Professor given $100m to save world's schools

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The Independent Online

A British professor is to spend the next year helping invest $100m (£50m) in improving schools in developing countries.

James Tooley, Professor of Education at Newcastle University, is to be a special adviser to a leading Asian investment firm.

For the past six years, Professor Tooley, a former member of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority - the Government's exams watchdog, has been studying the performance of private schools in the most deprived areas of Africa, China and India.

"In some of the most disadvantaged places on earth, there has been a blossoming of private education," he said. "Parents in utter poverty were paying what little they could - perhaps $1 or $2 a month for a private education for their children because they could see it as a route out of poverty," he said.

Professor Tooley said most of the private schools he visited were well-run institutions but, by contrast, the state schools in those countries were largely inefficient. He wrote his experiences in the form of an essay for the International Finance Corporation (part of the World Bank) and Financial Times Private Sector Development competition and won a gold award.

The essay sparked off interest from many companies - including the Singapore-based Orient Global, which decided to set aside $100m for the development of schools in deprived countries and agreed to appoint Professor Tooley as a special adviser on how the project should be run. As a result, he is taking a year's sabbatical leave from Newcastle University to advise the company's charitable arm.

"This is a wonderful opportunity to help strengthen and improve the role that private education is playing to bring education for all," he said.

"I shall be a strategic adviser to the project. I'm quite humbled to be playing a part in it."

Professor Tooley has been an adviser to both the Government and the Conservative party and a keen advocate of bringing the private sector in to help run state schools in the UK.

Originally, he started his working life after graduating with a PhD in philosophy, as a socialist critic of private sector involvement in education but says that as he studied the record of schools helped by the private sector, he began to change his mind. The details of where the money will be spent have yet to be worked out with Orient Global. However, it is likely it will start in India.

"Parents tell us they are bringing their children to these schools because they believe they are cherished as pupils by them," he said. "Anything that can be done through the project to help that would be wonderful. I'm thrilled to be doing the work I am."

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