Pearson has launched a $15 million fund to invest in low-cost private schools in Asia and Africa. The for-profit Affordable Learning Fund is chaired by Sir Michael Barber, who was Tony Blair's education advisor in the United Kingdom. Sir Michael claims that they can provide high quality private education for as little as three to five dollars a month per child in some of the emerging markets.
"Low-cost private schools are cheaper than government schools but often get significantly better results – sometimes twice as good," said Sir Michael, who was appointed as Pearson's chief education adviser in May 2011.
Gideon Spanier, in the Independent, reports that up to 70% of kids already receive private education in some parts of Pakistan, and that there is a widespread feeling that government service is unreliable — so private schools have a very necessary role.
"Parents are desperate to get their kids into education and feel governments aren't giving them the quality and consistency they want," added Sir Michael, noting that "on any given day, 20-25 per cent of teachers don't turn up" in some government schools in India.
The fund will invest in both existing and new schools. Sir Michael said that the fund will be focused on aiding poor families rather than the middle class. The fund will also provide support services, such as teacher training, for the schools it invests in.
The Pearson fund's first investment will be in Omega Schools, a private chain in Ghana, which has been developed by the local entrepreneur Ken Donkoh and James Tooley, professor of education policy at Newcastle University in England.
Pearson owns the Financial Times and book publisher Penguin, although 80% of its operating profits last year were from education.
Recently Pearson have been garnering some bad press in the US with a series of test question debacles and questions raised over the ethics of financing free international trips for education commissioners whose states do business with the company.
Although there has been some criticism of the plans, Sir Michael rejects this:
He dismissed suggestions that Pearson's investment looked relatively small. "$15m to get started actually goes a long way in this field."
"We have hope and reason to believe that some other investors will follow our lead,"