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Dynamics of Low-Fee Private Schools in Kenya: Governmental Legitimation, School-Community Dependence, and Resource Uncertainty


by Brent Edwards Jr., Steven J. Klees & Janet L. Wildish — 2017

Background/Context: The UN Sustainable Development Goals include a renewed commitment to inclusive and equitable education for all and will maintain pressure on governments in low-income countries to ensure this provision. A range of prominent researchers and institutional actors continue to explore and to promote low-fee private schools (LFPSs) as a viable option for achieving universal access to basic education. The emphasis on LFPSs can be seen as part of the push for education policies that attempt to improve educational access and quality not through the strengthening of public education but through the establishment of public–private partnerships.

Focus of Study: In this paper we explore the Kenyan government’s engagement with LFPSs, document and assess the impact of this support on the behavior of LFPS and clarify key actor perspectives and responses within this context.

Research Design: Through a qualitative case study of two LFPSs in a large urban informal settlement near Nairobi, we focus on the dynamic interaction and delicate equilibrium within which government officials, LFPS representatives, parents, and students not only interact with but influence each other. Data for the study were gathered over the course of 8 weeks during May and June of 2010 in the urban slum called Mathare Village in Nairobi through document review, 35 interviews, and school visits.

Conclusions: The findings suggest that LFPSs do not function in practice as in theory, and crucially, that there are inherent trade-offs, tensions, and unexpected dynamics in operation that have serious consequences for such issues as quality and equity, even when supported by formal government policy designed to address these aspects. The study reinforces the importance of national governments and international bodies increasing the resources devoted to improving access to, and the quality of, public education.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 119 Number 8, 2017, p. -
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21776, Date Accessed: 3/22/2017 6:16:26 PM

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About the Author
  • Brent Edwards Jr.
    University of Hawaii, Manoa
    E-mail Author
    D. BRENT EDWARDS JR. is an Assistant Professor of Theory and Methodology in the Study of Education at the University of Hawaii, Manoa. His work focuses on (a) the global governance of education and (b) education policy, politics and political economy, with a focus on low-income countries. Within these two research lines, Edwards has focused on investigating the rise of global education policies and the influence of international organizations, as well as trends related to educational privatization (e.g., charter schools, low-fee private schools), decentralization, and community participation. Geographically, these areas of focus have lead to research primarily in Mexico, Colombia, Central America (El Salvador, Honduras), and Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines).
  • Steven Klees
    University of Maryland
    E-mail Author
    STEVEN J. KLEES is the R. W. Benjamin Professor of International and Comparative Education at the University of Maryland. He did his Ph.D. at Stanford University and has taught at Cornell University, Stanford University, Florida State University, and the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil. He was a Fulbright Scholar on two occasions at the Federal University of Bahia in Brazil. Prof. Klees' work examines the political economy of education and development with specific research interests in globalization, neoliberalism, and education; the role of aid agencies; education, human rights, and social justice; the education of disadvantaged populations; the role of class, gender, and race in reproducing and challenging educational and social inequality; and alternative approaches to education and development. Prof. Klees is coeditor of the book The World Bank and Education: Critiques and Alternatives (Sense, 2012). He is the former president of the Comparative and International Education Society.
  • Janet Wildish
    Sarit Centre
    E-mail Author
    JANET L. WILDISH is a development practitioner with experience that spans the last 20 years. Specializing in program design, implementation and evaluation, her core interest is in change processes, particularly in relation to development initiatives and policy implementation. She has held a range of senior program management positions with development agencies. Her publications have appeared in such journals as Evaluation and Program Planning and Culture, Health and Sexuality.
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