De Facto Privatisation of Basic Education in Africa: A Market Response to Government Failure? A Comparative Study of the Cases of Ghana and Nigeria


Low-fee private schools (LFPSs) enroll a growing proportion of children in Ghana and Nigeria, including the poor. This trend raises questions about the quality of provision in the public sector as well as in relation to equity and social justice in the distribution of educational opportunity. This paper examines the phenomenon of de facto privatisation in comparative perspective, drawing on secondary data and on purposively conducted interviews among parents and teachers in two peri-urban communities where both private and public schools are situated. In both countries, up to 20 percent of pupils attend private schools at the national level, while in Lagos State, Nigeria, the figure is as high as 57 percent. Parents’ explanations of their choice of LFPS include better examination performance, access to higher levels of education, greater attention to pupils’ welfare and progress, and the learning of English. In contrast, many are critical of public school alternatives, despite their sometimes better resources and better-trained teachers. In many cases, teachers and parents explain the differences between types of school in relation to issues of school management and accountability and their impacts on teacher motivation and practice. Although fees are reported to be relatively low, and parents most often consider LFPSs to be “good value for money,” many make considerable sacrifices to afford this choice, and the option remains closed to many poorer parents. Some of the practices adopted by LFPSs offer policy lessons for the public sector on issues including school effectiveness and accountability, while other practices, such as the very low pay of teaching staff, are less desirable. Nonetheless, failure to address the issues driving the expansion of the LFPS sector may have the consequence of increasing inequity, as parents with the means increasingly “vote with their feet.”