Leading up to the World Cup, the 1GOAL: Education For All campaign has been attracting global press coverage and over 8million people have already pledged support to push governments to ensure education for all. World leaders, footballers and celebrities have all signed up, while major charities including Save the Children, Unicef and ActionAid are behind the campaign. Although ‘education for all’ is a noble aim, 1GOAL is devoid of substance and is therefore of questionable value. The campaign is simply calling on governments to ensure that everyone is educated, without any indication of how this could or should be done.
Because government interventions in education provision can have unintended consequences, a campaign without direction offers no clues as to its likely success. The history of education in developed countries, in which governments directly and indirectly usurped control of education delivery, is not the only way. Driven by parental aspirations, private schools for the poor are already delivering education to many and this is a growth industry. From India, Nigeria, Ghana and China evidence is mounting showing that many of the world’s most vulnerable are already choosing to spend what little they have to send their children to private schools for the poor.
An education industry is growing in the developing world, in which entrepreneurs, school chains and brands are competing and innovating for students. As people in these countries become wealthier through technological innovation, greater access to markets as both buyers and sellers and through specialization, cooperation and the division of labour. The potential is huge. Yet crowding out, taxation and regulation pose a threat.
In many developed countries such as the UK, the government is the near-monopolistic provider of education; if developing countries take a different path and instead target their interference of education at only the poorest through vouchers that are used in the superior private schools, this will be the best way to achieve the goal of universal education without threatening the organic growth of private education for the poor. 1GOAL, and other campaigns for universal education, need to recognise this.
If left unmolested, it is likely that the entrepreneurs, school chains and brands will before long become global companies competing with UK government to run schools. Instead of focusing upon what the rest of the world can learn from us, we need to widen our gaze and see what other countries have to teach us.