Of the three schools, this one could house 1,500 children. The headmistress told me that parents left the school en masse a few years earlier because of the teachers’ strikes. But things were better now, and children had returned. The school had a current enrollment of around 500, which was more than before, but enrollment growth was stagnant. It must be somewhat disheartening for teachers to go on strike and then find that the parents had made alternative, private arrangements. But the truth was actually more startling: no one here seemed to know that this alternative existed. For on the top floor of this imposing building, there were six empty classrooms, all complete with desks and chairs, waiting for children to return. Why don’t the parents send their children here? I asked the headmistress, innocently. Her explanation was simple: “Parents in the slums don’t value education. They’re illiterate and ignorant. Some don’t even know that education is free here. But most can’t be bothered to send their children to school.” I suggested that, perhaps, they were going to private schools instead? She laughed at my ignorance. “No, no, these are poor parents, they can’t afford private school!”

James Tooley. The Beautiful Tree: A Personal Journey Into How the World’s Poorest People Are Educating Themselves (Kindle Locations 599-605).

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