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Regulating private schools

Apr 27,2015 - Last updated at Apr 27,2015

Parents and private school teachers are placing undue pressure on the government to further regulate private schools.

Parents believe that by regulating the schools they could end up paying less in tuition fees and the teachers believe they would receive more in compensation.

The government is signalling its intent to further regulate private schools, an action that if not done with the utmost care would ruin the last bastion of quality education in Jordan.

According to reports, and the figures unfortunately vary, there are approximately 2,801 public schools, hosting over 1.26 million students, managed by the Ministry of Education.

On the other hand, there are 1,235 private schools where 451,000 students are enrolled. In other words, private schools in Jordan are educating about one-fourth of all students in Jordan.

Moreover, in some governorates, such as Amman, where income is the highest in the Kingdom, about 50 per cent of all students go to public schools.

The higher the income, the more likely it is that children will study in private schools.

In other words, public schools in Jordan are what is known to economists as “inferior products”, whose consumption falls as income rises, while private schools are “normal products” since their consumption increases as one’s income rises.

It is no surprise then that when the economic situation worsened in Jordan, 35,000 children were shifted by their parents from private to public schools.

The Ministry of Education budget was JD903 million last year; thus, the cost per student is JD717 per year, or JD3.5 per day.

Had there been no private schools, the cost would have risen by one-third, or the spending per student would have fallen by a third, which would have further lowered the quality of public education in Jordan.

Therefore, before incriminating private schools, one should recognise that they and the parents who pay them fees are shouldering part of the responsibility of the government.

In fact, parents who pay private tuition fees (which vary from just under JD1,000 to over JD23,000) are also paying the cost of educating their children in public schools through their taxes. Hence, they pay much more than they should.

How well are the private schools doing?

Quality varies, and most likely it is positively correlated with the amount of tuition fees paid by the parents.

Achievement scores of some of the private schools are considered exceptional by international standards. Almost half of the students of one of the private schools scored 35 points in international testing, compared to a global average of 27 points.

On the other hand, last year, none of the students of 342 public schools passed the high school general exam, and some 30 per cent of those who took the Tawjihi were considered illiterate, according to an interview with the minister of education.

The statistics on literacy and quality of graduates of public schools tell a very sad story.

So how could an entity that is running thousands of inefficient and ineffective schools claim to have the capacity to regulate the much better performing private schools?

How should the private schools be regulated?

They should be regulated in terms of safety of their environment and practices for children, since not all of them understand that a bad reputation would bankrupt the owners.

The current laws and regulations suffice for that.

One area where the government should not interfere at all is the school fees or how the teachers are selected.

Some schools charge high fees because they provide superior products. Placing ceilings on fees means placing ceilings on quality for no good reason.

Parents are free to use their services or not; they can always place their children in public schools, since they are already paying the fees through their taxes.

There is no issue of abuse of dominance or cartelisation or monopoly power; hence, there is no need to invoke antitrust action.

If the government really wants private schools to lower fees, it should lower the cost of electricity to them, give subsidies, tax breaks, etc.

Or, the government can give back the parents whose child is in a private school the money paid through their taxes for educating the child in a public school, a coupon scheme, and this would lower the cost to the parents.

One advantage to this option is that government becomes better incentivised to lower costs in public schools, which would make the system more efficient.

In other words, here is a piece of advice: If you cannot help the private schools lower their costs, stay out of their way!

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