La scuola dei poveri

James Tooley ha viaggiato presso le popolazioni più povere del mondo cercando di capire come si istruiscono.

L’esito di questa esperienza è registrato in un libro giustamente famoso: “The Beautiful Tree: A personal journey into how the world’s poorest people are educating themselves”.

Potremmo definire il suo ramo così: ultra-low-cost-education.

Ebbene, quello che ha incontrato ha dello stupefacente:

an unending line of small, no-frills private schools catering to poor kids

Ma le sorprese non finiscono qui:

… He found that, on average, they had smaller class sizes, higher test scores and more motivated teachers, all while spending less than public schools…

Una regola universale: chi paga pretende:

… When parents pay the fees that keep a school afloat, he reasons, the school becomes more accountable to them…

Un lavoro capillare e meticoloso che mette al tappeto l’ortodossia paternalista in un modo che sarà difficile farle riprendere i sensi:

… Orthodox opinion on developing-country education for the poor holds that parents are too ignorant to know a good school when they see one… and that a decent education is impossible to provide on the minimal budgets available to private schools serving poor students… country after country, Tooley found that both claims are false

In un era in cui le riviste di economia straripano di analisi matematica, James Tooley si mette a fare il giro del mondo per vedere da vicino le scuole dei poveri accorgendosi quante teorie cadano come birilli alla prova dei fatti

…  Economists identify so many theoretical problems with the provision of private education for the poorest people without troubling themselves to find out whether people overcome those problems in practice: Tooley demonstrates that they do…

Lo sforzo educativo degli ultimi è poderoso quanto spontaneo e la creatività per soddisfarlo straripante:

… Entrepreneurs and parents surmount huge obstacles to ensure that children are better educated than in state schools run by bureaucracies purporting to act in the interests of those whom they have never met…

Il libro conferma le idee dell’economista premio Nobel Elinor Ostrom: molti problemi che riteniamo ostici si risolvono in modo spontaneo.

Fare scuola è un affare quando il concorrente è un soggetto inefficiente come lo stato. Per fermare la galoppante imprenditoria scolastica è necessario mettere robusti bastoni tra le ruote, ma certe zone sono troppo remote e povere per meritare l’interferenza dei poteri governativi…

… Instead of being dependent on foreign aid and public schools, the world’s poorest people are educating their children on their own dime…

All’orizzonte comunque c’è sempre una minaccia: il burocrate.

… We meet the real teachers, students, and parents who constitute the delicate educational ecosystems under constant threat from bureaucrats, do-gooders, and naysayers…

Ecco la voce di un imprenditore scolastico:

… “Edify has a goal to finance 4000 schools by 2017. This will impact over 1 million children. James Tooley directly inspired my life’s work. As a result, I believe that, over the next 20 years, 20 million impoverished children will receive a much better education than otherwise would have been possible.” —Christopher A. Crane, president and CEO, Edify.org, a humanitarian organization devoted to working with affordable private schools…

Conoscete il dilemma di Easterly? Lo riassumo:

… William Easterly begins and ends his latest book, The White Man’s Burden, with the heart-rending story of 10-year-old Amaretch, an Ethiopian girl whose name means “beautiful one”: “Driving out of Addis Ababa,” he passes an “endless line of women and girls . . . marching . . . into the city.”1 Amaretch’s day is spent collecting eucalyptus branches to sell for a pittance in the city market. But she would prefer to go to school if only her parents could afford to send her. Easterly dedicates the book to her, “and to the millions of children like her.” He returns to Amaretch in his concluding sentence: “Could one of you Searchers”—the word he uses to define entrepreneurs of all kinds—“discover a way to put a firewood-laden Ethiopian preteen girl named Amaretch in school?”…

Tooley nel suo giro del mondo ha trovato la risposta e differisce da quella del sapere ricevuto acriticamente per cui: o lo stato o niente…

… The Searchers I’ve encountered on my journey—the educational entrepreneurs who’ve set up private schools in places not unlike where Amaretch finds herself—are already finding the way. The accepted wisdom—what everyone knows—is that children like Amaretch need billions more dollars in donor aid to public education before they can gain an education. And the poor must be patient. Although public education is “appalling,” “abysmal,” “a moral outrage,” “a gross violation of human rights”—all epithets commonly used to describe the “government failure” of public education—there is no alternative…

Il mondo delle scuole private a basso costo e alto rendimento è un pentolone che ribolle soprattutto laddove le condizioni sono impossibili…

… Behind the scenes, unassisted by donor involvement or government intervention, the poor have found a silver bullet, or at least the makings of one. The route to the holy grail of the development experts—quality education for all—is there for all to see, if only they’ll look. By themselves, the poor have found their own viable alternative. The solution is easy: send your children to a private school that is accountable to you because you’re paying fees. Perhaps it’s all too easy a solution for the development experts (even taking into account some remaining complexities—such as how literally everyone can access private education, of a desired quality—which I’ll come to in a moment). The poor just did it

I “cercatori di soluzioni” sono al lavoro da tempo in questo campo che sembra uno dei preferiti: dove il desiderio monta, gli affari prosperano. C’è voglia di istruzione e istruzione sia…

Individual entrepreneurs, like Reshma and Anwar in the poor areas of Hyderabad, India, or BSE in Makoko, Nigeria, or Theophilus in Bortianor, Ghana, or Xing, in the remote Gansu mountains of China, or Jane in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya, all recognized the desire of poor parents like them to have a decent education, saw the problems of public education, and decided that the best way forward might be to start a school…

Come agisce l’imprenditore scolastico?

… They took a risk, started small, scoured around for teachers and buildings, experimented with what worked, found that parents liked what they were doing—or changed things around until parents did—and their schools grew and grew. Others saw what they were doing and thought it seemed a neat way to help their community and make a little money as well—sometimes…

Come agisce il cliente?

… And individual parents—like Victoria’s fisherman father and fishmonger mother—anxiously aware that not all was well for their children in government schools, calculated that they could just about afford the private school, gave it a try, found it worked, and told others about their success…

In molti casi siamo di fronte ad un “grande addio”…

… the poor are empowering themselves. En masse, they are abandoning public education. It’s not good enough for their children. And they’ve found a superior alternative. That’s a good news story, isn’t it?…

Sebbene le scuole private dei poveri siano migliori delle scuole statali c’è spazio per un miglioramento

… there is the genuine information problem currently experienced by parents, an information asymmetry as the economists would put it. How do parents really know whether their school is any good?…

Ma si agisca con una massima sempre in testa: no al Grande Piano:

… William Easterly: “Has this book found, after all these years, the right Big Plan to achieve quality education for all? What a breakthrough if I have found such a plan when so many other, much smarter, people than I have tried many different plans over fifty years, and have failed. . . . You can relax; your author has no such delusions of grandeur…

L’unico piano che funziona è non avere piani ma favorire l’azione di chi già sta facendo bene…

Molti problemi sono gonfiati: genitori che non possono permettersi le rette proposte, genitori per cui l’istruzione dei figli è un intralcio… Ma:

figures from the aid agencies exaggerate the problem because they don’t take into account children already attending unrecognized private schools, off the state’s radar…

L’imprenditoria scolastica elargisce anche borse di studio

… In my research, I found that nearly one in five of all students in the slums of Hyderabad receive free or subsidized tuition based on need. The Searchers who’ve created private schools are already reaching children like Amaretch, but not yet Amaretch herself…

Se si vuole dare una mano lo si faccia irrobustendo il circuito virtuoso già in atto senza distruggerlo…

… The solution could be to extend what is occurring within the private schools to create targeted vouchers for the poorest, for those children whose parents don’t care about their education, and, in countries where boys are likely to be favored as I found in India, for girls to use at private schools…

E forse il contante è ancora meglio dei buoni:

… Easterly also notes the success of the World Bank Food for Education program in Bangladesh—a rare example, he says, of successful aid—that gave cash payments to parents in return for their allowing their girls to go to school (indeed, he notes precisely, “This is the kind of program that could help Amaretch in Ethiopia”… through  targeted vouchers, true, parents have the incentive to send their girls to school, but the schools—presumably public schools—have no incentive to educate the girls once they’re in school… If targeted vouchers are made available for private schools in the right way, they have the potential not only to incentivize parents to send their children to school (and if opportunity costs are a problem, these vouchers could include supplements for the parents themselves, as well as to cover school fees), but also to incentivize school management to do its best for the children once in school… Crucially, as far as the school is concerned, these parents are paying fees, just like all the others, and so the school will suffer if they are not satisfied… Targeted vouchers handled by the wrong agencies could lead to widespread fraud

Evitare comunque il finanziamento diretto alle scuole

… I’m not suggesting, even if anyone would listen, a wholesale Big Plan to transfer aid funding straightaway to targeted vouchers for private schools for the poor…

Non esiste un problema di fondi, tutto si puo’ fare al budget di oggi…

… But surely finding the funds for a large number of targeted vouchers would be a problem? I don’t think it would. Even as things stand now, with current levels of aid funding and without touching any government funds currently being spent on public education, so with no need to reform public education and public finance, I reckon we could afford to send every out-of-school child to private school… Take Ghana for instance. The British aid agency, Department for International Development, alone gives about $27 million per year to Ghanaian state education. In the poor areas of Ga, where my research was conducted, a typical private school for the poor might charge about $30 per year. In remoter rural areas, the cost will be even lower… Suppose, more realistically, that there are some costs associated with voucher administration, say 6 percent of the funding…

E le zone rurali?

… A second objection might be that this is all well and good for urban areas, where we know there’s already a huge supply of private schools, but what about remoter rural areas… if the reason why entrepreneurs are not establishing schools in some remote villages—cases in rural Gansu, China, spring to mind—has less to do with finance than with the lack of availability of suitable teachers, then incentives can be worked into the targeted vouchers to solve this problem too. Perhaps targeted vouchers in these kinds of remote rural areas could include additional amounts for teacher…

Quanto alla qualità delle infrastrutture scolastiche

… Getting Amaretch into private school is one, solvable, challenge. But what about the quality of education when she gets there?… Perhaps he had in mind problems such as poor infrastructure, lack of proper latrines, leaky roofs, and so on. Of course, he’s right. These can be improved… The key relevant finding of the research is that the vast majority of the private schools in the poor areas are businesses, not charities, dependent more or less entirely on fee income and, very importantly, making a reasonable profit… in the shantytown of Makoko in Lagos State, a typical case study school had 220 pupils and 13 teachers, and average fees of 1,800 naira ($12.41) per term, with 9 percent of students on free scholarships…Teacher salaries averaged 4,388 naira ($30.26) per month…

Una soluzione per tenere le strutture in efficienza è sviluppare un sistema finanziario accettabile: le discrasie tra entrate ed uscite spesso mettono in difficoltà le imprese scolastiche. Un sistema di registrazione delle proprietà immobiliari faciliterebbe poi le ipoteche.

… Because the private schools for the poor are run as businesses, a pretty easy solution is available to help school proprietors improve their infrastructure: microfinance loans could be provided, through existing or purpose-created microfinance organizations… I’ve found a hunger for this kind of money, available to schools that couldn’t usually access other funds, perhaps because they didn’t have formal property rights or were operating only semilegally—the kind of small businesses highlighted by Hernando de Soto in The Mystery of Capital… This hunger showed that critics’ claims of private school proprietors’ profiteering from the poor—the “hidden curriculum” condemnation I heard, that if schools don’t provide latrines, for instance, it shows the proprietor only cares about profit, not the children in his care—are completely misplaced. As soon as funds were made accessible, the private school proprietors showed themselves eager to invest in improvements…

Quanto alla qualità del servizio reso. Ci sono dei limiti, specie se ci si adegua alla qualità statale…

… I’m not totally satisfied by what I see in the private schools for the poor, in terms of their teaching and learning styles, and the curriculum… For it’s true, in general, that the private schools I’ve visited are generally steeped in the same learning styles—usually rote learning—as the public schools, and they tend to follow the state curriculum. Regarding the latter, they more or less must. The government inspectors aren’t too keen on letting them deviate…

I vizi di certi metodi affliggono tutto e molto è stato fatto nel tantativo di cambiarli. Possiamo dire una cosa: in questo senso i privati risultano più flessibili e più desiderosi di migliorarsi, sono loro ad aver fame di novità…

… Now, development agencies have plowed millions upon millions of dollars into trying to get teachers to change their methods, and children to rise above passivity. Millions of dollars have been spent on training teachers in child-centered methods… But the stark fact is, little or none of this really works—the child-centeredmethods introduced (which are themselves often the subject of criticism in the donor countries promoting them) just don’t gel with teachers, who tend to revert to their preferred methods… Expensive high-tech solutions, the television, interactive radio, and information and communications technology projects that hit the headlines, might work well while they’re being funded. However, as soon as the aid funding is withdrawn, the intervention ends…First, it becomes quickly apparent from any visit to private schools in poor areas that very often the proprietors themselves are eager to learn of different ways of teaching and learning, and of new curriculum areas, from overseas visitors…going around each school, the proprietor would sit me down in his or her tiny office after I’d visited the classes, and ask: “How can I improve my teaching? Tell me, what can I do better?”… A couple of years ago, I collaborated on a small-scale project in a private school in the slums of Hyderabad with Dr. Sugata Mitra, who, before he moved to Newcastle University, was chief scientist at NIIT Ltd., one of India’s largest computer education companies. Mitra has experimented with peer-group learning using information technology—dubbed “the hole in the wall”… The school proprietors were hungry for innovation. Why? First, whatever the critics of private schools for the poor may claim, the proprietors simply care about their children’s education and want the best for them. Even on its own, that might be enough for some of them to invest some of their surpluses in new methods and technology. But the power of the market is that the proprietors’ good intentions are coupled with another major incentive that makes it even more likely that they will seek to invest: they know that they face increasing competition…

Nel terzo mondo, diversamente che da noi, c’è una vera competizione tra le scuole, per questo prospera il privato. C’è vera scelta e domanda e offerta interagiscono. E’ grazie a tutto questo che si produce un miracolo educativo a costi bassissimi (scuola dei poveri). Da noi la scuola privata non guarda al mercato ma al tavolo della spartizione, dove il quasi-monopolista statale concede qualche briciola mettendosi in condizioni di concorrente sleale e tenendo ben stretta la “borsa fiscale” dalla quale di volta in volta concede graziosamente dall’alto a seconda dell’umore sindacale.

… Importantly, the situation in these poor areas is completely different from the situation in private schools in the West: there is a genuine market operating in these countries… In some of the poorest areas of the world, private education makes up the vast majority of school enrollment… In the West, however, private education is only a small fraction of total enrollment, around 7 percent in the United Kingdom, for instance. This is true, even if one focuses instead on urban areas, which have a particularly high concentration of private education: in central London, for instance, private school enrollment is only about 13 percent, and overwhelmingly organized along noncommercial, nonprofit lines… Such private education “markets” are unlikely to illustrate real competitive behavior, are more likely to exhibit complacency or even anti-competitive cartels (as has recently been reported in the UK7), because the “market” is very small, has a largely captive audience, and is competing against a near-monopoly state provider… In poor areas of developing countries, however, private education forms the majority of provision… In these areas, parents have genuine choices of a number of competing private schools within easy reach and are sensitive to the price mechanism… in these genuine markets, educational entrepreneurs respond to parental needs and requirements…

Il privato ha un vantaggio: è sostenibile. Questo garantisce un buon mix tra qualità e accessibilità. Un vantaggio essenziale laddove non esiste chi ogni anno fa fronte ai fallimenti economici con la fiscalità generale “infantilizzando” gli amministratori.

… The only way that we can really help is to ensure that the improved technology—whether in curriculum, teaching methods or learning methods—is available, suitably packaged, as inexpensive as possible, through some commercial enterprise. If private schools think it’s desirable, they’ll buy into it—perhaps using loan funds to help. The problems of sustainability and scalability that so bedevil any aid intervention are solved…

La cosa che più sorprende è l’attenzione per la qualità degli ultimi. Costoro sono consumatori attenti, spesso si trasferiscono di residenza pur di avere il meglio nel campo dell’istruzione…

… In The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, C. K. Prahalad challenges the “dominant assumption” that the poor don’t care about brand names: “On the contrary,” his findings suggest, “the poor are very brand-conscious.”… In private education, brand names could be important in helping solve the genuine information… parents use a variety of informal methods, such as visiting several schools to see how committed the teachers and proprietor appear. Or they talk to friends, comparing notes about how frequently exercise books are marked and homework checked. Importantly, I found that if parents choose one private school but subsequently discover that another seems better, they have little hesitation in moving their child to where they think they will get a better education… The less concerned can free ride on the choices of the more concerned. And since school proprietors know this, they ensure that teachers show up and teach, and they invest any surpluses in school improvement, to ensure parental satisfaction…

Spesso si pensa a genitori ignoranti non in grado di giudicare la qualità degli insegnanti a cui affidano i propri figli. Ma…

… Particularly at the primary school level—the level of most concern in this book—the nature of what constitutes a desirable education isn’t that hard to understand. Parents believe it should be about becoming literate and numerate…

La reputazione è comunque essenziale in un mercato che fornisce servizi iterati. Ci sono scuole di marca più o meno scadente. Quelle di marca superiore spesso operano in franchising…

… I don’t know anything about computer software or hardware, Internet searches, digital cameras, commercial airlines, or car maintenance, or even much about food and clothing, to name a few market decisions I’ve been faced with in recent days, and so for which the information problem rears its ugly head. Of course, I could become deeply informed about each of these areas, but life is too short. I could look at consumer guides like Which?… But still, in general, I manage to purchase all the necessary goods and services in a way that usually works fine for me, without much effort to overcome the information asymmetry. How? I buy trusted brands. I have a Sony computer and digital camera and Microsoft software; I use Google for my computer searches, fly by British Airways or KLM/Air France, use Northern Motors to maintain my Nissan, and shop at Tesco and Marks & Spencer for food and clothing… Buying trusted brands would be another way of overcoming the information problem for poor parents wanting the best education for their children… One possibility would be for investors to assist expansion-minded proprietors in accessing loan capital, in the way already outlined above… Establishing a chain of “budget” private schools, serving poor communities, would seem an extraordinarily exciting and innovative project for investors and philanthropists to engage in… School proprietors are eager to differentiate themselves in this market, and a key concern of parents is educational quality. By becoming part of the brand name, managers could show that they emphasize quality more…

E per le scuole che restano fuori dalle catene di franchising? Non resta che competere duro e creare un loro brand. L’esempio NIIT.

… What of schools that don’t become part of the chain? In the short term, they could suffer… But in the dynamic market of education, two things would likely happen. First, individual educational entrepreneurs would seek to improve what they offer in order to retain children or win back those who have left. Second, most fundamentally, if the financial and educational viability of an educational brand name was demonstrated, others would soon enter the market, establishing competing brand names that offer quality education at a low cost… Prahalad observes that the founder of Aravind Eye Care System—which provides cataract surgery for large numbers of the poor—was “inspired by the hamburger chain, McDonald’s, where a consistent quality of hamburgers and French fries worldwide results from a deeply understood and standardised chemical process.”… And perhaps you don’t even have to start with the poor. I’ve a friend who’s starting a chain of private schools in China for the middle classes… Just as NIIT has conquered the world of computer education certification, so I believe there is nothing to stop some educational entrepreneurs, perhaps assisted by forward-looking philanthropy, in creating brand-name certification for budget private schools…

Possiamo concludere affermando che le scuole dei poveri…

Their quality is higher than that of government schools provided for the poor—perhaps not surprisingly given that they are predominantly businesses dependent on fees to survive and, hence, are directly accountable to parental needs…

Si puo’ aggiungere che un miglioramento è possibile

… By increasing what private schools for the poor already offer, such as additional free and subsidized places for the poorest (vouchers), sensitively applied targeted vouchers could broaden access on a large scale… Investing in microfinance-style loan programs so that private schools can improve their infrastructure is one way forward… And investing in a chain of schools—either through a dedicated education investment fund or through joint ventures with educational…

Che implicazioni posiamo trarre per le scuole dell’ Occidente opulento?

Spesso il benestante che manda i bimbi a scuola è preda di un dilemma morale:

…  when their children reach school age, middle-class parents are faced with the dilemma of sending their children to the assigned state school or a private alternative. For many, this decision brings a terrible moral dilemma… Fiona Miller—the girlfriend of then Prime Minister Tony Blair’s former adviser Alistair Campbell and herself a former adviser to Cherie Blair—argued in a Channel 4 documentary that pushy middle-class parents who were abandoning the local comprehensive state school were the biggest threat to public education… Oxford don Adam Swift made his name telling middle-class parents that sending their children to private school damaged the egalitarian project of public education in his book How Not to Be a Hypocrite… For if you send your children to private school, you are saying that the state system is not good enough for your children… But of course if you choose to follow what you believe to be morally right, by supporting the state schools that the majority must attend, then you run the risk of jeopardizing your own dear child’s future…

Insomma: se scegli il privato sei un traditore che contribuisce al degrado della scuola di tutti, soprattutto di chi sta peggio. Ecco, ora abbiamo visto da vicino chi sta veramente male e non possiamo certo dire che le scuole private siano il nemico, al contrario! Forse questa considerazione aiuterà i benestanti a scegliere sempre di più il privato senza tanti rimorsi.

… Swift’s dilemma—of middle-class angst—may seem minor compared with those problems facing parents in poorer countries… I think the solution that poorer parents have embraced can help soothe the consciences of middle-class parents too…

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