Friday, July 31, 2009

Beautiful Tree

The following appears in the latest Maxim Institute newsletter. I thought it was interesting for the way in which it talks about how education is regarded as being so important in the developing world, that people will set up their own schools if the Government system isn't working.

The Beautiful Tree is written by James Tooley, and it tells of the success of private schools in the developing world—slum schools in places like Nigeria, which the poor run for themselves. Paid for by scrimping and saving, making the best out of substandard facilities, these schools bring education to those who are so often written off, or the subjects of patronising, top-down do-goodery. Tooley tells story after story of teachers and schools with a deep commitment to their children, doing exceptional work. In Ghana, Kenya, India and China—the places Tooley's book stems from—private education confounds stereotypes. In many of these places, government schools are failing. They are too remote, too bureaucratic or too out of touch to do their basic work of educating children. In contrast, community schools are built on the backs of sacrifice and solidarity, filling the educational gap for the sake of the children they are committed to. Tooley quotes a teacher from Ghana: "This is an offering job ... you sacrifice yourself for the children."

Education is about more than bureaucrats writing a curriculum, or finding ways to pass exams. In the words of "Sajid-Sir," headmaster of a community school in Hyderabad, "There are three corners of the triangle—parents, teachers, and students, and this triangle must not be a scalene triangle, it must be an equilateral triangle." The stories in The Beautiful Tree are a reminder to us in New Zealand, that schools exist for the children and families they serve—as outgrowths and flowerings of local community, pride and involvement. It is about helping children to grow, to stand independent and connected in their communities. In a nation with a plethora of schools, used to arguing over who should pay for education, this must still be our vision. Education, whether in Kenya, China or New Zealand, is about growing good people—this is the task our teachers, students and parents are called to.

Here's a video from the author in which he talks about his book:

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