Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - Private school expansion in Africa ‘misses’ what local communities are already doing

A chain of private international schools is embarking on a controversial mission in Africa to plug the gap in the state education system - but there are concerns that such an approach may be “missing a trick.”

Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 31 October

Private school expansion in Africa ‘misses’ what local communities are already doing


A chain of private international schools is embarking on a controversial mission in Africa to plug the gap in the state education system – but there are concerns that such an approach may be “missing a trick.”

Gems Education, a private school group operating dozens of schools across 10 countries, has opened its first school in Africa with the Gems Cambridge International School in Nairobi, Kenya.

The company’s executive director David Varkey told The Guardian it was expanding its reach to Africa due to the continent’s strong economic growth – and a vision to support poorer communities with schools built by the Gems Foundation.

Mr Varkey said: "We are excited by Africa; it offers tremendous potential with a growing consumer class.”

Founded more than 40 years ago, Gems now has schools in four of the world’s five continents, as well as several high-profile partners, including the Clinton Global Initiative and Unesco. Its expansion seems timely, given the rise in demand for private schools in Africa owing to poor investment in the state sector.

The East African civil society group Uwezo recently reported that although more children have been able to access school since tuition fees were abolished in 2003, issues remain over the quality of teaching and learning in Africa. There have long been concerns about unqualified teachers, a lack of basic resources and high student-teacher ratios.

Local parent and community groups have been responding to these problems by opening their own private schools targeted at low income families, some offering tuition fees of less than $2 per month – much lower than those proposed by Gems, which start at $1,700 per term.

Professor James Tooley at Newcastle University has written extensively on how the world’s poorest are educating themselves.

He told TES: “The most exciting thing is that low cost private schools are appearing in slums, in villages and in rural areas.”

Professor Tooley is skeptical of outside private school provision, which he believes “is missing a trick,” and may exacerbate existing inequalities.

Raminder Vig, Gems' chief academic officer for Africa, acknowledged that its new school in Nairobi would be out of reach for most Kenyans. International investment may not be the answer; it seems communities are finding their own.



Questions for discussion


  • Why is education important?
  • What could we do to make our own classroom a better learning environment?
  • In your opinion, does everyone have a right to education? Why?


Related resources


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  • Explore the functions of education with this Sociology lesson plan.

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TES iboard: Traditional African tales

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Further news resources


First News front page

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What is the News?

  • A sociological and media perspective on what makes an event 'newsworthy'.

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  • Help pupils to write their own TV news broadcast with this handy PowerPoint.

Structuring stories

  • A scheme of work to help students structure news stories.

In the news this week


New York, the ‘city that never sleeps’, was shut down last night as Hurricane Sandy tore across the east coast of America.

Nadeem Islam and Kayleigh Goacher, both students from South East London, picked up an award worth 3,000 Euros at the ZEBRA International Poetry Film Festival last week.

Brighton and Hove City Council has suggested removing honorifics from all documents to help better support the needs of the city’s transgender community.

A row has been triggered among MPs following a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights that has led to the introduction a draft bill to allow prisoners limited voting rights.



In the news archive index