Acton Institute Powerblog

Why poor parents in Kenya prefer private schools

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Parents around the world share one thing in common: We want what’s best for our children. Many low-income parents in America make significant sacrifices to ensure their children get a quality education. So it’s not surprising that poor parents in Kenya are willing to do the same.

About fifteen years ago the government of Kenya implemented a free primary education program for all children. Why then do more than half of primary school students in Nairobi attend private schools? Why do poor parents choose to pay school tuition when they could send their children to school without paying fees? Stephanie Simmons Zuilkowski of Florida State University says it’s about education quality:

One hypothesis is that there are simply not enough public school seats to accommodate children, particularly in densely populated informal settlement areas like Kibera or Mathare.

But research conducted by myself and my colleagues supports another theory: we found that parents make great sacrifices to avoid public schools and place their children in private schools at significant financial cost. The main reason is that parents believe private schools offer better quality education than public schools. Other contributory reasons included perceptions of superiority and that younger parents were more likely to have children in the private schools than older parents.

We interviewed more than 1,000 parents and head teachers at 93 public and private schools in Nairobi. We asked them about their schooling decisions and what words they would use to describe low cost private schools and public schools.

Low cost private schools were described as being high quality, with harder-working teachers who were consistently present in the classroom. Homework was assigned regularly and teachers were observed by supervisors.

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Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).

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