International publishing giant Pearson announced a new program Monday that will channel millions of dollars into education systems in countries in Africa and Asia. The Pearson Affordable Learning Fund, launched yesterday with a $15 million grant, will invest in low-cost private schools, starting with Omega Schools in Ghana, a private for-profit educational school venture. According to the press release, Omega currently teaches 6,000 students in ten locations, but with Pearson’s funds, the company could become “a full-service school chain serving tens of thousands of students throughout Ghana.”
Sir Michael Barber, chief education adviser and chairman of the fund, said low-cost private schools like the Omega Schools system can provide a higher-quality education than public school systems can. According to The Independent (U.K.,) Barber hopes the fund will be able to offer lessons for as little as $3 per month.
Pearson’s press release said its initiative will help developing countries meet the Millennium Development Goals, a set of objectives determined by the United Nations Economic and Social Council that includes universal primary education, by 2015. But some aren’t convinced that Pearson’s investment will be good for the international education community, since even $3 could be enough to dissuade poor families from enrolling their children. From The Guardian:
However, NGOs, questioned whether the Pearson approach would help meet the millennium development goal on universal primary education, as school attendance has been driven by the abolition of fees. David Archer, head of programme development at ActionAid, pointed out that the big surge in primary school attendance in countries such as Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, since the late 1990s, followed the abolition of school fees.
“To suggest somehow that supporting low-cost private schools would boost school attendance flies in the face of the evidence,” he said, adding that girls would also lose out if schools started charging. “It’s ironic at a time when girls are a priority in primary education, as this kind of initiative will almost certainly discourage girl attendance.”