The OECD published a working paper called “Markets in Education” in October 2010. The report did not appear to get a lot of press time. Perhaps I found it more interesting than most because I work and live in a context where 63% (Dubai) and 36% (Abu Dhabi) of schools are private schools. Given this distribution, I think that the findings of this international research should be relevant.
It examines the introduction of the market mechanisms in education over the last 30 years. Specifically, the authors examine the research literature to better understand the effect of increased school choice and the promotion of school competition on parental decisions.
Initial research concluded that market mechanisms in education have a small to negligible effect. But, when they took a closer look, they found significant effects of market mechanisms in education depending on the local context of the actual “market.”
As the authors unpacked the competing and interacting findings of different studies, they found evidence that there are nuanced differences. The general conclusions are:
- Education markets are local in nature. Choice and geography are tightly linked.
- Similar policies can work out differently in different local education markets.
- The position of a school’s local hierarchy is partly based on school composition irrespective of achievement results
- There is an in-elasticity built into education as a sector that does not allow for the necessary demand/supply responsiveness for true market forces to operate. For example, parents can’t simply withdraw their children when a school is poor performing and find another good performing school for their children. The capacity of schools is a limiting parameter and additional supply takes time.
What I find most interesting about the review is that – with a couple of exceptions – the private schools in the research literature receive public funding. Hence, the private sector of schools is not truly private as in most markets.
Contrast this situation with that of Dubai where 131 of 209 schools are privately funded and operated and I suddenly find a void in the literature that examines this education market. Dubai has a unique context.
Given that the authors conclude local context defines the effect of market mechanisms on education, it is a call for local research on Dubai’s educational scene.