Brazil might have a model for private sector education which the United States can emulate. For years, Brazil has struggled to populate its world-class university and college system with students capable of meeting tough academic standards. Now, private companies are succeeding where public schools have failed. The FT reports:
Investors in Brazil frequently complain about the country’s weak education system, characterised by high-quality public universities and private colleges that are let down by poor state schools. But while this remains a problem, private sector education companies have started a revolution in post-secondary education that has tripled the number of places available to the country’s booming lower middle classes.
Some of these, such as Anhanguera Educacional Participações, are entering the ranks of the world’s largest education companies by student numbers as they rapidly expand their reach through Latin America’s biggest economy.
“Between 2000 and 2010, Brazil has gone from 1.8m students in higher education to 6m-6.5m today,” said Alexandre Oliveira, principal investment officer at the International Finance Corporation, the private sector arm of the World Bank and an investor in Anhanguera. “That additional capacity has essentially come from the private sector.”
Private-sector education is having a positive impact for the poor especially: “Wage increases boosted the incomes of the poor, lifting more than 30m people into the middle classes over the past decade.” International corporations, like Pearson, are also beginning to cater to Brazil’s demand for education and are partnering with local companies to offer new programs and divisions.
Brazil’s private sector education industry has demonstrated that with the right demand and incentive structure, private education can be both lucrative and effective. The US should follow Brazil’s lead. Decentralized and privatized education companies, properly monitored and managed, can seriously lift the standard of schooling here and elsewhere. Take Ontario for example. As the Economist reported not long ago,
When Dalton McGuinty was elected Ontario’s premier in 2003, he embraced “whole-system reform”. Instead of directing reforms from the centre, the government encouraged schools to set their own targets and sent experienced teams to help them get there. Schools with large numbers of immigrant children could apply for special help, and could choose whether to extend the school day to do this, or work longer with the slower pupils.
Decentralized systems with many different kinds of participants and many different programs give parents and students more choice (and teachers and administrators more options) as competition improves quality overall. It’s time for something like this to happen in the United States; we need all the educational help we can get.