Development Education

To what extent can low fee international education programmes, aid the process of decolonization in post-colonial Mozambique?


At the end of five hundred years of shouldering the white man’s burden of civilizing “African natives” the Portuguese had not managed to train a single African doctor in Mozambique, and the life expectancy in eastern Angola was less than thirty years”

      (Rodney 2018 pp 247)

Education creates a nation’s doctors, lawyers, nurses, and teachers, all the social services needed to develop a society, keep its citizens healthy and economically productive. With few exceptions, throughout the colonial period of Africa, education systems provided for the majority black populations were geared towards the needs of the minority white settlers and their ‘mother country’ and not in the interest of most indigenous populations. The quote above demonstrates the reality of the outcomes of the Portuguese colonial education system in Mozambique.

Using the context of Mozambique, this essay will examine the rise of global transnational education programmes delivered by private schools for a growing middle class across Africa. I will examine how Enko education, a transnational provider of private education across Africa, with three schools in Mozambique, promises to help African students gain places in ‘leading’ global universities by giving students access and opportunity to study internationally recognised curricula. There are a few different international or transnational education programmes but this essay will consider only the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme (DP). Transnational organizations like Enko education and the IB raise interesting questions for decolonization within the African historical context. What I hope to offer is a study of the increase towards private low fee international schools and their implications for decolonization, with a specific focus on Mozambique. This paper will examine the question: “To what extent can low fee international education programmes, aid the process of decolonization in post-colonial Mozambique?”

The first three sections provide contextual information and are structured similarly: considering general trends in low income and postcolonial contexts in Africa before discussing Mozambique in detail. In section one I present a history and context of some colonial education systems. Section two is an overview of the African learning crisis and rise of low fee private schooling including Enko education. In section three I examine the IB, its philosophy and history, before moving onto analysing the issues described in these contextual sections through the framework of underdevelopment in section four. In the final section I provide a conclusion.

Before continuing I need to define some of the boundaries of this paper. This is not a paper about so-called low-fee or low-cost private schools (LFPS) of which I have written about elsewhere (Vincent 2021a, Vincent 2021b) and have been the basis of much academic debate over the last two decades (See Tooley 2009, Härmä 2020). Nor is it a paper about elite private international education, the type of which is normally available to the highest socio-economic groups, referred to as Type A international schools by Hayden and Thomson (2013). Instead, I seek to examine what may be considered the middle ground, and its decolonising role, within a post-colonial context. These are private schools that cater to a growing middle class and offer the type of international education programmes found in elite schools but at a tenth of the cost. This trend sits alongside the rise of LFPS across Africa, within a general trend of privatization in the age of global neoliberal economics.

Section 1: Colonial and Post-Colonial Education

            According to Datzberger (2021) pre-colonial African education was based on social and communal relationships within family tribal and clan-based groups which focussed on the learning of utilitarian skills. These skills are those that were needed for the development, within the individual, of the social-cultural values and norms. Usually within pre-colonial societies the important unit was not the individual, but the group and hence education was focussed on developing group cohesion amongst individuals. Children were educated to engage with a particular activity, and to ensure the transmission of cultural values. Education of this type included oral storytelling and literature as well as the transmission of traditions through stories and dancing and interactive experience. Traditional pedagogies in Kenya for example, are highlighted by Wa Thiong’o (1986) who stresses the importance of using local African languages for cultural transmission and education through the Arts. Rodney (2018) claims that whilst local differences did exist between different African communities in their pre-colonial education, most did follow a similar pattern based on respect for communal relationships.

            With the scramble for Africa circa 1870, there was differing emphasis given to education between different colonial powers. Although the differences appear to be by way of degree and implementation, the intent of colonial powers was generally to absorb African societies into a subordinate position in an economic hierarchy. Thus, in British, French or Portuguese colonies, education existed to promote the interests of the colonising nation generally at the expense of the colonised. Madeira (2005) gives an interesting comparative account of the differences and similarities of education systems in Anglophone, Francophone and Lusophone colonial jurisdictions.

Whilst he was writing about his experiences of British colonial schooling in Kenya specifically, the colonial education system described in detail by Wa Thiong’o (1986) could be thought to be typical of colonial education systems throughout Africa during the colonial period in terms of its purpose (Rodney 2018). Wa Thiong’o (1986) is included here because he has written with lucidity about his personal experience of colonial education, an experience that could be thought to be typical for successful indigenous completers of colonial education, even across different contexts. He describes how the Kenyan colonial education system was designed to dominate ‘the mental universe of the colonised’ (ibid pp 16). He writes that the colonial education system focussed on the ‘destruction or the deliberate undervaluing of a people’s culture … and the conscious elevation of the language of the coloniser’ (ibid pp 16). The author goes on to describe how the colonial school served to sever the child from his community and natural environment so that he came to see them as something other to themselves. This was brought about by the deliberate use of colonial language but also ‘the alienation became reinforced in the teaching of history, geography, music, where bourgeois Europe was always at the centre of the universe.’ (ibid pp 17)

            Not only did colonial education systems place Eurocentric learning material front and centre but colonial education was elitist and competitive, designed to select and mark out a minimum of the colonised population for secondary school, university, and then junior roles within the colonial administration. The aim was to train a class of the local population that could work to keep the colonial machinery in operation. This class needed to be culturally homogenous, replaceable and have a connection with the colonizing nation. As such the curriculum and pedagogies were devoid of developing critical thinking. Wa Thiong’o (1986) describes how, in Kenya, the only mark that mattered at the end of primary exams was English. Without a pass in English a child could not move up the educational ladder no matter how bright they were and how well they scored in other subjects.

            In Mozambique the intent on paper was like that of the British and French although the implementation of the colonial education system was hampered by the lack of development of the colonial power itself (Madeira 2005). In official Portuguese political discourses, the plan was to create a shared Portuguese culture across all of its ‘overseas provinces’ where black Portuguese citizens would be created. This plan was only haphazardly implemented and never came to fruition (ibid). Portugal had been economically dominant in the region of what is now Mozambique since the 1600s but towards the end of the 1800s Portugal itself had failed to industrialise to the same extent as other European powers and therefore was unable to promote the economic development of Mozambique (Cross 1987). Instead, from the 1930s it sought to use Mozambique to shore up its own economic position through the exportation of forced migrant labour and the provision of jobs in Mozambique for Portuguese settlers who lacked employment opportunities in Portugal. Thus, on the eve of independence the Portuguese ruled Mozambique directly from Lisbon with ‘the main objective [being to] quite nakedly to get the maximum benefits and profits…for the mother country’ (Gaster 1969 pp 151). The ‘almost absolute lack of African participation in positions of economic and political leadership’ (Cross 1987) was caused by a failure of the Portuguese to fully assimilate the indigenous population through education, creating a very weak, small, and fragile assimilado (‘Africans considered to have divested themselves of all tribal customs…and assimilated Portuguese values and culture’ (Cross 1987 pp 553))petty bourgeois.

In the early days of colonial education in Mozambique (1800-1930), education of the indigenous population was left to the catholic missionaries. However, by 1900, Portugal effectively only controlled around 10% of modern Mozambique and so influence in many areas was gained by the British through the activities of protestant missionaries (Madeira 2005). Madeira (ibid) claims that in the first decades of the 20th century up to 1948 there were more schools operated by protestant missions (and under the influence of the Americans and British) than there were catholic. The Portuguese state operating in Mozambique focussed its energies initially on the provision of public academic education for the children of white settlers, mulattos (people of mixed race (Cross 1987 pp 553))and assimilados. Education of the indigenous population was left to the missionaries who favoured literacy for the catechism and the elements of training needed for the indigenous population to fill the unskilled labour roles (Madeira 2005). This resulted in an effectively two-tiered education system within Mozambique where the indigenous population who had access to schools (most didn’t) was taught just enough to be able to read and write the catechism and to fulfil their role in society as forced migrant labourers (Cross 1987, Madeira 2005). The curriculum that existed was Portuguese in values and culture and Portuguese was the language of instruction, the use of local languages in the education system were banned in 1921. This system left Mozambique with a literacy rate that stood at 5% in 1967 (Gaster 1969).

The Mozambique Liberation Front, FRELIMO, was formed in 1962 from the fusion of several exiled organisations and succeeded in its aims of securing independence during the liberation war that spanned 1964 to 1975 (Cross 1987, Gaster 1969). From its inception FRELIMO was aware of the need for education (Mondlane 1967, Gaster 1967, Samuels 1971) to ‘train cadres and promote general literacy’ (Samuels 1971 pp 69). Thus, even during the war of independence FRELIMO started schools in the areas that they were active in and began a secondary school for refugees from Mozambique in Tanzania, called the Mozambique Institute (Mondlane 1967, Gaster 1969, Cross 1987). FRELIMO adopted Portuguese as the language of instruction ‘to unite all Mozambicans above diverse languages’ (Hall & Kidd 1978 pp 124), and they were aware that ‘education must prepare us to develop a new society and meet its demands’ (ibid pp 125). Education was thus seen consciously by FRELIMO to build a successful post-colonial society. However, despite efforts post-independence, the educational picture in Mozambique is still severely underdeveloped with a recent report citing an average years of schooling at 3.2 years of education amongst the population and high levels of illiteracy (Härmä 2016).

Section 2: The African learning crisis and Enko education

The educational situation in Mozambique presents echoes of a wider African ‘learning crisis’ (Oketch 2021) recently described as severe by the World Bank (The World Bank 2017). The argument put forward by Oketch (2021) is that the increased access to education brought about by EFA has caused a decrease in the quality of education in some African contexts, for example Malawi (Inoue & Oketch 2008, Härmä 2016). The crisis has arisen because schooling is not the same as learning. There has been improvement in access to schooling, but the quality of that learning is poor or declining with many children not meeting minimum indicators (Oketch 2021). Other authors cite country and school contextual factors to explain differences in learning outcomes for children in different African countries (Carnoy et al 2014). Studies show that a large proportion of students across Africa are 3 years behind where the curriculum expects them to be in terms of literacy and numeracy (The World Bank 2017).

Because of this perceived poor quality in public education many families have turned to the private sector. The education systems of low-income countries have witnessed increased privatization and the creation of education markets, through the rise of LFPS and an increase in Public-Private-Partnerships (Unterhalter et al 2020). Many authors have documented this trend (Tooley 2009, Härmä 2020) and there have been some large-scale studies examining the evidence of the effectiveness of private schooling (Day Ashley et al 2014). This is a global trend that affects many low-income contexts. Added to this learning crisis there has been an increase in the middle class of the Global South in recent decades who have been clamouring for more and higher quality education (Gardner-McTaggart 2014, Härmä 2016). One of the ways this demand for private schooling from an emerging middle class in Africa is being met is by private actors through for-profit education companies like Enko Education.

Enko Education is a for-profit educational company, inspired through the meeting of Cyrille Nkontchou, from Cameroon, and Eric Pignot, from France, at MIT Sloan School of Business in 2012. It has been funded by private and institutional investment finance from both inside and outside Africa including Proparco, Oiko Credit and Enko Capital (Materia 2021). The founders of the company worked in Management Consultancy and Finance in Europe before starting the company (according to their LinkedIn profiles). The founders were puzzled by the seeming lack of African students at their university, relative to students from other comparable regions like India (Allen 2020). Enko education was established with the mission to:

increase access to the world’s leading universities through high-quality international education.’ (Enko 2021).

To illustrate what Enko means by high quality international education, most Enko schools offer IB programmes as well as Cambridge International programmes. ‘World leading’ is an ambiguous phrase, but the fact that in 2017 a student from their first cohort gained a scholarship to study at Yale in the US (Allen 2020) serves to illustrate the company’s intent. Their aim is quite simply to help African students go to university in the Global North as this is where most world leading universities are located according to international ranking criteria. At an estimated 3000 USD cost per year in fees, Enko schools are catering for a growing middle class in Sub Saharan African countries. Currently they operate 16 schools across Africa with nearly 3000 students, with the first school being founded in Yaounde, Cameroon in 2014 (Enko 2021). Currently Enko has three schools in Mozambique: Enko Riverside which offers the IB DP; Enko Sekeleka which offers international A levels and Enko Benga which will offer programmes to both local and international students.

Section three: The IB

Whilst there are a variety of international curriculums available, here I will examine the IB which was officially founded in 1968. Its first programme, the DP aimed to provide a broad, balanced and challenging education that could promote international mobility by providing an internationally recognised university-entrance examination. The first DP exams were delivered in 1970, but its philosophical roots go back further (IB 2021b). The ideas that were embryonic to the IB can be traced back to the publication of a UNESCO booklet entitled “Do Education Techniques or Peace Exist?”by Marie-Thérèse Maurette (1948) who was the director of the International School of Geneva at that time. The concern for promoting peace continues to be reflected in the mission statement of the IB:

“The International Baccalaureate® aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.”

           (IB 2021c)

LanguageNumber of students taking exams
1st language exams2nd language exams
Table 1: African Language examinations taken by students in the May 2020 global IBDP Exams. Source IB Statistical Bulletin:

Today the IB provides four educational programmes for children from primary age all the way through to pre-university secondary level. All programmes are underpinned by a similar educational philosophy. At the time of writing there are 5,500 schools across 159 countries delivering educational programmes to nearly a million children (IB 2021a). Of these around 80 are in Africa or 1.5% of the total IB schools worldwide (Hill 2018). As of 2018 there were no government or state schools offering any IB programs in Africa despite attempts throughout the history of the organization for it to work with governments across Africa notably in Senegal and Ghana (Hill 2018). Uptake of the IB by African schools since the 1970s has been slow and not in line with the early vision of the founders who felt that the IB had something to offer the education systems of newly independent states in Africa (Bunnell 2016). Cost is identified as one factor for this slow growth (Bunnell 2016). IB programmes are expensive for schools to run and therefore most schools that offer the program are catering to communities that can afford this type of global education, so called traditional Type A international schools (Hayden & Thompson 2013). Other barriers to adoption of the IB by schools in Africa are cited as: lack of IB conferences and teacher support on the continent; the fact that the IB in Africa is managed from the Netherlands; and a Eurocentric bias in its pedagogical outlook and philosophy (Blunnel 2016).

The IB emphasises constructivist, learner-centred, and inquiry-based pedagogy being heavily influenced by the pedagogical approaches of John Dewey, A.S. Neil, Jean Piaget, Jerome Bruner, all of whom were influential educationalists in the early to mid-20th century (IB 2021b). These principles are at the core of all IB programmes and are highly aligned to current global education policies. In addition to its core pedagogy IB programmes aim to be broad and have strong focus on languages. Students from around the world can take their DP subject exams (like maths, history or science) in English, French or Spanish and can study a variety of world languages as a first or second language. It is also possible for schools to request language exams for languages that may not have a large representation globally. Table 1 shows the number of students who took first or second language exams in each African language available in the May 2020 DP exams.

Section four: Underdevelopment

In the first three sections I have examined the colonial and post-colonial education system, the rise of private education in low-income contexts and the IB. In this section I will use the theoretical framework of underdevelopment as described by Rodney (2018) to analyse these trends.

Africa, taken as a whole, has been drastically underdeveloped by its historical interactions with Europe, according to Rodney (2018), who describes how the pre-colonial trading relationships between Europe and Africa, served to widen what was only a narrow economic gap initially around 1500 into a chasm by 1870. It is claimed that these trading relationships, which were focussed on the exportation of human beings from Africa, served, in the main, to stall the development of African societies from this point on. Several reasons for this stalling are claimed, but primarily it was the forced exportation of human labour, which is the foundation of development, that was the keystone of underdevelopment. These relationships also corroded social relationships within African societies.

Rodney (2018) contends that because of the stagnation of development in Africa through pre-colonial trade, European imperialists were able to invade and dominate the African nations in the colonial period. Education was seen as necessary to change the population to accept colonial administration, as discussed earlier. Education during colonial times, developed an administrative middle class in many countries, who had vested personal economic interests in keeping the economic relationships established between the colony and mother country intact. As Wa Thiong’o (1986) writes: ‘By education children are brought up in the culture, values and world outlook of the dominant class which may or may not be the same as the class of their birth and family. By choice they may opt for one or the other side in the class struggles of their day’ (ibid pp 104). This policy has been documented in Mozambique by the creation of assimilados despite the Portuguese being less successful in this than the British or the French. Writers like Fanon (1961) described how, following the liberation movements across Africa, the stage would be set for a new relationship: neocolonialism. In neocolonialism Fanon (ibid) describes how ‘the former dominated country becomes an economically dependent country’(ibid pp 77). He goes on to write that ‘the colonies have become a marketthe important thing is not whether such-and-such a region in Africa is under French or Belgian sovereignty, but rather that the economic zones are respected’ (ibid pp 51). After independence and in the neocolonial period, the ruling political elites who have been educated under the colonial system have more in common with European interests and less with their countrymen. Fanon describes these political elites as ‘spoilt children of yesterday’s colonialism and of today’s national governments, they organise the loot of whatever national resources exist’ (ibid pp 37).

The adoption of the IB by Enko schools in Mozambique sits in this historical narrative and has implications that need to be considered in this light. From this starting point we will examine first how the Enko model of education fits into this narrative followed by the role of IB in supporting decolonization in societies like Mozambique.

Section 4.1 The Enko model

As presented, the Enko model of education, provides access to international education programmes, at a fraction of their normal cost, to African students to enable them access to universities in the Global North. International education programmes are adopted as these are seen to be of higher quality than the state education system and easily recognisable by admissions officers at universities in the Global North. Although there is a focus of getting access to university more broadly (not every African student in the schools can win scholarships to Yale), the stated intention is to gain admittance to ‘world leading’ universities. Although the term ‘world leading’ is appropriately ambiguous for marketing by implication this means access to universities outside of Africa. Afterall, according to data, only four African universities make it into the top 500 global universities, with highest placed being at number 226 (QS 2021). For the sake of this paper, I assume that by world leading, Enko means ‘outside Africa’. This model when analysed by the underdevelopment framework presents several issues.

The model of European finance providing investment to African children to attend universities in the Global North is reminiscent of situations described by Rodney (2018 pp 258) where colonial governments provided investment opportunities for their businesses, seemingly to develop Africa but which ultimately benefited the colonial state. In similar fashion with the Enko model, investment is provided to Africans to ultimately pay very high international student fees to relatively expensive universities in the Global North. Thus, investment ultimately goes to providing income for the education industry of the Global North. During the colonial period, trade from Africa to Europe and America was encouraged to the exclusion of trade between Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Colonial powers blocked development of machinery and skills within Africa in the colonial period to ensure that African industry did not compete with European industry. By focussing on world leading universities (as measured by western metrics) history is in danger of being repeated through modern trade in educational markets. This situation potentially leads to further underdevelopment of African universities and is in danger of creating educational dependency on Northern educational institutions. Dependency is increased because more Mozambicans become dependent on the northern education institutions.  In time these individuals may have a vested interest in maintaining this economic status quo.

Clearly capital is needed to run schools, but the profit motive shifts the overall aim of education away from the needs of individuals and their communities and to the needs of shareholders keen to recoup their investment. Afterall, these schools are creating and exploiting an education market, and aiming to make a profit; any excess that is made is not necessarily entirely reinvested back into them, as would be the case in a not-for-profit private school. For-profit schools have been known to close at short notice when the profits do not materialise, putting children, who may be halfway through a program, at a severe disadvantage, particularly if there is no alternative provider of the same program (Jones-Nerzic 2020). Making a profit is therefore the primary aim, education is secondary.

The financing of these schools through investment by Global Northern finance illustrates Fanon’s markets as quoted above and means that ultimately any profits made by these schools are taken out of Africa and back into the Global North. This clearly serves to underdevelop the community as money that is made by families in Mozambique for example, is used to pay schools fees, some of which goes into paying teacher salaries and other administrative costs but some of which finds its way back into the Global North via the repayment of loans and profits to non-African shareholders and finance. This ultimately leaves fewer financial resources available for the local communities than if these schools were run by the government or as not-for-profit entities. It could be argued that without the profit motive, investment would not be available to run these schools which provide education and employment. I would argue that every government has an obligation to provide quality education for all its citizens and investment in education should be provided through these channels for the ultimate benefit of society.

International education of this type may bring benefits to the individual, but the benefit to the wider Mozambican society is harder to ascertain. Individuals who reap the benefit of this education and move abroad are not likely return unless there are suitable jobs and opportunities for them to do so, a problem that schools like Enko do not seem to address in their mission. This model potentially serves to increase inequality in Mozambican society as the very poorest are excluded from these opportunities. By overlooking this, these schools could potentially contribute to continued underdevelopment of the society by encouraging the removal of human resources from Mozambique, creating an additional problem for the government: providing suitable opportunities to encourage diaspora to return and loss of intellectual talent needed in society. It seems unlikely that this model of schooling will help to provide Mozambique with more Doctors, nurses, and teachers. Here we see the tension between the needs of developing individuals and the need to develop a society. I argue that education of this sort is not helping to create a socially just society and will continue the legacy of European interaction with Mozambique as highlighted in the quote at the beginning of the essay.

Section 4.2 An international education

Some writers have highlighted the problems arising from transplanting IB programmes into non-Eurocentric cultural contexts. Drake (2004) examines the cultural dissonance and tensions that arises from the implementation of the IB in Hong Kong for example. The pedagogical approaches that the IB favours were developed in the context of liberal democracies where individual freedom is stressed. These educational philosophies reflect the societies that they were gestated in and may not always be appropriate in all cultural contexts.

Liberal individualism runs to the core of IB philosophy and educational approach, not surprising considering that the key educational thinkers who the IB based its approaches on were all European or American men and were developing their theories within the liberal culture of those societies. Thus, the drive for learner-centred, inquiry-based education where the individual student takes control of their learning has roots in this Eurocentric way of understanding the world. Not all societies place such emphasis on the individual and it is documented that pre-colonial education within African societies was generally based on the needs of the society not the individual. Education may be beneficial for the individual but if there are no jobs suitable for the individual to come back to then it won’t benefit society but instead continue its underdevelopment.

Not only is the IB Eurocentric in its educational philosophy but it is also Eurocentric in its content. There is some scope for African study in history and through African languages, but as a science teacher of IB curriculums I know there is little to no mention of African scholarship in these curriculums. The narrative of these subjects is firmly outside Africa. In the IB DP biology curriculum there is no mention of any African scientist or the contributions of Africa to the advancement of scientific knowledge. In fact, the guide for DP biology only mentions Africa once as, a side note. This lack of African perspective demonstrates a possible lack of involvement by Africans in the development of the content. For biology alone it is possible to find examples of content that could link well to the African context for example the development of knowledge in biochemistry from foodstuffs derived from Africa.

African writers have provided ample examples of the misfit of European based education programs under colonialism being imposed on African society (See Wa Thiong’o 1986, Rodney 2018 pp 300-304) and I do not have space to include them here. But these programs served to Europeanise the indigenous population and ‘it followed that those that were Europeanized were to that extent de-Africanized, as a consequence of the colonial education and the general atmosphere of colonial life’ (Rodney 2018 pp 304). If international education is really going to serve the interests of African societies, then it needs to become more culturally sensitive in terms of its philosophy and content, allowing more flexibility to and representation of local needs and wants in its educational approaches and providing more input from African scholarship across its content. Even in Enko schools which employ African teachers (not necessarily local teachers) the head of school is normally from the Global North. This individual is likely to have limited sensitivity to the issues raised here and will be steeped in the cultural atmosphere of international education as described above.

Finally, the IB provides access to its curriculum in the colonial languages of English, French, and Spanish, so that students can study their entire DP in either of these languages if they wish. It is interesting to note that even in Mozambique, FRELIMO decided on using the language of the coloniser in its educational system with the aim of uniting different groups. Other African writers have criticised the adoption of European languages as national languages by independent governments and emphasised the need to adopt local African languages. While the use of European language by governments may have been pragmatic, it is a symptom of the neocolonial relationship. If this is the case, the IB would do well to adopt an African language more broadly in its African schools.


I set out to explore the question “To what extent can low fee international education programmes, aid the process of decolonization in post-colonial Mozambique?”. My argument suggests that the model of for-profit low-fee international education programs risks continuing the process of underdevelopment and increasing dependency. It potentially does this is by making the better off and more educated members of Mozambican society dependent on higher education institutions located in the Global North. Society in Mozambique cannot fully decolonise until Higher Education institutions of quality are developed and economic opportunities for skilled individuals become available in the country. This requires investment from the government. In a sense we are witnessing the creation of education markets in Mozambique. It is my contention that these markets serve to strengthen the position of northern higher education institutions.

 Another way dependency is increased is through the removal of capital from Mozambique back to institutions outside of Africa. The for-profit model does not ensure that finance is contained within the communities the schools serve and it promotes loss of intellectual talent. If those individuals that can access higher quality education ultimately leave the country, then developing a robust, independent society in the long run is potentially hampered. These relationships mirror many of the situations of the colonial period of Africa as described by Rodney (2018). Ultimately the exportation of finance and human capital to the Global North from the Global South will not serve to build an independent Mozambican society in the long run.

Finally, the pedagogies encouraged by the IB are Eurocentric in philosophy and origin, while the content taught in many courses could be developed further to encompass more of the African local experience and context; I provided one example for one course but there is scope that this could be the case in other subjects. The involvement of more diverse viewpoints in the development of IB content would be one way that this organisation could aid the decolonisation process.


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  • Unterhalter, E, Ron Balsera, M, Dorsi, D (2020) What can be done? The Abidjan Principles as a human rights framework to evaluate PPPs in education in Critical reflections on Public Private Partnerships Gideon, J & Unterhalter, E Editors. Routledge.
  • Vincent, W. (2021a) To What Extent Could Low Fee Private Schools Aid Development in The Republic of South Sudan. EDPS0057: Education and International Development: Concepts, Theories and Issues. UCL IOE. Unpublished Essay.
  • Vincent, W. (2021b) Can The Expansion of Private Schooling in Developing Countries Serve To Improve Access, Efficiency, Quality and Equity in Basic Education: The Case of Primary Education in The Republic of South Sudan. SOCS0020: Economic perspectives on education policy. UCL IOE. Unpublished Essay
Development Education

Can the expansion of private schooling in developing countries serve to improve access, efficiency, quality and equity in basic education? The case of primary education in South Sudan


The focus of this essay will be on the role of private actors in primary education in the Republic of South Sudan (South Sudan). This paper seeks to discuss how the expansion of private schooling, specifically the role of so-called low fee private schools, can serve to improve access, efficiency, quality, and equity to primary education in South Sudan, in the context of education for all (EFA). Low fee or cost private schools (LCPS) catering for basic education have grown in number in a variety of low-income contexts over recent years and data evaluating impact of these schools is agnostic. The concept of low-fee vs low-cost private schools is contentious (Day Ashley et al 2014), however in this essay I use the definition given by Verger et al(2018), “private schools that have been set up and owned by an individual or group of individuals for the purpose of making a profit and are supposed to be ‘affordable’ for low-income families” (pp 256). There continues to be debate about these institutions and the role they can play in development with one side claiming that they can improve access and quality and the other concerned with issues of equity. They may also not be the most efficient way of providing education for all. This essay aims to analyse the role that LCPS can play in the fragile state of South Sudan through the lenses of key economics of education principles. A fragile state can be defined as “lack[ing] political will and/or capacity to provide the basic functions needed for poverty reduction, development and to safeguard the security and human rights of their populations. (OECD 2007, page 2). A fragile state provides an interesting case study for these economic concepts because of the inherent lack of government capacity to regulate markets and an extreme scarcity of resources will make it challenging to implement a nationalized education system.

This essay is organised as follows: in the first three sections I present a discussion of the relevant economic theory and its application to low-income contexts before moving on in section four to review the application of these theories specifically in South Sudan. I argue that private schools are an important ally for low-income governments to expand access to education, but their role needs to be carefully planned to ensure issues of citizenship and developing social cohesion are considered, alongside issues of equity of access and quality. Private education gives flexibility to meet the linguistic and cultural needs of communities through consumer choice. Private education may help overcome geographic and structural difficulties through market competition.

Section 1: Human Capital Theory and Education Investment

The relationship between education and the economy was first recognized as early as Adam Smith (1776) but it was not until Shultz (1961) and Becker (1964) that it was first formalized through their human capital theory (HCT). This theory positioned education as a form of growth for an economy as opposed to a consumption and has been the major justification for the investment in education systems of developing nations by external donors. Notable in this regard is the World Bank that oversees the human capital project and produces the human capital index (World Bank 2021a).

HCT justifies individual and societal investment in education by assuming that human skills, knowledge, and their development through education are all directly linked to economic productivity. If we accept this assumption, it follows that by increasing the level of education that any individual has, we can raise the education level of the population on average and therefore increase the productivity of an economy and allow it to grow. Education can bring both monetary and non-monetary benefits to individuals and society which can be partially measured through the estimation of rates of return. Amongst policy makers working in low-income contexts, HCT has justified concerns about making quality education of all levels accessible to individuals within any developing country. Once we agree that investment in education is essential for the development of a low-income economy, we then must agree whether this investment is best realized through government spending or through private markets.

Orthodox, neo-classical economics views individuals and markets as superior to government and regulation (Alcott 2021, Chang 2011). This view argues that individuals and markets lead to improvements in quality, efficiency, and equity far superior to any provided by the government. This is because individuals are supposedly rational and assumed to hold a high degree of knowledge about what is best for them to maximise their utility. In this way, markets are thought to be more responsive and flexible to the needs of the individual as opposed to the government. This responsiveness is theoretically due to the accountability of the market. Those actors in the market who are not responsive to demands of the consumer will lose out. In this way the market reflects Darwinian principles of natural selection (ibid). In addition to this view, Public Choice Theory (Buchanan & Tullock 1962) suggests that all elements of government action are made by self-interested actors creating a principal-agent problem. Public Choice Theory argues that governments cannot really provide anything for society because parties and politicians are self-interested and following their own interests in pursuing policies. Thus, from this view, an ideal society is one where people can make as many decisions for themselves as possible through markets. Finally, if we accept that individual citizens reap the greatest benefits from investment in their education, then there is a case that they should be the ones to pay for it through private markets. According to neoliberal economic principles this use of private markets for education would have the added benefit of driving up quality.

Arguments that favour government production of education justify it for several reasons discussed in this essay. Firstly, education brings benefits or returns to wider society, not just the individual. These societal benefits of education are described as “externalities” (Oketch 2021a), “neighbourhood effects” (Friedman 1962) or “semi-public goods” (Sen 1999) and can be monetary as well as non-monetary. Non-monetary societal returns have been suggested to include reductions in fertility and mortality rates, the avoidance of natural disasters like famines, and greater democratic participation (Sen 1999). Secondly, it may be more efficient for the government to provide education because of deviations from the first best economy model (Barr 2020). Finally, government provision of education is justified because education is a fundamental human right, and governments are best placed to ensure all their citizens can access it.

Despite these theoretical considerations, in low-income contexts there may be many barriers to effective government provision of education. These are documented by Tooley (2009) and include reasons, like graft, unmotivated teachers, and language barriers between teachers and students in poly-lingual societies. Finance is often an issue for the governments of low-income countries with data from UNESCO showing that in Sub-Saharan Africa alone 16 countries spend less than the UNESCO recommended 4% of their GDP on education (UNESCO 2021). South Sudan ranks the lowest among East African countries, currently spending less than 1% of GDP on public education investment (UNICEF 2019). Further to these concerns, in a fragile state like South Sudan a top-down national education system may not be the most efficient way to organise the system, because inter-group and intra-group trust may be lacking after a civil war. An important final consideration is that different ethnic groups may have different linguistic needs which may reduce the efficiency of a national education system if it takes a one-size-fits all approach.

Section 2: Access and Quality through Choice and Competition

If education returns benefits to wider society, then ensuring access to quality education for all citizens is of consequence to the development of that society. This access can be provided through private markets or through government intervention. Even neoliberal writers who argued for free markets also argued for some government intervention in education. Writing in 1962, Milton Friedman referred to the societal non-monetary returns to education as “neighbourhood effects”. For Friedman these effects are one of two major reasons why government should intervene in education, the other being paternalistic care for irresponsible individuals (children). Friedman recognises that government intervention is important: “A stable and democratic society is impossible without a minimum degree of literacy and knowledge on the part of most citizens and without widespread acceptance of some set of values. Education can contribute to both. In consequence, the gain from the education of a child accrues not only to the child or to his parents but also to other members of the society…” (Friedman 1962 pp 86). Even this simple recognition that education promotes a stable society is enough for us to consider the role that government should play in education.

            Ultimately however, Friedman (ibid) favours as large a role as possible in the market for private schools, and as limited role for government as possible. For Friedman the ability of users to exert choice through the marketplace, away from government intervention is the ultimate expression of democratic values and freedom. Friedman uses the word freedom to focus on freedom of choice and economic freedom primarily as opposed to wider freedoms expressed by writers like Sen (1999). Friedman suggests that general education for citizenship, literacy and numeracy should be government supported but what he terms “vocational training” should not be supported by the government because it renders most returns to the individual. For Friedman (1962) governments should limit themselves to ensuring access to basic education that provides a stable society through literacy and citizenship education. It is unclear what exactly he means by vocational training initially although he provides some clarity later with the reference to dentists and beauticians. Friedman argues that parents should not be forced to pay for education if they cannot afford it as their children are not an asset that they can rid themselves of unlike a car (or a flatscreen TV). He makes a good case for social responsibility and argues that one of the reasons family sizes can remain large is that people do not always take financial responsibility for the education of their children. Friedman (ibid) argues that government involvement in education should be limited to the imposition of minimum levels of education by law (to ensure basic and citizenship education) and the financing of primary and secondary education (through vouchers to allow market mechanisms to work). He argues against the nationalising of the education industry.

There are two major tensions highlighted in Friedman’s writing. Firstly, we value independence from government in education for a free-thinking society to exist, but we value government controls for citizenship education to ensure a stable society. Secondly, there is an apparent tension with HCT as Friedman claims that there are no externalities of vocational or professional training and that all benefit is accrued by the individual. He uses this argument to justify removing government funding for higher education. However, HCT argues that improving educational levels through tertiary education improves the growth of an economy generally and some authors argue that the returns to society from higher education are greater than those for primary or secondary (Patrinos 2016). I do not think Friedman’s assertions about vocational training are supported by evidence as more recent quantitative studies in the field fail to concur.

Friedman’s theories of economic organisation were developed in the context of a high income, stable, monolingual educated society, with a functioning government able to provide funding to education and are informed by a culture of liberalism. His proposals assume a market with no imperfections, discussed below. For now, I just want to highlight that most citizens cannot easily relocate and take their vouchers to whatever school they choose for their children.

 These assumptions mean that the application of Friedman’s thinking to low-income contexts some of which may be polylingual and unstable, with lower levels of education in the general population needs careful consideration. Härmä (2020) argues that even so called LCPS in low-income contexts can still be too expensive for many of the poorest children to attend. The fees are low to outside observers but not necessarily those members of the community that need access to education. If this is generally the case, then private schools may reduce access to education. For Härmä (ibid) because education is a basic human right, it cannot be left up to the private market in low-income contexts because many families would still be unable to enrol. Tooley (2009) argues that LCPS will sometimes increase access. Studying LCPS in Lagos, he found that many parents living in slums would send children to LCPS because the walk to a government school was too dangerous. Supporting this Pinnock (2013) found, despite the cost, that families use private schools because government schools are considered low quality, and other authors have found that LCPS increase access as they are found in areas where there are no government schools (Andrabi et al 2008). The case for LCPS increasing access in the absence of suitable government schools is very strong.

Section 3: Efficiency and Equity Considerations

While ensuring access to a quality education is important for development, resources (financial, human and material) are scarce and not equally available. The concepts of economic efficiency and equity help us consider how best to allocate and distribute those resources. Economic efficiency is concerned with the input of given resources into a system and the outputs achieved from those inputs. Equity is concerned with the distribution of those resources. In this section I will focus on the concepts of efficiency followed by equity in low-income contexts generally before applying them to the case of South Sudan in the next section.

Economic efficiency is concerned with the optimal allocation of scarce resources given peoples tastes (Barr 2020). Lockheed & Hanushek (1994) write that efficient systems are ones that obtain more outputs for given inputs or a comparable level of output for fewer inputs. In low-income contexts the most efficient system is one that will get more children into primary education for the same amount of funding. From this perspective, a country must be concerned with increasing access to education before considering quality. “For a country that does not have universal primary education, expanding exposure – almost regardless of quality considerations – is likely to be an appealing policy. But once general exposure, which can be justified on equity grounds, is reached, educational policies switch from purely quantity to considerations of differential quality.” (ibid). In other words, the primary focus of the education system, at least at first, in a developing country must be concerned with getting “general exposure” or as many children enrolled in school as possible. Once steps to achieve this are underway then concerns with quality become more important. Therefore, in terms of the allocation of scarce financial resources, we should aim to maximise the number of children enrolled in school for every dollar spent.

This maximisation of education is described as productive efficiency and as discussed by Oketch (2021a), is only one part of the economic efficiency concept. The second part is allocative efficiency which is concerned with how well resources are allocated across communities. And the final part is pareto efficiency which occurs when it is impossible to make one party better off without making someone worse off. In society we want to maximise pareto efficiency to ensure that the economy is as efficient as possible. In terms of the free-market, trades are efficient only when they better one party without compromising another party. A totally efficient economy is maximised when as many efficient trades as possible are made. For education this means ensuring that the production and allocation of education resources to one sector of society does not make another sector disadvantaged. It is not efficient to educate some at the expense of others.

When the market economy delivers an outcome that does not maximise efficiency in this sense there is a market failure. In the prior section we examined arguments in favour of a free market in education, where private providers can compete in the market and consumers can choose which provider to use. This could improve access and quality even in low-income contexts according to Tooley (2009). We will now consider whether it is economically efficient to rely on private markets considering market failure. Market failure would mean that a society does not reap the maximum social returns to investment in education.

Education markets can fail for a variety of reasons. One of these is information failure. Oketch (2021a) and Lockheed and Hanushek (1994) claim that poor illiterate parents are unable to choose a quality school, that these families may not be able to discern a quality educational product from another. “illiterate parents in developing countries are likely to send their children to schools having few material resources and poorly educated teachers” (Lockheed & Hanushek 1994). However, I think this characterization is weak. Tooley (2009) makes a compelling case that parents can tell when their children are learning nothing, citing this as a reason for parents choosing LCPS over government schools. It could also be argued that educated wealthy parents fail to make a good choice in schools as they can be swayed by marketing and fads, or their own experiences of schooling. The point is that parents may not always know what works, but they can tell when their children are making progress. They know when their child is learning to read, write and use numbers. It could be argued that in the education marketplace it is very hard to gain this information until your child attends a school. Since moving is school is not necessarily as easy as Friedman (1962) assumes and the results of which can have negative impacts on learning (Hattie 2008). Informational failures can occur in education markets even if multiple school providers exist in a community. Parents cannot always simply put their children in another school. Schools are often selected based on proximity to home, as Tooley (2009) shows in his work in Lagos and families are restricted by distance, dangers and transport making free choice in the market problematic.

Another reason for market failures in education markets is credit failure. This means that not all consumers can access the funds needed to access private schooling for their children. This could be particularly important in low-income contexts where the choice to send a child to school can mean a loss of income for the family. Parents have no collateral to gain credit and are unable to borrow money against the latent future earnings of their child. This may restrict their ability to from gain access to schooling from private providers.

Externalities, information, and credit failures are imperfections in the market. Taken together they are all examples of deviations from what Barr (2020) describes as the model of the first best economy: an idealised model state under which the market can allocate resources efficiently. Imperfections in the market move us to the model of the second-best economy which justifies some form of government intervention in the form of: Regulation; Finance; Production; Income Transfers (taxation). The choice of which will depend on context.

Equity, or the distribution of resources, is another reason for government intervention (Oketch 2021b). Equity is the fairness with which resources are distributed between individuals or groups. Here the government redistributes resources, shifting resources from some groups to others. This is needed to achieve pareto-efficiency. In this sense, equity can be seen as a form of efficiency. For example, if education is paid for entirely through private markets without government intervention, then those whose parents earn the most will get the most by accident of birth. This would be inefficient as discussed above but also not equitable. Thus, efficiency in this case this would mean ensuring that the access to quality education is evenly distributed.

In low-income contexts, EFA in primary education has been shown to increases access in terms of enrolment but reduce quality as more children place increased strain on the capacity of teachers to teach. The outcome of this is that more children are educated but to a lower quality (Inoue & Oketch, 2008). Specifically, EFA has increased equity but reduced efficiency and quality in Malawi (Inoue & Oketch, 2008). This highlights the need to consider equity of procedure and distribution, as well as efficiency when it comes to government provision of primary education in South Sudan.

When considering the scarcity of finance, we may have a trade-off between equity and efficiency. Cunha and Heckman (2007) note how there is a trade-off for the timing of investment in education. In terms of primary education in low-income contexts, where there may be polylingual ethnically diverse groups, there may be a trade-off between the distribution of access to education for different groups and the efficiency of providing access to education to those groups. Private markets funded by government vouchers may help to alleviate this problem.

Section 4: South Sudan

So far, we have discussed the key economic principles and their application to low-income contexts. I now move on to apply these concepts to South Sudan. Totally landlocked, South Sudan is a sub-Saharan African state that borders Sudan to the North, Ethiopia to the East, Uganda, Kenya, and the Democratic Republic of Congo to the South and the Central African Republic to the West. It was announced as the world’s newest country in 2011 but the birth of South Sudan has been difficult. Within two years, the country was plunged into its own civil war, after tribal groups, once united against the central government of Sudan, fought each other for control of the new country. This internal war lasted from 2013 until 2020 and left 400,000 dead (Checchi et al 2018). South Sudan is composed of 10 states, 60 indigenous ethnic groups and 80 linguistic partitions (UN 2021) and this diversity and distrust amongst groups has been a key driver of conflict. In addition to this recent endemic ethnic conflict, the country poses some extremely challenging terrain and suffers from flooding and a lack of infrastructure, and which leaves almost 60% of the country inaccessible for much of the year. 82% of the 11 million population is defined as living in poverty and the gross national income (GNI) is around 1090 USD (World Bank 2021b). All these factors have contributed to South Sudan been classified as a fragile state. In 2020 South Sudan ranked 3rd on the Fragile States Index with a composite score of 110 out of 120 across the indicators (Fragile States Index 2021).

South Sudan suffers from an unusually severe educational situation (Global Partnership for Education 2012) with an adult literacy rate of around 27% and enrolment rates of 73% for primary and 11% for Secondary (World Bank 2021b). Resources for schools are stretched with learning materials and trained teachers being in short supply. This unique mix of challenges: lack of trust between ethnic groups and conflict, poor infrastructure, lack of material and human resources, linguistic, cultural, and geographic diversity, and limited finances present severe problems for a national government in South Sudan in the top-down implementation of a public school system.

The role of the government in South Sudan to achieve EFA is currently limited by the reasons outlined above. In this scenario it may be helpful to consider the role that providers of private education may play in helping citizens of South Sudan achieve equitable access to quality education that is efficient in terms of the allocation of scarce financial resources. The ideal state is to have a fully funded government primary education system that caters for the needs of all communities. However, at present there is a significant challenge to developing this system. Below I offer some suggestions on ways to achieve this, starting with supported private schooling that can be slowly replaced by government schooling over time.

In terms of education markets in South Sudan, there are several major concerns which need to be considered. Firstly, linguistic diversity which provides a challenge of access to the curriculum and thus quality of learning. Secondly, recent conflict which has left many children out of school (UN 2021), and thirdly lack of shared citizenship means that many different ethnic groups do not identify with each other’s common values of what it means to be a South Sudanese citizen. Education can be a powerful force for developing a national identity (Bereketeab 2020) and an understanding amongst divergent groups of shared South Sudanese cultural values, while different cultural identities can be also be respected. It may well be that private education markets within communities provide an initial solution to this problem as they provide an alternative to state-controlled top-down government-imposed education for all, which may be distrusted by some groups. Private actors providing education within communities may be more trusted, especially if the providers are managed by individuals from the community as they may offer an alternative to any apparent government agenda. Mechanisms should be put in place to support the development of education markets in areas of linguistic and cultural diversity, but government support as capacity grows will be essential to ensure that all children are able to access these opportunities.

One mechanism could be a voucher scheme funded by the government or NGOs helping families access schools in their local area. This would need to be backed up by incentives for families to send their children to school. Some families may lose income with their children attending school or they may not trust the individuals providing the schooling following on from events in the recent conflict. Parents will need to feel secure in entrusting their children to other adults. Providing the education will not be enough to overcome these barriers until trust is built and the benefits of education can be widely felt.

Another mechanism could be micro finance loans used to help entrepreneurs start schools in their local communities where none currently exist. This added to incentives for parents to let their children attend school and vouchers to support the costs of schooling could be combined to kick start education projects specific to the needs of diverse communities. These mechanisms could be regulated by the loan providers to prevent monopolisation of the education market which would create further imperfections.

A second benefit here is that there is the potential for children to be educated in their mother tongue at least at primary level. Learning in one’s mother tongue is essential in the early years of education (Taylor-Leech 2013) because without this provision children struggle to access the curriculum and make learning gains. This can mean that children who cannot access the learning can quickly fall behind children who can, and these learning losses will only be compounded with time. Studies like Young Lives have shown that many children in low-income contexts have learning levels below the grade they are currently enrolled in. This learning gap will get larger with time (Oketch et al 2020).

Private markets could improve access both in terms of enrolment, if it allows communities to overcome distrust and encourage families to enrol in schools, and in terms of linguistic access to curriculum if teaching can be delivered in students mother tongue. This would also improve the quality of learning, as more children would be able to make learning gains by accessing the curriculum more easily. In larger communities consumer choice and competition should allow for the maintenance of quality as consumers should be able to go elsewhere. Finally, private schools do not have to be for profit, they can be run as socially motivated schools (Pal & Saha, 2019), this could bring the costs of attendance down further, although there may be less incentives to establish schools in the first place. Education is important for securing citizenship values, but the challenge remains of uniting diverse groups. Anderson’s (2016) study of nationalism suggests that one way to achieve this could be through centrally administered higher education institutions that allow individuals who have been schooled in their own communities to meet and together develop a shared understanding of what it means to be South Sudanese, like the model adopted in Eritrea (Bereketeab 2020).


This essay set out to answer the question: can the expansion of private schooling in South Sudan serve to improve access, efficiency, quality, and equity in basic education? It is argued that it can, at least initially. While the government is currently unable to provide access to education, private markets should be encouraged for the societal returns of education to be realised. These returns to creating a stable society based on common shared values need to be prioritised.

Properly supported through vouchers and loans, families can make choices in the marketplace which will award some level of quality to the education received. The challenge is to ensure efficiency and equity. As the government becomes financially solvent and stable it can begin the process of producing education and replace the private markets. Clearly, as described above, in South Sudan we have a scarcity not just of schools as resources for learning but also finance to fund education. It may be more efficient to simply finance as opposed to build schools and supply teachers who may not speak the same language as the communities they serve. There will be high costs of production in terms of the materials needed to build schools and train teachers needed in different languages which will reduce the rate of return. These principles of productive efficiency would suggest that encouraging grass roots education initiatives in communities would get maximum education output for inputs.

If productive efficiency can be improved and consumption of education is improved, then we also improve allocative efficiency. This system would be a pareto improvement because all individuals would have a better chance of accessing education. A government-imposed system with a single national language as the method of instruction may advantage some groups over others, this would not be a pareto improvement, quite the opposite.

To avoid market imperfections and market failures the government would need to ensure that all schools are accessible and help parents financially to place their children in school. This can be done through vouchers for families and encouraging entrepreneurship to set up community schools. These do not need to be run for profit. Private schooling can overcome both issues if embedded in communities and provided by members of those communities. Private schooling does not need to be exclusive if the government can find methods to finance for all.


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Development Education

Education for Happiness? Relationships between Nationalism, Development and Education in Bhutan’s National Education Policy.


Bhutan is almost unique in its approach to development. The adoption of gross national happiness (GNH) as a metric instead of gross domestic product (GDP) seemingly broadens the goal posts from a purely economic focus to a humanist one, concerned with creating a flourishing society. In this essay I aim to examine the extent to which GNH, is incorporated into the National Education Policy of Bhutan. Specifically, I will examine the National Education Policy of Bhutan published in draft in 2019. My essay is limited to this single policy analysis due to the constraints of space. In order to unpack the policy, I will first examine GNH and compare it to human capital theory (HCT), probably the major hegemonic paradigm for justifying investment in education at this time. Discussion of the literature about nationalism and national identity follows, in order to illuminate the relationship between government education policies and national identity formation before presenting an analysis of the National Education Policy of Bhutan mentioned above. I argue that the adoption GNH in the education policy of Bhutan is a gloss covering a definite retention of the language of HCT and investment in education for the purpose of economic development. I suggest that this use of GNH, which has been interpreted as embodying a humanist vision that rejects the prevailing economistic view of education, is perhaps best explained as a continued exercise in nationalism or nation branding. This process of nation branding began with the development of an ethno-religious Bhutanese national identity by the ruling minority group, the Ngalong, in the 1970s and 1980s.

This paper is organised as follows. In section one I provide a brief overview of the history and context of Bhutan and the GNH initiative. This is followed, in section two, by a discussion of GNH compared to HCT and, in section three a discussion of relevant theories of nationalism. Finally, in section four I provide an analysis of the Bhutanese National Education Policy 2019 draft document through the lens of the literature presented in the previous sections.

Section one: Bhutan and the GNH initiative

Bhutan is a small independent nation wedged in the Himalayan mountains between India and China. According to recent World Bank (2021a) data, since the turn of the 21st Century Bhutan has seen strong economic growth and large decreases in poverty, with an average annual GDP growth of 7.5%. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bhutan’s gross national income (GNI) was only just below that required to be classified as a middle-income country and it was estimated that in a few years the country would no longer be classified as low income. Currently, India accounts for 98% of Bhutan’s exports and is its largest trading partner (Marshall 2018, pp 158). This trend in economic growth began in the 1960’s when Bhutan adopted so called modernization development methods. In the 1970s Bhutan shifted its development focus from modernization to its unique approach of GNH (Krogh & Giri 2015).

Bhutan has a geographically dispersed population of around 750,000 with diverse linguistic and ethno-cultural groups. According to Saul (2000) there are three major ethnic groups. Firstly, located in the North, and practicing Buddhism, the Dzongka speaking Ngalong make up around 20% of the population and include the Royal Family. Dzongka is the official language of Bhutan. The Sharchops are another ethnic group making up approximately 30% of the population. They generally practice Buddhism and speak Tsangla, another Tibeto-Burman language. Lastly, In the South there are the Lhotshampa who primarily speak Nepali and practice Hinduism and are ethnically related to the Nepalese. In the 1960s this group accounted for almost 50% of the Bhutanese population but more recent official statistics state they make up 30% (Saul 2000). There is a history of discrimination against the Lhotshampa which is discussed later in the essay.

Bhutan is unique from a development point of view with its focus on GNH, supposedly a humanist approach to development. The idea of GNH was first coined by the King of Bhutan in 1972 (OPHI 2021) and developed out of the Buddhist traditions of Ngalong culture. As an approach to development, it aims to give equal importance to non-economic aspects of human wellbeing as well as economic welfare. The GNH philosophy has led to the creation of the GNH index, used by Bhutan to measure its progress.

According to the literature, (Krogh & Giri, 2015; LaPrairie 2015) the GNH index is a multidimensional measure of quality of life and wellbeing that seeks to assess development across four pillars. The four pillars are:

  1. Sustainable and equitable socio-economic development
  2. Preservation and promotion of culture
  3. Environmental protection
  4. Good governance

These are further broken up into nine domains that are used to generate indicators used in the index. What makes the GNH index different from other development indices is that it tries to capture and give equal weight to each domain of which economic measures of development are only a part. This is different to many indices, like the human capital index, discussed below, which are drawn from different paradigms and are mainly concerned with economic development. It is important to note that the GNH index does not leave out economic indicators. They are simply not valued more than other indicators drawn from other domains.

Section two: Theories of development and GNH

As noted previously, Bhutan initially openly pursued modernization principles of development before later switching to pursue GNH. Modernization theories of development are rooted in the Bretton Woods agreements of 1944 and essentially prescribe development as economic catch up for less developed countries (McGowan 2020). From this view development is about expanding the economy of a country to bring levels of income and living standards up to be equivalent to those countries considered to be developed. Modernization theories set an economic bar by which development is measured and place people as the means by which the ends of this development can be met.

HCT is one of the key modernization theories of education and development. It was originally formulated by Becker (1964) and at its most basic level focuses on the relationship between education and development. It justifies investment in education on the basis that increased education raises the productivity of an individual and more productive individuals make the economy expand. HCT positions education as a source of growth for an economy as opposed to a consumption. It assumes that the more education (whether years or quality) an individual has the greater the return to GDP of the country. It makes the education of individuals one of the means to the ends of increased GDP. From the perspective of HCT, governments should invest in the education of their citizens as it increases the skills and productivity of their population which in turn leads to more endogenous growth. The key difference philosophically between HCT and GNH is that HCT makes human beings the means by which the ends of economic development are met where GNH is part of a group of approaches that supposedly try to make development the means by which human needs are met.

HCT is a core principle of modern development theory. It was the theory that produced the modern economic justification for investment in education. Because of Becker’s work, policy makers could justify the funding of, and investment in, a state’s education system as it explained a mechanism by which endogenous economic growth within a country could be stimulated. It remains one of the key mechanisms by which funding for an education system can be sought from development donors and makes up much of the key terminology in education and development policies produced by the actors like the World Bank. For example, a brief look at the World Bank website highlights a focus on human capital. The World Bank produces the human capital index as part of the human capital project (World Bank 2021b).

A modern education system came fairly late to Bhutan. Prior to the 1950s, the vast majority of schooling was provided by Buddhist monasteries and only a small portion of the population attended these institutions (Krogh & Giri 2015). In the 1960s, the Bhutanese government began a modernization programme of the education system, focussed on adopting a system of western style schooling. Since the public adoption of the GNH philosophy, Bhutan has attempted to adapt the education system to the principles of GNH. Krogh & Giri (ibid) suggest that culturally the teacher in Bhutan is a secular Lama or Buddhist monk. As Lamas are revered holders and teachers of enlightenment and truth, GNH philosophy implies that happiness is something that can be learned, and teachers are expected to be the secular monks delivering GNH instruction to their charges (ibid). Regardless of whether happiness can actually be taught, Krogh & Giri (ibid) suggest that teachers are pivotal to developing the understanding of GNH in the citizenry of Bhutan.

HCT justifies investment in education for its returns, both monetary and non-monetary to the individual to society as a whole. While they are hard to quantify the non-monetary social returns of education are undeniable. These effects have been documented as reductions in fertility rates and mortality rates, greater democratic participation and even the avoidance of natural disasters (Sen 1999). Education helps to produce individuals who understand their shared participation in a society and, it could be argued, indoctrinated into a particular world view as required by a government (Harber & Mcnube 2012). Education is a powerful tool for developing a sense of national identity and nationalism.

Section three: Theories of nationalism and GNH

Interestingly, the concept of a nation does not lend itself to easy definition. Anderson (2016) argues that the idea of the nation state and nationalism originated in the independence movements of the Americas. Anderson (ibid) defines the nation as “an imagined political community – and as imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign” (ibid pp 6). In this work Anderson (ibid) traces three distinct types of nationalism. The first is creole nationalism in the America’s which provided the model adopted by populist nationalism movements in Europe, the second type. This populist nationalism was adopted as official nationalism, the third type, by European imperial powers, and later global governments, to justify their own positions of power. Anderson (ibid) writes “… ‘official nationalism’ was from the start a conscious, self-protective policy, intimately linked to the preservation of imperial-dynastic interests.” (pp159). Anderson (ibid) argues that this official nationalism model has been applied globally throughout the twentieth century, being adopted by many governments all over the world including Asia. Anderson (ibid) describes how, amongst others, the Thai monarchy (pp 171-5) and the Japanese (pp 96-97) adopted these principles to develop the national identity of their citizens.

Language is important in official nationalisms for building solidarities of nationhood. “It is always a mistake to treat languages in the way that certain national ideologues treat them – as emblems of nation-ness, like flags, costumes, folk-dances, and the rest. Much the most important thing about language is its capacity for generating imagined communities, building in effect particular solidarities.” (ibid pp133). Anderson (ibid) identifies capitalism as allowing nationalism to take hold through the development of print-media of vernacular languages, which dislodged Latin as the major administrative language across Europe. The increasing importance of vernacular languages then began to give rise to national identity. Anderson (ibid) highlights how the rise of these languages through print-capitalism in Europe had a catalytic effect in building national identity amongst populations in pre-nation imperial states. While nationalists are tempted to point to their language as proof of the nation, it was printed language not the languages per se that built nationalism.

Through the use of textbooks, and other printed media, printed language can link to the state’s education system. A nation state can use the education system to build up a sense of national identity directly or indirectly. The adoption of specific subjects such as citizenship education or the mandating of particular topics in specific subjects would be one direct influence. Medium of instruction policies can indirectly influence what linguistic and thus cultural elements gain prominence in society. Languages that are adopted by the state in the education system gain importance for the society. However, the state education system can exclude groups who don’t speak the dominant language at home (Taylor-Leech 2013). As discussed below, since 1961, Bhutan has adopted Dzongka, the language of the minority ruling group, as the sole national language despite linguistic diversity within the territory (Ball & Wangchuk 2015).

Gellner (1999) stresses the importance of the education system in the development of state nationalism. He argues that development of the education system is what allowed industrial societies to become successful. This is because these societies require homogeneity, where mobile, literate, culturally standardized individuals become interchangeable through their educational training. It is this homogeneity and reliance on high culture (essentially having a literate population) in the society that gives rise to nationalism. Gellner writes “Nationalism … is in reality the consequence of a new form of social organization, based on deeply internalized, education-dependent high cultures, each protected by its own state” (ibid pp 48). Like HCT discussed above, in Gellner’s model economic development is dependent on education and nationalism is dependent on economic development. If Gellner’s model is true we should expect to see nationalism develop hand in hand with development of a state’s education system and economy.

The relationship between education systems and national identity are also stressed by Green (1994) who argues that the rise of state education systems in Europe in the modern era was a “bulwark against the potential anarchy of rising democracy” (ibid pp 5). Green goes on to write “Governments were concerned more with educating political leaders, administrators, officers, soldiers and loyal subjects, rather than scientists, technologists etc” (ibid pp 7). Green argues that the implementation of national education systems was a result of a need to provide the state with trained civilian and military professionals and to inculcate the population with particular ideologies of nationhood. Green (ibid) writes “The key social factor…. In explaining the timing and form of the development of education systems is the nature of the state and the process of state formation. The major impetus for the creation of national education systems lay in the need to provide the state with trained administrators, engineers and military personnel; to spread dominant national cultures and inculcate popular ideologies of nationhood … cement the ideological hegemony of their dominant classes” (ibid pp 9). This idea is similar to Anderson’s (2016) idea of official nationalism.

To Gellner (1999), Green (1994) and Anderson (2016), education systems all have a role to play in the development of nationalism within a state. For Gellner education leads to economic development which leads to nationalism in industrial societies. For Anderson, capitalist print media (for example textbooks) pave the way for development of nationalism based on solidarities of shared language and for Green the education system is developed by the state in order to build the nation and control the population. Green goes on to cite three historical factors associated with nation building that would also give fertile ground for the formation of national education systems:

  1. when there are external military threats
  2. internal revolutions
  3. to escape from economic underdevelopment.

In Bhutan development of the education system and the economy began in earnest in the 1960s as discussed above. This was not long after China had annexed Tibet, Bhutan’s neighbour to the North. Perhaps the threat of China as well as endemic economic underdevelopment prompted the Bhutanese to look for ways to prevent the same fate. According to Worden (1991) the Chinese conflicts with Tibet in the 1950s that resulted in the complete annexation of the latter by the end of the 1950s acted as a stimulus to the Bhutan government to pursue development and open itself up to the outside world. Fears abounded that unless Bhutan gained international recognition, it too could find itself “annexed” like Tibet, particularly as China had threatened to do so in the past. With the Chinese annexation, Bhutan closed its border to Tibet and began developing relationships with India, its larger neighbour to the South (Worden 1991).

Other writers have focussed on the nature of nationalism. Kohn (1944) provides a distinction within European states between civic western nationalism, that of the UK, France, Netherlands and Switzerland and ethnic eastern nationalism, of Germany, Spain and Ireland among others. The civic nationalism is rooted in the civic ideals of individual liberty, cosmopolitanism and political and individual rights. The ethnic nationalism is illustrated by the rejection of these civic ideals with a focus on ethnicity, language and culture. Essentially civic nationalism is an inclusive nationalism whilst ethnic nationalism is exclusive. Kuzio (2002) critiques Kohn’s (1944) work and rejects his distinction between the two. I would suggest that the framework Kohn provides is a useful starting point for thinking about nationalism but agree with Kuzio’s critique. I would argue it is more useful to see the distinction between civic and ethnic nationalism on a spectrum, with most nation states having had elements of both, leaning towards one or the other at different stages of their development. This is also the position that Kuzio (ibid) takes, and he stresses that nation states have tended to evolve from ethnic nationalism to civic nationalism. From this point of view, the adoption of GNH by the state of Bhutan can be interpreted as secular iteration of an ethnic nationalism focussed on the Buddhist identity of the dominant Ngalong minority.

In Bhutan there is evidence that a growing ethnic, cultural and religious nationalism has been forming hand in hand with development of the economy and of the education system. The adoption of GNH by the King in 1972 can be seen as the first step in the formation of an ethno-religious nationalism that seeks to position itself as modern and secular but rooted in Buddhism. The second step can be seen in the political delineation of who exactly in Bhutanese. Carrick (2008) argues that the Bhutan Citizenship Act of 1985 and the “One Nation, One People” policy adopted in 1988 were two policies adopted by the Ngalong minority elite, deliberately designed to side-line the majority ethnic Lhotshampa community and that the rights of the Lhotshampa continue to be violated by Bhutanese government policies. In 1985 the Bhutanese government effectively made the Lhotshampa stateless through the 1985 Act and subsequent census. In the 1990s there were reported human rights abuses as many Lhotshampa were removed from their homes. Many now reside in refugee camps in Nepal (Saul 2000). It is possible that the adoption of GNH in the years prior to these events marks the start of government policy to forge a national identity based on the rejection of Nepali speaking, Hindu Lhotshampa culture and the underscoring of secular Buddhist, Dzongka speaking, Ngalong culture, to which the Royal Family belong. Following these events, Bhutan adopted a constitutional monarchy with a democratically elected government in 2008. Even with these changes towards a more civic nationalism the eviction of the Lhotshampa is still not openly discussed (Christensen 2018). From this perspective the adoption of GNH can be interpreted as part of the evolution of Bhutan’s ethno-religious nationalism focussed on Ngalong culture and Buddhist principles.

Section four: Policy Analysis

Here I examine the document “National Education Policy 2019 (draft)” produced by the Ministry of Education, Royal Government of Bhutan (2019). I aim to analyse the policy statements within it to see what extent it incorporates principles of GNH and HCT in order to understand the role of the education system in developing the Bhutanese National Identity.

The Education Policy 2019 opens with the quotation from the current Monarch of Bhutan His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, the 5th King of Bhutan, from 2014:

“As I serve my country, I have a number of priorities. Number one on my list is education. Education is empowering- it’s a social equalizer and it facilitates self- discovery, which leads to realizing one’s full potential. Good education gives you confidence, good judgment, virtuous disposition, and the tools to achieve happiness successfully. A good school gives a child a fair shot at success and ensures that a person’s achievement in life will not be predetermined by his or her race, parentage and social connections.”

In this quote education is claimed to be centrally important for individual citizens in order to overcome inequality of birth. However, as discussed below, there is no provision for teaching in any local language other than Dzongka, which may severely limit the ability of non Dzongka speaking children to have a “fair shot” at accessing their education.

In the introduction to the policy, we find this statement:

the National Education Policy 2019 aspires to provide an overarching framework and directions for building and nurturing an education system that prepares citizens who are nationally rooted and globally competent” (pp 1)

which makes clear the desire of the government to work towards a balance of the tensions between nationalism and globalization.

In section two, the rationale, we have the first reference to GNH:     

“Education should be responsive to the individual interest and changing socio-economic needs of the country in achieving country’s aspiration of Gross National Happiness…. enhance access, quality and equity in education in order to create a strong foundation that aligns with the country’s unique values, traditions, and such an education system will lead towards realizing His Majesty’s aspiration for a robust education system that is timeless and acts as an ongoing social equalizer.” (ibid)

Followed again in section three entitled vision:

This policy aims to enable the development of an education system that will contribute to: “An educated and enlightened society of Gross National Happiness, built and sustained on the unique Bhutanese values of Tha-Dam-Tshig Ley Gyu-Drey.”  (pp 2)

In section four the goals of the policy are stated:                                  

“The purpose of education is to develop citizens that value Bhutan’s unique national identity, traditional wisdom and culture, who are prepared for right livelihood, and practice contemplative learning. It is also to develop individuals who are lifelong learners, who have a holistic understanding of the world and have a genuine care for others and nature. It should also develop all citizens’ competency to deal effectively with the contemporary world, individuals who are critical, creative, informed and engaged in civic affairs.” (pp 4)

Here again we see the stress placed on developing citizens with a strong national identity balanced against the competing tension of globalization. This national identity is conspicuously linked to Buddhist Ngalong principles of care and respect for oneself and others. Further on in this section we find a third reference to GNH:

Inculcates the principles and values underpinning Gross National Happiness, and upholds the nation’s unique cultural and spiritual heritage and values” (ibid)

The Bhutanese heritage and values implied here are those of Buddhism not Hinduism. Afterall, GNH values are based on Buddhist values of peace, tolerance and compassion (Beaglehole & Bonita 2015).

Following this section, we find the policy statements for all sectors of the education system from Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) through to tertiary and vocational education and training. The ECCD sections provide an example of the implicit language of HCT. ECCD sections link in directly to current global discourses on the importance of investing in education. Work by Heckman (2010) for example, has stressed the improved returns on investment to early years education over and above investments in later stages of the education system. This has been influential on recent global development discourse and has been an important policy focus for the World Bank among others. The emphasis on ECCD programs indicates that Bhutan, despite the GNH rhetoric, is following the HCT-focussed trends in mainstream global education policy. Other language found throughout the document, with its focus on lifelong learning and global competitiveness, also supports this assertion.

As we move into section seven on “school education” we begin to find explicit references to HCT. In the first instance we read this in the opening statement to this section:     

“School education shall offer opportunities to all students to realize their full potential by strengthening access, quality and equity so that they can become socially useful and economically productive citizens.” (pp 3-4)

Here there is a complete absence of any reference to GNH. Education is stressed as important for offering opportunities to become economically productive. The phrase economically productive is a clear reference to HCT. If GNH were important I suggest we should expect to find more humanist references here.

Further direct references to HCT can be found in section 11:

“This enables a society that responds to changing labour market demands, and well-rounded individuals who can effectively contribute culturally and economically.” (pp 12)

This highlights the priority for economic development and the awareness of the importance of meeting the demands of a changing labour market to continue economic growth. This priority is again tellingly highlighted in section 9.1 “curriculum and pedagogy” in the following policy statement:

“9.1.8 School curriculum shall strengthen Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education to promote creativity and innovation and prepare students to participate meaningfully in a society and economy that is increasingly reliant on information and communication technologies.” (pp 8)

Elsewhere we find indirect references to GNH, but these are always found alongside references to economic development like this one from section ten where citizens are referred to as human resources:

“Tertiary education system in Bhutan aspires to be a nationally rooted and globally competitive that aims to develop productive, socially responsible, culturally grounded, ecologically sensitive, and spiritually aware citizens equipped to lead Bhutan into a knowledge-based society that values lifelong learning. Tertiary education plays a central role in building human resource requirements of the country.” (pp 10)

The reference to human resources places human beings as the means of development, in line with human capital theory as discussed above. The only time that GNH is directly mentioned in the policy statements outside of the introductory section is in section eleven in tandem with non-formal education:

“Non-formal education shall infuse life skills such as health and reproductive issues, environment, disaster management, social dimensions such as gender, childcare and protection, democracy, Gross National Happiness within its course content.” (pp 13)           

In the policy statements we also find statements that highlight the concern of the Bhutanese government for developing a national identity amongst its citizens. For example, in section seven we find interesting requirements which arguably indicate the importance of schooling to the government of developing national conscious and national identity amongst its citizens:

“7.26 Schools shall hoist the national flag of Bhutan as per the laws of the Kingdom of Bhutan. (pp 6)             

7.27 All students shall attend academic sessions in national dress as a standard school uniform. (ibid)                                               

7.28 The National Anthem shall be sung during morning assembly sessions and on all formal school occasions.” (ibid)

These requirements are clearly designed to help build a sense of national identity and cohesion amongst the children in school. From my experience they are similar to practices in China where the government also expects schools to hoist the flag in assembly. It could be argued that these practices are one way by which a government is able to begin to control its citizenry through cultural indoctrination.

In section 9.1 “curriculum and pedagogy” we find further concerns with developing national identity amongst the school population:                                      

“Curriculum should also promote the country’s unique culture and tradition, values, while learning to participate actively in the process of building an educated, enlightened, and cohesive society.” (pp 8)

“9.1.1 The curriculum shall equip students with the knowledge, skills, beliefs, and attitudes based on Bhutanese values of Tha-Damtse Ley-Judrey, Zacha-Drosum, and Sampa- Semke.” (ibid)

This section of the policy highlights a key part of the national identity of the country is the speaking of Dzongka, the language of the dominant minority ethnic group. It is also implicit that the unique culture and tradition of Bhutan are Buddhist and do not include Hindu or Lhotshampa culture as these are not referenced in any part of the policy.

“9.1.3 Dzongkha as the national language shall be taught in all schools to ensure that all students acquire high proficiency.” (ibid)  

“9.1.4 English shall be the medium of instruction in schools. Efforts shall be made to ensure that all students acquire high proficiency in English, and continually improve the standard of English teaching and learning.” (ibid)

This approach of the government to its language education is interesting in a country with diverse languages and cultural groups. Nepali spoken by the Lhotshampa, is conspicuous by its absence. It could be argued that the elevation of Dzongka to the exclusion of other cultural languages helps to ensure that the dominant group remains politically dominant because those children who are already proficient in it when they start school are very likely to have a head start on children who will have to learn Dzongka and English before they can access the curriculum. Particularly in ECCD, prevention of children from learning in their mother tongue in school can hamper their academic progress (Taylor-Leech 2013). The language of this policy document leans heavily towards that of HCT. Throughout the policies we can read the language, both implicit and direct of HCT. The language of GNH is only explicitly referenced in the opening sections and one other location of the policy. GNH appears as a surface gloss. When we dig deeper into the policy we find much more focus on human resource development, making economically productive citizens who can participate as lifelong learners in the labour market. The lack of any space for other languages other than Dzongka, which is spoken by only around 20% of the population is one way, in which the vision of creating an education system that acts as a social equaliser and promotes happiness, is limited.


I began this essay aiming to examine the extent to which GNH, is incorporated into the national education policy of Bhutan. GNH is a key feature of the national identity of Bhutan, and of its branding to the global community. I have compared GNH to HCT as well as discussed some of the key features of three modern models of nationalism. When examining the National Education Policy of Bhutan 2019 through these lenses, it could be argued that the language written into the national education policy of Bhutan emphasizes the cultural features of the minority ruling group, the Ngalong. This is seen through the policy focus of Dzongka as the only local language taught in school. Moreover, it is implicit in the policy focus of the cultural values of “Tha-Damtse Ley-Judrey, Zacha-Drosum, and Sampa-Seme” which derive from monastic Buddhist teaching and eschew Hindu, Lhotshampa cultural values. Through the 1985 Act and census, the dominant minority has defined what it means to be Bhutanese, “othered” citizens who did not fit the cultural type-caste and remained silent on these events. By defining Bhutanese national identity solely through Buddhist principles and along Ngalong cultural lines the government control the national identity. And the rhetorical focus on GNH is part of this process. This is only surface deep in the education policy as the major emphasis of this document is producing economically productive citizens. The GNH rhetoric presents an inclusive nationalism (the development of human flourishing in all the people of Bhutan) but masks an exclusive ethno-religious nationalism that excludes anyone who does not fit the Ngalong model of being a Bhutanese citizen.

Elements of all three models of nationalism discussed in section three are present in Bhutan. The focus on the Dzongka language in the education policy reflects Anderson’s (2016) model of official nationalism, mirroring his argument made about the Thai monarchy. There are elements of an existential threat from China providing the impetus for development of the education system as discussed as a model by Green (1994). Finally, we have elements of Gellner’s (1999) argument that economic development will lead to nationalism as a society moves from agrarian to industrial. The adoption of GNH can be largely seen as symptomatic of this growing nationalism. I have argued here that this focus on GNH in the National Education Policy of Bhutan 2019 is only surface deep and hides a deeper focus on human capital growth for economic development.


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Development Education

To what extent could low fee private schools aid development in The Republic of South Sudan?


Education is of paramount importance to the successful development of a nation and has been described as an enabler of development (Szekely & Mason 2019) by facilitating economic and democratic participation (Sen 1999). This essay will use the theories of neoliberalism, as defined by Milton Friedman (1951), and the capability approach, as defined by Amartya Sen (1999), to examine the role of low fee private schools (LFPS) in development of The Republic of South Sudan (South Sudan). As a new and fragile state South Sudan it is at an early stage of economic development. Combined with complex geography and cultural and linguistic diversity there are clear challenges to government provision of education. This section provides a brief introduction to the key concepts. Section 2 summarises the literature on LFPS and section 3 provides background on South Sudan. In section 4 I analyse the role of LFPS in South Sudan through the lenses of neoliberalism and the capability approach. Finally, in section 5 I provide a conclusion.

A state is fragile when “state structures lack political will and/or capacity to provide the basic functions needed for poverty reduction, development and to safeguard the security and human rights of their populations.”  (OECD 2007, page 2). Fragile states can provide a case study for the role of LFPS in development if their governments struggle to finance, produce or regulate private education. As documented in the literature lack of government provision in some countries has led to the privatization-by-default model where growth in the private sector fills a gap in needs as opposed to planned government policy (Vergeret al2018).

     LFPS are defined by Verger et al(2018), “as private schools that have been set up and owned by an individual or group of individuals for the purpose of making a profit and are supposed to be ‘affordable’ for low-income families” (pp 256). It is important to note that many LFPS are not necessarily bastions of wealth and privilege. Many are located in slums or deprived inaccessible areas and families choose them for a variety of reasons outlined below. Studies suggest they have been growing in number, in a variety of contexts, over the last thirty years (Tooley et al2011). LFPS can have an important role to play in the development of fragile states as initial providers of basic education. Beyond this, the role of these schools need careful consideration by government as they could represent allies in development. Where there is diversity of culture and language LFPS may provide opportunity for communities to choose education models of value to them, and for children to be taught in their mother tongue. In some geographic regions it may be more efficient for governments to finance education and regulate curriculum, allowing the private sector to build the physical schools. LFPS can play an important role in providing choice for families and communities where trust in the ruling government may be lacking, particularly after a civil war. However, there are issues of equity and efficiency in ensuring basic education for all that need to be carefully considered. Decisions about the role of LFPS and governments need to aim to maximise equity and quality.

Low Fee Private Schools

LFPS have been studied in a variety of contexts over the last three decades and there have been two major reviews of these studies, one funded by DFID (Day Ashley et al 2014) followed up by Akmal et al (2019), and a second funded by Ark Education Partnerships Group (undated). Champions of education by LFPS claim that private schooling increases the quality, efficiency and effectiveness of school systems whilst giving individual families choice (Tooley 2009). Detractors write about the commoditization of human relationships, the placing of profit before children’s education as well as the lack of solid empirical evidence to suggest the claims that outcomes from private schooling are necessarily better (Unterhalter et al 2020; Akmal et al 2019). The two major reviews of all the evidence to date are agnostic, highlighting a lack of rigorous empirical evidence demonstrating either the impact or the lack thereof that LFPS have. The debate about their role therefore continues and I provide a brief overview of some of the specific literature in the following paragraphs.

In Pakistan, LFPS have been shown to increase the number of students enrolled in school nationally. In their study, Andrabi, Das and Khwaja (2008) show that LFPS are able to improve test scores in English, mathematics and Urdu compared to state schools and they can increase the number of children attending school because many of these schools are set up in villages that do not have a government school already. They provide access to education for marginalised area. However, 75% of these schools are primary and operate by employing unqualified teachers who are paid relatively low wages. This specific study is highlighted by Carr-Hill and Sauerhaft (2019) as part of general review of literature of LFPS operating in India and Pakistan. They highlight the lack of attention in most studies to issues that the model of LFPS raises including: 1) exploitation through low wages for teachers and high profits 2) gender disempowerment through lack of qualifications of mostly female teachers who work with precarious employment conditions 3) detriment to the education profession by the employment of underqualified teachers as being compared to qualified, autonomous, well respected teachers. These are very important concerns.

In their study of private schooling amongst poor families in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda Alcott & Rose (2016) found that private schooling does little to improve the educational outcomes of the poorest children. Whilst they found, in line with other studies, that private schooling can improve education outcomes compared to state schooling, the authors were concerned about the limited effects that private schooling seems to have an ameliorating education inequality between rich and poor. Their study doesn’t comment on whether public schools do this and, I suggest, highlights the importance of cultural capital within families, something that is often overlooked in the debate on the role of LFPS in education.

Woodhead et al (2013) found that private schools can promote inequality as families send boys to private schools keeping girls in state school which was considered to be poorer quality. Pinnock (2013) found families use private schools because government schools are considered low quality, while other authors claim that LFPS are of poor quality as well (Mehrotra and Panchamukhi 2006).  Tooley et al (2010) claim that there is little empirical evidence that LFPS are of poor quality, with assertions being based on assumptions and anecdotal observations. Studies across a variety of countries challenge this view by providing empirical econometric evidence for the superior quality in terms of outcomes of LFPS (Tooley & Dixon, 2006; Tooley 2007; Tooley et al 2010; Tooley et al2011). They claim that results in English and mathematics are higher in LFPS and that there is less teacher absenteeism. This is important for development because these studies suggest the LFPS may provide higher quality education for lower unit costs. Tooley (2009) suggests that LFPS are more efficient because of high levels of corruption and teacher absenteeism in publicly funded education systems.

Republic of South Sudan

The world’s newest country, South Sudan, is a land locked country bordering Sudan, Ethiopia, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Kenya. It is composed of 10 states, 60 indigenous ethnic groups and 80 linguistic partitions (UN 2021) and gained independence from the Republic of Sudan in 2011 after a 22-year civil war. Peace in South Sudan has been short lived with a civil war, sparked by tribal tensions, erupting in 2013 and lasting until 2020, leaving approximately 400,000 people dead in its wake (Checchi et al 2018). Added to this backdrop of endemic ethnic conflict, there are persistent problems of a lack of infrastructure and seasonal floods that can render up to 60% of the country inaccessible for up to six months of the year (Ministry of General Education and Instruction 2017). According to data from the World Bank (2021) South Sudan’s population currently stands just below 11 million with 82% of the population defined as being in poverty. The GNI for South Sudan stands at 1090 USD.

The Global Partnership for Education (2012) notes that the educational situation in South Sudan is unusually severe; the country has a 27% adult literacy rate, one of the lowest in the world, learning materials are in short supply, and a massive demand for education has led to a shortage of trained teachers. Teacher shortage is highlighted as one of the main drivers of poor-quality education. Added to this, there is a very low school enrolment rate of 73% for primary enrolment and only 11% for secondary (World Bank 2021). These data on infrastructure and education suggest significant challenges to the Government of South Sudan’s ability to provide the basic quality education entitled to its citizens. That being said UNICEF (2019) highlighted some recent key achievements for education in the country including the development of a national curriculum, the printing of textbooks to support it and the facilitation of final year primary exams in opposition-controlled areas.

Research by Longfield and Tooley (2013) prior to the civil war show that there was an increase in the number of LFPS institutions in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, up to 2013, the date of their report and the year that civil war broke out. This trend in the capital mirrors observations made in other low-income contexts (Tooley 2009). In Juba, 84% of nursery schools and 76% of primary schools were private. For secondary schools the enrolment number was evenly split between state and private schools, but at that time the government was only providing roughly 30% of the total number of institutions. Government schools were primarily located in the urban centre of Juba with the number of private schools increasing the further away from the city centre one travelled. The private sector was also noted as employing around 65% of the teaching workforce.

Longfield and Tooley (2013) note that the increase in private schools is a dividend of peace but it is unclear how the 2013-2020 civil war has affected LFPS. Reliable data from South Sudan is lacking but it is likely that the number of schools will have decreased as a consequence of the civil war, particularly in areas of conflict. The General Education Strategic Plan 2017-2022 (Ministry of General Education and Instruction 2017) stresses the importance of the role of private providers in education provision. The plan outlines how the ministry [of education] “will promote low-cost community/faith-based/privately owned ECDE [Early Childhood Development Education] centres in underserved states.” (ibid pp 52) The plan also outlines the role that the private sector has to play in building schools and constructing classrooms. “The ministry will also encourage private education providers to establish secondary boarding schools, especially in states where none currently exist.” (ibid pp 64) There is also a role specified for private actors in teacher training and claims that the Private School Policy will ensure that there are minimum quality standards.

South Sudan is an ethnically and linguistically diverse fragile state, with high levels of poverty, low levels of educational enrolment and a recent peace treaty. Added to this there is a lack of infrastructure and difficulties with access to remote regions. The government is constrained in its ability to provide finance and regulate education. It is likely that in this vacuum there will once again be privatization by default as local entrepreneurs bring LFPS to their communities. The question remains as to what role these private enterprises can play in the development of South Sudan and in providing education for all its citizens. It is this question that I turn to now through the lens of neoliberalism first followed by that of the capability approach.

Friedman’s Neoliberalism & Sen’s Capability Approach


Several authors have documented the rise of neoliberal economic views. Harvey (2005) distinguishes between “embedded” liberalism and neoliberalism. In the latter, the role of government is confined to providing a legal and regulatory framework for the free market to flourish and nothing more. In this way, governments enforce agreed laws about private property and trading, acting as referee in order to ensure that the market remains free. In embedded liberalism, corporate and entrepreneurial interests are surrounded by a web of regulation, both social and political. Harvey stresses that the core assumption in neoliberalism is that maintaining market freedom is the best way for a government to guarantee the rights and freedoms of individuals. Thus, all things should be marketized, even education. Milton Friedman, one of the founders of this approach to economic organisation, considered neoliberalism to be a normative theory where the role of the state in society is reduced to the role of an umpire whose job is to maintain fair gameplay. In 1951 he wrote “Neo-liberalism would accept the nineteenth century liberal emphasis on the fundamental importance of the individual. It would seek to use competition among producers to protect consumers from exploitation, competition among employers to protect workers and owners of property, and competition among consumers to protect the enterprises themselves. The state would police the system, establish conditions favourable to competition and prevent monopoly” (Friedman 1951 pp 3). The concern underlying this thinking is the protection of individual freedom and to encourage individual responsibility. Indeed, writing throughout the Cold War in America, Friedman stressed the importance of freedom of the individual from interference by the state, and he saw markets as the best way for individuals to express their freedom of preference. From this perspective a fragile state like South Sudan represents almost a perfect model of neoliberal principles.

It could be argued that neoliberalism is not one theory but a group of theories all of which have had diverse impacts on education and development (Unterhalter 2020). In this sense Friedman’s view is simply one among many views of what neoliberalism is, with other authors and experts stressing different emphases. Sometimes these different ideas have critiqued other theories applied in development and education, sometimes they have complimented them (Unterhalter 2020). All neoliberal theories are part of the liberal capitalist paradigm of development. Theories from this paradigm like modernization theory and human capital theory (McGowan 2020) view development as being economic catch up for less economically developed countries (McGowan 2020). According to neoliberalism the route from education to development is deregulation of the education market. This deregulation removes barriers to private providers stimulating economic investment in the sector. Competition drives up quality of education. Better education means that individuals can get better jobs and the economy of the country can grow.

Friedman’s neoliberalism favours private providers in education and he would agree generally with arguments made by Tooley (2009). When discussing education Friedman (1962) considered private schools to be the most efficient way to guarantee quality education for all. He noted the difference of education to other marketable goods due to its “neighbourhood” effects. These he defines as “circumstances under which the action of one … yields significant gains to other individuals for which it is not feasible to make them compensate him” (Friedman 1962 pp 85-86). Friedman asserts that “the education of my child contributes to your welfare by providing a stable and democratic society” (Friedman 1962 pp 86) and because of this particular effect it is important for a government to take some responsibility for the provision of basic citizenship education that promotes literacy, numeracy and a belief in the shared values of a society. He asserts that the best way for a government to meet this responsibility and also promote the freedom of families to select the most suitable education for their children, is through financing education but not necessarily nationalising or producing education. To do this he advocates for the provision of vouchers to families which they can spend at any school they choose. These schools would be mostly privately run, although the government could compete in this market too if it so chose.

Neoliberalism is concerned that an overreaching state will substitute collective judgements, for those of individuals free to choose (Harvey 2005). Friedman (1962) highlights positive neighbourhood effects of education; he also recognises the inherent tension between independence of thought and government involvement in education in order to deliver these neighbourhood effects. Governments have used education policy to indoctrinate citizens directly in cases like Pakistan and India (Joshi 2010; Lall 2008), or indirectly in the case of the Jihadist curriculum developed by the University of Nebraska, with US government financial support, for deployment in Mujahedeen refugee camps (Burde 2014). There are also cases where government policy and regulation has led to the closing of vital education programs for minority groups like nomadic herders (Szekely & Mason 2019). Lack of trust in government if it is controlled by a different ethnic group, is a genuine concern for communities in South Sudan.

Where multiple divisions along linguistic and ethnocultural lines exist communities in South Sudan may not want to have the government dictate what their children learn and in what language they learn. Instead of the government, which may not be representative of some communities, imposing an education paradigm, a more sensitive, peaceful solution may be to allow small private providers embedded within specific communities to provide this basic education. Teachers in these schools could be drawn from the local community and would speak the language of the children and their parents.

For Friedman LFPS may present the optimal solution for meeting education provision although he would argue that the government still has a responsibility for financing education for all. This is to ensure that all citizens get access to the basic education that promotes a stable society. In South Sudan this would mean finding mechanisms by which funds could be made available to individual families in these communities, for them to use with private providers of education. For Friedman, this would have two major effects in a society like South Sudan where stable, democratic society is lacking. Firstly, the promotion of competition in the education market would ensure quality. Parents that are not happy with the provision of one school would be able to choose another. Schools with weaker outcomes for their students would soon see themselves out of business. Secondly, parents would be able to choose schools that met their family’s linguist and ethno-cultural values. This could help to get more children into education if their parents were to keep them out of government schools due to lack of trust in the government. These factors combined could serve to generate a peaceful society further down the road as more children gain access to basic citizenship education and develop shared values of what it means to be South Sudanese. This assumes that the government would need to provide some limited oversight of the curriculum.

Whilst there are clear benefits to allowing families in South Sudan freedom to choose the education options for their children, there should be some government involvement to ensure that a stable society develops. Different ethnic groups need help to develop trust between each other and forge a shared identity of what it means to be South Sudanese. This can be achieved through careful planning by the government. This is not in contradiction to neoliberal views which argue for state intervention to protect citizens. Issues such as language learning and citizenship identity need to be addressed and there is a body of literature beyond the scope of this essay that offers insight.

South Sudan is a low income, fragile state which has only recently ended a civil war. Government regulation is therefore reduced or non-existent and the education system is undeveloped. Because of this the government will likely be unable to effectively provide a quality nationalised education system in the short to medium term. LFPS have an important role to play from a neoliberal perspective. By providing vital access to basic education for communities they can contribute to the development of stable, literate communities. They can provide jobs and investment in those communities. They provide families with freedom of choice and could potentially enrol students in education where families may have been distrustful of education provided by the state. For the neoliberal the government of South Sudan should encourage this activity and as time progresses it should work towards financing basic education with funds payable to the families and redeemable with the education providers. In South Sudan it may not be helpful for the government to directly monitor the curriculum but instead an independent body could be set up, comprised of individuals from all ethnic groups to ensure that the basic requirements of South Sudanese citizenship education are met.

 The Capability Approach

Sen’s capability approach (1999) broadens the definition of development from the eradication of poverty in economic terms to a “process of expanding the real freedoms that people enjoy” (pp 3). This definition of development focuses attention on the idea of justice and the removal of “unfreedoms”. In this approach poverty is defined as capability deprivation. Development is achieved through the removal of these deprivations or the removal of unfreedom. A developed society is one in which individuals have the ability to pursue functionings they have reason to value. Sen recognises the importance that social welfare plays in enhancing an individual’s capabilities. To Sen, a person’s capabilities are their real freedoms to achieve their potential functioning’s. For example, an individual might have potential, academically and physically, to become a doctor, but their capability to pursue this functioning (treating illness) will depend on the right access to education, nutrition, finance as well as being born into a country with medical education programmes.

This approach puts the focus on individuals as the ends of development and not as the means of development. Sen argues that specific attention to the needs of individuals is important for development and highlights the role of society in maximising freedoms by proper provision of public and semi-public goods. The route to development for Sen is the creation of a society where people and communities have the freedom to pursue the actions they have reason to value.  This way of thinking has relevance for South Sudan as different linguistic and ethno-cultural groups may suffer from very different capability deprivations. They may also place value on a different mix of opportunities and paying attention to these will be important in securing a lasting peace between different communities from which further development can progress. The plurality of pathways to development that the capability approach stresses can help to bring cohesion by allowing different communities to identify shared values.

            Sen (1999 pp 128) defines education as a semi-public good. Public goods are ones that people consume together and are not easily submitted to market mechanisms. Education is a semi-public good: individuals consume and benefit from their own education but society as a whole benefits from having educated citizens. Education contributes to reductions in fertility rate, child mortality rates and other positive indicators of a healthy society. Increases in general literacy can generate positive social change as the foundation of democratic participation. This highlights the case for the state provision of these semi-public goods beyond what markets on their own can foster. Thinking about the role of LFPS in the development of South Sudan from this approach requires thinking about the extent to which, and under what circumstances, LFPS may contribute to either increased capability deprivation or the removal of unfreedom.

            LFPS can contribute to the removal of unfreedoms in South Sudan. Based on the data cited above, the government lacks the ability to provide, finance or regulate schools, and LFPS may represent the only access to education for entire communities in the immediate aftermath of a civil war. To Sen, education is an enabler or enhancer of other freedoms, as it allows people to decide how to live and to choose what to value. Without education, there is a severe limitation placed on people in terms of the other freedoms that they can achieve. LFPS provide some way to prevent a lack of education. A lack of education should be thought of as a preventable deprivation.

However, with cost, comes equity of access issues. Individual families will differ in their ability to pay, indicating that some will more readily benefit from these schools than others, creating some level of inequality between families. It may also be the case that LFPS may contribute to equity issues within families. Parents with many children may prioritize some of them over others, normally their sons, as noted earlier. Tooley (2009) highlights how many of the LFPS he studied offer free places for students that cannot afford to attend. While in the short term in the context of South Sudan, this may provide some reassurance, reliance on the benevolence of LFPS proprietors may not be an adequate answer in the long run. However, state provision of education is not necessarily the answer to ensure that all children get access to school either. Government schools are often located in urban centres and easy to reach areas, less so in inaccessible rural regions and in slums (Tooley & Longfield 2013, Tooley 2009). This is particularly relevant in a country like South Sudan that suffers severe flooding making many rural areas inaccessible. Tooley (2009) notes how parents in the Makoko slum in Lagos, Nigeria, do not want their daughters navigating the alleyways on the walk to government schools for fear of abduction and so would rather send them to LFPS available to them. When the South Sudanese government is able to finance education, it may be more efficient to provide vouchers, as proposed by Tooley (2009) to ensure that all children can access school, instead of relying on the building of government schools in hard-to-reach areas. LFPS can contribute to the removal of unfreedom in South Sudan, initially with no government schools available and later so long as the government focusses on making LFPS accessible for all children. Focussing on access to LFPS may be an equitable and efficient way to get children into school as South Sudan develops.

Another way that LFPS may contribute to the decrease of unfreedom is by providing educational choice. In the context of an ethnically and linguistically diverse country like South Sudan this could provide an avenue for social cohesion. LFPS could cater for the specific linguistic needs and wants of their communities. This could allow linguistically diverse areas of South Sudan to educate children in their mother tongue or another language, for instance. This bottom up, grass roots approach could have important peace building effects, as communities would not have something seemingly imposed on them from another ethno-cultural group. It is also entirely in line with Sen’s capability approach. Beyond basic education in literacy and numeracy, schools could develop a specific focus on technical or other valued subjects, for example agriculture, if this is something that individuals in a community have reason to value, similar to the education model outlined by Nyerere (1967). In this way they can provide a choice of educational provision that individuals “have reason to value”.  LFPS allow choice for children, parents and the wider community. Parents can choose which provider to send their children to, which could guarantee quality (Tooley 2009) as perceived poor quality at a school could encourage parents to take their children elsewhere. Importantly, this choice, allows schools to cater for the values and needs of their communities.

If private schooling leads to the reduction of human relationships to a commodity (Unterhalter 2020), this is clearly at odds with the capability approach. When the South Sudan government is strengthened, one could argue that these private providers may contribute to capability deprivation, where state education is available and the LFPS are offering a qualitatively poorer outcome for the students they serve. LFPS aim to be profit making after all and it is suggested that unscrupulous owners can aim to maximise profits, by reducing the quality of the provision, whether that is through reducing the learning resources, or facilities available to students or through exploitation of the work force as noted in the literature review. Sen (1999 pp 265) documents the problems of capitalism without the institutions and behavioural norms to ensure market practices are kept fair. Without correct oversight and behaviour market actors can have damaging effects. It is true that a fundamental flaw with the model of LFPS is its reliance on unqualified, low paid teachers. Some, as noted above, see this as exploitation. It could also be argued that LFPS are providing important economic opportunities to individuals who would otherwise not have any. It cannot be ignored that in South Sudan, the opportunity for adults to work and earn a living is also an important capability.

            In terms of educational quality one of the key arguments for the accountability of LFPS according to Tooley (2009) is that parents can take their children elsewhere. School owners know this and are accountable to parents to ensure that their provision is of high quality. One way they can attract more families is by having higher quality and better resource provision (Tooley 2009). Whilst global monopolistic capitalism may have contributed to deprivation, many LFPS are small businesses not global brands. They are embedded within and depend on their local communities’ good will for survival.

            A major source of capability deprivation according to Sen (1999) is that states that abandon the production of education run the risk of being trapped as economically poorer states (Sen 1999 pp 143). Citing the economic history of the world’s Northern nations as well as the more recent economic development of the Asian Tigers, he argues that these countries developed via relatively large state investments in education and other sectors considered to be public or semi-public goods. These investments allowed the bulk of society to engage in shared economic and democratic expansion. Therefore, it is important that the government of South Sudan takes responsibility for the education of its citizens for these reasons and to ensure a stable society. This does not mean that LFPS should be maligned. With vouchers to enable access and, further down the line, regulation of curriculum contents, to ensure that all South Sudanese children develop basic skills and shared values, LFPS could be an important tool for the government to reach inaccessible areas and respect the wishes and values of local communities. It is cost effective and easier to supply a curriculum and learning materials than shipping in building materials to inaccessible areas.


            Neoliberalism claims that free markets lead to economic development by deregulation from government that stimulates investment in markets. For the capability approach the route from education to development is improving the substantive freedoms that people have in order to pursue opportunities they have reason to value. Both these theories recognise that education brings benefits to individuals as well as their communities and society as a whole. At the theoretical level it is these external effects, beyond the individual that may justify the state provision of education. In reality the picture is often more nuanced. Governments, communities and families have specific contexts that effect decisions about what is best for development. It may be that families choose LFPS because of perceived faults with the government education system and better outcomes of children in private schools (Tooley 2009). It may be that government schools can be poor in quality, with absent unaccountable teachers, who may not even speak the same language of the children they serve. It is entirely possible that government schools are not always free and are not always easily accessible to some communities (Tooley 2009). As a new country it will take time for the government of South Sudan to develop a quality education system. LFPS have a crucial role to play in providing access to education initially, especially where government schools are lacking. In the medium to long term, the government could work with these schools to finance access, with targeted vouchers and mandating minimum basic curriculum content. This content could include some shared values of what it means to be a South Sudanese citizen that encompasses views from all communities. Finally, in the long run, the government could have a role in inspecting schools to ensure accountability. If these targets are met, there is no essential need for the government to produce education itself, and it may not be particularly efficient for it to do so with so much linguistic, geographic and ethnocultural diversity. LFPS have the potential to meet these diverse needs more flexibly than the government. These recommendations are in line with both neoliberalism and the capability approach. So long as the focus remains on making an efficient and equitable education system, LFPS may have role to play throughout the development process.


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