Is private schooling worth it?

April 16, 2012

Being in the education policy sector of an administration looking after the highest proportion of non-government funded private schools anywhere in the world, this question plagues my mind. And so reading this article recently from the Sydney Morning Herald on the worth of private education sparked my interest for a number of reasons.

Firstly, consider the sums of money spent on exclusive private schools for a student in Sydney; around 25 t0 30,000 dollars or about 100,000 dirhams.

Secondly, it’s the reasons why parents choose to send their kids to private schools and it’s similar anywhere in the world.  It’s so that their son or daughter is around kids of a similar or better socio-economic status and who they feel that they want to be with and away from the riff-raff.  Like this quote “a good school for my child is one where minorities are in the minority”.  It’s also about the quality of teaching and in particular, about how private schools will get rid of underperforming teachers.

Thirdly, it’s about better customer service from private schools.  Fee paying customers are more likely to get a more favourable reception from the school than in the public system.  Teachers are more responsive.

Fourthly, waiting lists are very fluid and many parents choose to register their child at multiple schools, just like here in Dubai.  Some schools in some areas are very hard to get into but flexibility is an option so that even if your child cannot get into a school now, chances are that in later years there is still a strong possibility.

Yet these items mask the point that even though private school students perform better than their public school peers, once socio-economic factors are taken into consideration, the differences are not statistically significant.  Take a similar kid with similar parental backgrounds, upbringing and income and place him/her in a public school, chances are that their results will be about the same.

So, is private schooling worth it?  As with everything it comes down to capacity to pay, perceived value for money and choice.  For many parents, it’s the only choice and little Johnny will get the best possible opportunity to excel and make the appropriate connections to the right people.  Yet, as with many things in life, it’s just about creating an environment for something to happen whether that is academic excellence, appropriate relationships or sporting prowess.  To what extent these things really matter is up to the student and other factors outside of the school environment such as how much the parents encourage and support their child and involve themselves in their education as much as the type of school that the child attends.


Private Schooling for the Poor

July 15, 2010

I recently attended a talk by James Tooley on the subject of providing private school education in the poorest parts of the world.  My initial inclination, along with most other education policymakers, is to consider that private sector education is for the middle class and elites who can afford it, leaving those with lower incomes to the free education of the public system.  What James Tooley discovered was something completely different; that private schools operate and operate well in the poorest regions of the world.  His work over the past 10 years has been likened to a global detective story as he searches for these hitherto hidden schools.

James Tooley has found low-fee private schools in slum communities in India (Hyderabad), Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana and China.  In most cases, a significant proportion of the student population was enrolled in these schools, many of which were not recognized by their education departments.  In many cases, private school enrolments were increasing due to parent dissatisfaction with the public system.

James has performed tests on the school children and found that the students in the private  schools were performing better, even though teachers in the public systems could be getting paid double or up to 5 times more than those in the private schools.  The main reasons for the differences were the lack of accountability in public schools, absenteeism of teachers and poor teaching standards.  Teachers in private schools often came from the local community whereas public school teachers may feel aggrieved at being moved to a school in a poor area.

This work is incredibly important for meeting Millennium Development goals which may be under-reported if many students are actually attending schools that are off the radar for statisticians.  It’s also important for encouraging improvements in the public system by providing good competition for student places.  The key point he found is that the poorest of the poor are willing to fork out a small amount of money each day for their children’s education if they see it as having benefit beyond that of a free public education.


More on Luxury and Dubai

February 4, 2010

Following on from my last article on luxury in Dubai, I came across this fascinating article looking at Deepening Luxury in Delhi.  It tells of a presentation by Jem Bendell at the International Herald Tribune conference on Sustainable Luxury in Delhi, India, in March 2009.

The report focuses on the role that luxury brands can play in helping to promote sustainability.  “Luxury brands have the margin and mandate to create the most environmentally friendly products and services.”  And also “I am here because I believe that luxury can lead, not lag, in the transition to a fair and sustainable world.”

The ability for luxury brands to market environmental awareness, promote reliability and longevity, and have strong links with developing economies for the development of their products is well stated.  Some brands are doing it but so much more could be done.  Too often I have found that luxury tends to involve excess and waste rather than longevity and care.

Currently, my son is completing a project on renewable energy and discovering the frustrations of people not willing to take action on sustainability issues.  This “Life is good, I don’t need to worry about the future” attitude seems to be quite prevalent here in Dubai.  Brands tend to be used as status symbols to define someone in luxury rather than as monikers to encourage awareness raising and responsibility across the populace.

I like Jem’s approach of working “towards a new form of luxury that embodies what is personally, socially and environmentally the best of human creativity.”  This deeper luxury requires a change from buying a brand for status to buying luxury for the inherent meaning in the goods and services and to pass on that message of environmental awareness to others through the branding.


Luxury in Dubai

January 12, 2010

An article in the Gulf News today looks at the preference of many in the Middle East, particularly Dubai, for high-end luxury items.  An international survey found that the response by people that received the highest numbers from people in Dubai was for “luxury is a lifestyle”.  Other countries had a greater preference for a response that classified luxury as “something over and above what you need”.

This penchant for things luxurious is said to be one of the hallmarks of Dubai living, which boasts mega-shopping malls with many high-end brand name stores.  Dubai shoppers are more likely to buy impulsively and less likely to research items before buying an item that has the best value. The virtue of delayed gratification has taken a backseat to the instant elixir of a full shopping bag.

I feel really good about being one of the exceptions to this preponderance of free-wheeling luxury shoppers with more money than sense.  I must admit to never having a great desire for luxury brands and fail to see the need to identify myself with particular brands.  A marketer’s nightmare in other words!  For me, the term “luxury is a lifestyle” makes no sense, perhaps because I try not to live that lifestyle, or perhaps (and this requires some meditation on tonight) that I am living that lifestyle in Dubai and I am not even aware of it!


Blocking Innovation – The Falafel Syndrome

December 30, 2009

I miss listening to ABC Radio in Australia; either some of the interesting conversations with Jon Faine or some of the Radio National programs but fortunately I can get RN on podcast, particularly All in the Mind.  But there is one somewhat similar program here on the Dubai Eye network called Business Breakfast which tends to focus on business news but does have some good interviews from time to time.

One that I caught recently was with the CEO of Innovation 360, Kamal Hassan.  He was talking about innovation in the Dubai and Arab region which was most interesting following the recent publication of the Arab Knowledge Report.  This report discussed the lack of regional innovation and entrepreneurship.  The CEO mentioned three factors which blocked the effective implementation of innovation;

  • Apathy – people are generally apathetic to trying out new ideas.  There are few local “heroes” that model innovation and new business development.
  • Search for Best Practice – there is a tendency to import best practices from outside the region.  In fact, he mentioned that the result is the opposite to “Not Invented Here”.  People actively look to replicate the successes from elsewhere which raises all the problems of context, culture and local environment.  Rather than trying new things out and seeing what works, people take the easier option of bringing in expertise from outside.  Classic complicated vs complex issues (Cynefin).  The apathy towards innovation means that “Not Invented Here” does not even register.
  • Falafel Syndrome – a great little metaphor for not being innovative.  He described someone setting up a falafel shop on a busy street and doing really well.  What tends to happen next is that someone else sees this success and sets up a similar falafel shop and does moderately well.  Others look to how these guys are faring and set up their own falafel shops on the same street which is all too much for the market and so they all become unprofitable.  There is insufficient thought towards establishing complementary shops like juice bars.  This metaphor furthers the cycle towards apathy as why bother being innovative when others will simply copy your business model.  The lack of effective intellectual property rights and copyright also means that many new initiatives lack good means of protection.

Harnessing Advanced Communications in an Era of Convergence

October 29, 2009

Today I went to a lecture at Michigan State University for their inaugural Distinguished Lecture Series for the 2009/10 academic year.  The lecture was by Dr. Johannes Bauer, Professor of Telecommunication, Information Studies and Media at the Quello Center for Telecommunication Management and Law, Michigan State University.  The title of his talk was Harnessing Advanced Communications in an Era of Convergence.

I was particularly interested in this topic as I assisted in the production of a Convergence Review, a report tabled in Parliament in 2000, during my first position in the National Office for the Information Economy (RIP).

One of Dr Bauer’s research interests is international comparison research.  Different generations of mobile technologies have had different leaders – the first gen was led by the US, second gen was Europe, and third gen was Asia.  It is uncertain who will lead the charge for the next gen of mobile technology.

Historically, government monopolies had run telecommunications.  But since the 1980’s, countries have been looking to remove state ownership and encourage more market forces and the efficiencies and innovation that come from liberalization.  But there are weaknesses with this approach and we are now at a crossroads.  There is a growing sense that the models used in the past do not scale well into the future.  There is now a search for a new balance between the roles of government and of markets/business.  This will involve experimentation with new and innovative approaches, often at a local level with community involvement.

East Asia and Europe have been able to surpass the number of voice access paths of the US after commencing well behind – it’s a success story for them, and not necessarily a disaster for the US.

China now has 55 access paths per 100 inhabitants and India only about 15 – even though back in 1990, both had a similar negligible number of voice access paths.  In 1990, you would have thought that India would have been more successful due to its western style economy.  Yet China’s growth, despite it being state-owned, raises the question whether the forces of government can be used in western countries to improve technology deployment?

He displayed a nice graph from the World Bank (their Information and Communication for Development report 2009) showing that broadband connections provides higher returns to economy than the Internet, then mobile, then fixed lines.  The benefits are even higher in developing economies than developed economies as there are more efficiencies to be gained.  There are social benefits of broadband penetration as well like education, health care, e-government, environmental benefits, public safety and emergency services, community engagement and social networking.

There is a now different paradigm of thinking about the use ICT for economic development.  It’s not just technology centric that sees ICT as critical for economic development based on modernization theory, but one (ICT4D) that is more about the importance of complementary factors like digital literacy, social capital, access to financing – a human-centric and systemic view.

As communities move to adopt even more advanced applications and services, there is a demand for higher speed transmission (including over mobiles) and for this to be more symmetrical (eg for videoconferencing) – and also the need for high quality (eg low latency) such as for video gaming.

There are major challenges in the creation of sustainable business models where organizations try to gain revenue sufficiency, particularly as many business models have high start-up costs.  Another challenge is the need to minimize risks to society like information security and privacy as well as overcoming digital divides.  Because of the Internet’s open infrastructure, we will need to restructure it in order to deal with the threats of malware.

Dr Bauer described the environment as akin to an ICT ecosystem that has three possible areas of state intervention.  These are focused on horizontal regulation (unbundling, access, interoperability), vertical regulation (network neutrality, openness, structural separation, etc) and public policies (tax credits, subsidies, public investment, industrial policy).  Different countries have adopted a mix of approaches:

  • US – favour a laissez faire approach with minimal vertical and horizontal regulation
  • EU – favours a synergistic approach of comprehensive horizontal regulation and  measured vertical regulation
  • Asia – a more interventionist approach with comprehensive and proactive horizontal regulation and measured and proactive vertical regulation

Key points include that any regulatory model needs to be tied to specific national and local conditions.  There is no best policy mix; each has its unique advantages and disadvantages.  But most importantly, the policy choices need to be consistent (not internally conflicting) but with sufficient institutional diversity since no single approach can solve all investment issues. Finally, infrastructure investment needs to be complemented with other measures.

He rightly points out that this regulatory environment is a complex system and we don’t fully understand all the implications of the regulations that are implemented.  Therefore, this makes it critical to monitor and evaluate the policy implementations and to adjust or terminate policies quite quickly.  For example, if a regulator determines to unbundle the network, then there are later issues as to who will invest in new infrastructure resulting in unintended consequences.




The Knowledge Futures Blog Turns 3

August 22, 2009

Well a lot has happened in those three years.  Back then, I would never have thought that I would now be living in Dubai and that this blog now has 170 posts.  So to both of my readers out there, Happy Birthday to my blog!  We are now out of the terrible 2’s and into the thriving 3’s.