Worlds of Education

Low-cost private schools in Peru: The high cost of low quality?

published 18 February 2018 updated 18 February 2018

By Clara Fontdevila, Universitat Autonoma Barcelona.

During the last two decades, there has been a significant rise in the relative numbers of non-state education providers as well as the share of private education enrolment in Peru. This change has been particularly striking in urban areas – in the case of Lima, participation in non-state education shifted from 29% in 2004 to 50% in 2014.

Against this backdrop,

low-fee private schools

(LFPSs), targetting low-income families, are among the private education modalities that have experienced the highest growth rate. In fact, the increase in private education enrolment has been particularly significant in poor urban areas –a phenomenon that is occurring in the context of limited availability of public school places in these settings. It is in fact possible to document a clear link between poverty, rapid demographic growth and an increase in private schools – and especially of LFPS.

This modality of provision is highly problematic in terms of education quality –regarding both learning processes and learning outcomes. Furthermore, given the semi-structural nature of the LFPS sector within poor areas, the shortcomings and weaknesses of this form of schooling disproportionately affect low-income pupils - thus giving rise to an equity problem. A recent study commissioned by Education International [1] explores these questions. The main findings of the study are as follows:

In relation to learning processes, available evidence on the operating conditions of the sector points to significant limitations when it comes to compliance with minimal quality standards. Most of the surveyed schools rely on facilities only superficially adapted for education purposes (most frequently, private dwellings), and/or constrained by severe space limitations. When it comes to teacher training, high levels of variability and individual school discretion are identified, as well as an over-representation of teachers with limited experience. Such shortcomings are in turn compounded by a lack of coordination and time for teacher preparation and development . Finally, some schools appear to engage in student selection practices as a means to build or preserve their reputation within a context of increasing competition.

The limitations detected in relation to learning processes and resources have a direct impact on the learning outcomes achieved by the LFPS sector. An exploration of the 2016 Evaluaciones Censales de Estudiantes (national standardized test) reveals that student achievement in the LFPS sector is systematically worse than in public schools.

In the case of primary education, as the figure below show, there are significant achievement differences between public and low-fee private schools. In the case of mathematics, for instance, the share of students with low achievement levels in the LFPS sector is about three times the number in the public sector. In the case of secondary education, the LFPS sector is the single modality of private education provision performing worse than public schools. This calls into question the potential of LFPSs to offer an acceptable standard of education.

The limitations and poor results shown by the sector cannot be disassociated from the multiple weaknesses that have historically characterized the Peruvian education system when it comes to private sector regulation. These limitations include a certain lack of definition regarding the roles and responsibilities of different education authorities as well as an erratic and inconsistent application of regulatory frameworks – which have typically privileged ad-hoc and compensatory measures. Although during recent years the educational authorities have attempted to put an end to this regulatory laxity, a commitment to the application and enforcement of such remains uncertain. Ultimately, education authorities face a number of challenges that require political will no less than institutional capacity. Ensuring the availability of quality public education is key in offsetting the LFPS sector characterized not only by its low cost but, rather, by its low quality.

[1] The study Educación privada de ‘bajo coste’ en el Perú: un enfoque desde la calidad was conducted by a team of researchers from Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and GRADE with the support from Education International. The full report in Spanish can be found here. A summary report can be found here 

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.