, when controlled for age, pupil's IQ, and class average IQ, achieve higher scores in mathematics and English than equivalent pupils in government schools. There is no significant difference between private and government schools in pupil achievement in Urdu. The achievement advantage for private schools did not arise because of greater resources available, at least in terms of per pupil teacher salaries.