Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Beautiful Tree by James Tooley


   James Tooley went to India to help educate the poor people by researching schools for World Bank. While there, he stumbled onto a shocking fact: the poor were actually helping themselves. What he found in the slums of India China, and several African countries is that poor people living there were sending their children to private schools inside their own neighborhoods.

Mr. Tooley traveled to several countries and through word of mouth found tiny schools in the poorest of the poor neighborhoods. These schools were funded solely by the parents who wanted nothing more than a good education for their children.

At first Toolely could not understand why these poor parents were willing to pay out of their meager salaries for schools in broken down buildings when international organizations were pouring millions of dollars into public schools for these same people.

By investigating the public schools, Toolely saw that while the public schools were housed in expensive buildings with expensive playground equipment the children were receiving an education that was inferior to what the poor children were receiving in their own neighborhoods. Teachers were not showing up many days, the student-teacher ratio was as much as sixty to one. He even saw teachers sleeping while a student would try to teach. How could all this happen? No accountability.

What these poor parents discovered was an age old truism. You get what you pay for. By paying for the small private schools in their neighborhoods they had direct contact with what they were paying for. In other words the parents made the teachers accountable. If the teachers don't provide the service paid for, the parents take their kids to a different school. The owners of these schools knew this was bad business so they made sure their teachers did their jobs.

The fascinating part was how difficult it was to convince the leaders of the international organizations as well as state officials of the effectiveness of privatization of schools. Anything for profit was seen as evil. Something could only be good if the government was paying for it. It boiled down to poor equals stupid. Poor people can't possible know what's best for them. They need the state to take care of them.

In this highly readable and enjoyable book, James Tooley proves that poor parents are like everyone else. They have their families' best interest at heart and they'll do what they have to in order to make it happen.

As I've been reading in the Wall Street Journal, many parents are taking the public schools to task here as well.  Charter schools are a growing phenomenon in America.

I bought this book.

James Tooley is a professor of education policy at Newcastle University, where he directs the E.G. West Center.  For his ground-breaking research on private education for the poor in India, China and Africa, Professor Tooley was awarded gold prize in the first International Finance Corporation/Financial Times Private Sector Development Competition.

Kindle for $7.69

For more information:

Another good review of the same book by someone who grew up in India:
Journey of Life


  1. Great review of what seems like a wonderful book.
    We in the west seem to think that our way is always better, many times it's simply more expensive (then we go lecture others about how wrong they are).

    1. Thanks! I taught in public school for several years. We in the west may want to look at these Eastern models of education and rethink our own system.


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