A Supportive Regulatory Framework in Education Is Essential for Equity, Quality, and Learning Outcomes
Non-state actors play a significant role in education worldwide, with non-state schools educating more than 350 million children globally. Most non-state schools in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) are sole proprietor low-cost private schools (LCPS), which operate independently and are not part of larger chains or franchises. Because these low-cost schools dominate the non-state school sector, they are critical to education delivery in LMICs. Still, much like their counterparts in the state school system, many face challenges in delivering on equity, quality, and learning outcomes.
In a new evidence brief, Sole Proprietor Low-Cost Private Schools: Conditions for Success, the Education Finance Network reviews existing literature to identify the conditions necessary for LCPS to improve learning outcomes for disadvantaged students. One of the key factors that emerged as critical for LCPS to improve education quality and equity is an effective and supportive regulatory environment, which enables mutually beneficial partnerships between LCPS and governments.
Despite significant evidence highlighting the benefits of providing effective regulation—including improved learning outcomes for disadvantaged students—this can take time for governments to implement. The Education Finance Network spoke to three members who work closely with LCPS to hear their perspectives on the challenges and opportunities around regulation.
School registration processes should be streamlined
Non-state school registration is a critical first step allowing for greater government engagement through official channels. But, in some countries, requirements to obtain official registration are complex, and the process is burdensome. As a result, many LCPS operate without obtaining official registration, leaving them without opportunities for productive engagement with governments.
In Ghana, registration of private schools requires multiple visits and approval by different government agencies. School proprietors have described this process as complicated and expensive. Of the more than 36,000 identified basic education private providers across Ghana, 18 percent are documented as unregistered, but this number is likely higher.
Enoch Kwasi Gyetuah, National Executive Director of Ghana National Council of Private Schools (GNACOPS), explained: “For a private school to register in Ghana, the business incorporation and business registration is done at the Registrar General Department. After that, the school has to register with the National Schools Inspectorate Authority to be recognized as an educational partner. Then they have to register again with the local government authority at the district level. Finally, because schools work with children, they also need to register with the Social Welfare department, and the Environmental Protection Agency. It makes it very cumbersome.”
Evidence indicates that regulation of the non-state school sector should begin with ensuring registration is both accessible and desirable for LCPS. When registration through official government channels is done well, it can have numerous benefits that directly impact equity, quality, and learning outcomes, including:
- Ensuring registered LCPS meet a minimum quality standard and minimum teacher qualifications.
- Qualifying students in LCPS for national school exit exams, which are necessary for continued education.
- Helping to ensure admissions processes are transparent and equitable.
- Providing opportunities for LCPS to unite with other organizing bodies, school associations and networks.
- Qualifying schools for government subsidies if they meet learning outcomes targets.
Regulation should focus on outcomes, not inputs
To register as an education provider, LCPS often have to navigate the challenge of complying with burdensome requirements. In many contexts, requirements to register private schools are more focused on high-cost inputs (e.g., building new classrooms and infrastructure) rather than learning outcomes. The Global Education Monitoring Report 2021/2: Non-state Actors in Education found that 80 percent of countries focus regulations on space requirements, such as land, building, and classroom size. By contrast, fewer countries regulate teacher accreditation (53 percent) or admission procedures (55 percent), which could promote more equitable access.
Aashti Zaidi Hai, CEO of the Global Schools Forum, said: “We know from our members that in most countries where our network operates, it's very challenging to meet the regulatory requirements. We really believe that the [regulatory] systems need strengthening. But as governments do so, they need support in moving from a largely input or infrastructure driven registration and regulation process to one that is much more balanced towards a focus on outcomes – in particular learning outcomes – so that schools that operate, for example, in heavily urban environments don't need to meet heavy infrastructure requirements, such as around the size of a playground or the height of a boundary wall, or the number of classrooms. Regulation should be focused on the quality of the teaching and learning within those four walls and be commensurate and proportionate.”
A one-system approach to education benefits all students
Over the years, an increasing percentage of children are being educated by private schools, especially low-cost private schools, and this trend is likely to continue. When private schools are recognized as part of the national education system, governments are better able to plan adequately and oversee quality and equity.
Corina Gardner, CEO of the IDP Foundation, advocates for a learner-centered approach to education. She proposes “policy and programming of all education stakeholders should have a learner focus—a policy and planning regime that follows the learners and not whether it's private or public delivery of services. Once you do that, you are able to intentionally plan for all learners.”
Meeting the goal of universal access to quality education—including for disadvantaged learners—requires collaboration and communication among state and non-state actors. Effective regulatory frameworks can support a mixed economy of education where the focus is not on whether schools are public or private but on providing equitable access to an education system where every student learns.
The Education Finance Network convenes diverse education stakeholders, including foundations, donors, impact investors, and practitioner networks, with a focus on directing non-state resources toward creating inclusive, high-quality education in LMICs globally. The Network will shortly be launching a working group on “Enabling Regulation” to discuss challenges, share existing and emerging research, develop tools and approaches to improve regulation, and share lessons with the wider education community. Visit the Education Finance Network webpage to learn more about the network and how to apply to become a member.