Entrepreneurial Approaches to Education for the Poor
The paper tries to capture the research and understanding along with innovations and policy reforms in assuring quality school education to all, with a particular focus on the poor. The scope is global but the problems and innovations in India get more weight in the document.
It begins with quantitative and qualitative narration of the two most fundamental problems in the education of the poor: Access and the quality. The problem of access is of ‘can’t afford;’ and the problem of quality is ‘not worth the time, particularly of the poor.’ The access problem is further compounded along the gender, caste, and physical and mental disability lines. Even when the Millennium Development Goals of enrollments are met, the quality of overall learning achievements is poor across the developing world. The quality of state schools is particularly low.
Recent research documents the flight of the poor from state schools to ‘budget’ private schools. On the one hand, governments are incapable of improving state schools, largely due to the power of teacher unions, and on the other hand, their regulatory systems are stifling private initiatives, condemning most private schools to illegal/informal status where they are unable to access formal capital to expand. The continuing decline of the quality of the state education system has led, by default, to one of the highest levels of privatization of education in the developing world. The proportion of students in private schools in urban areas of many states in India is higher than that in any developed country.
Private ‘edupreneurs’ are serving as safety valve to the failing state education systems. In any efforts to assure quality education to the poor, their role must be understood and appreciated. The first three sections then deal with the problems of access and quality and the duality of private edupreneurs. The next two sections suggest possible solutions through the use of technology and recent local experiments in innovations and policy reforms. The last section considers the particular challenge of introducing entrepreneurship education within the school life of students, an issue especially relevant for the poor in the developing world.
It is hard to escape the conclusion that the role of the government in education is to liberate the supply side, fund the demand of the poor, and monitor the access and quality of education. Let the private initiative and entrepreneurship—for profit and nonprofit— govern our schools. Scholarships, education vouchers, and loans would offer the same freedom of choice to the poor as the rich enjoy today. An unshackled and competitive market for education would prepare students to lead a productive and meaningful life.