The Ten-Cent Solution

Monday, February 12, 2007

If good ideas were all that mattered, everybody who has heard of Jeffrey Sachs would have heard of James Tooley as well?but they aren?t, and you almost certainly haven?t. In fact, even if you are keenly interested in education, aid, or Third World development, which are Tooley?s areas of research, you still probably haven?t heard of him.

This is not because his work is dull or unimportant. His findings are surprising, and they bear directly and profoundly on the relief of extreme poverty all over the world. (Name me a more important issue than that.) The reason you haven?t heard of James Tooley is that his work is something of an embarrassment to the official aid and development industry. He has demonstrated something that many development professionals would rather not know?and would prefer that you not know, either.

Tooley is a professor of education policy at England?s University of Newcastle upon Tyne. Several years ago he was working as a consultant in Hyderabad, India, for the International Finance Corporation, an arm of the World Bank. One afternoon, while wandering around the alleys beside the Charminar (a sixteenth- century monument and Hyderabad?s best-known tourist attraction), he came across a school for the children of slum dwellers. To his surprise, he found that this was not a state school but a private one?providing education to the extremely poor and collecting fees (of a few rupees a day, or less than a dime) for its services. Intrigued, he kept looking, and found other, similar schools. They were typically small and shabby operations, sometimes occupying a single classroom, staffed in some cases by just the teacher-proprietor and an assistant. Yet they were busy?crowded with eager pupils?and the teacher was actually teaching. (This, Tooley knew, was not something you could take for granted in the classrooms of Indian public schools.)

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