The Poor Empowering Themselves

We rarely hear positive, inspiring stories from the poorest slums on the planet – which is why the work of Professor James Tooley is extraordinary and heart-warming. Tooley, an education expert at the University of Newcastle and director of the E.G. West Centre (UK), has done extensive research showing that in the most impoverished places, parents earning about $1 per week are choosing to send their children to low-cost private schools – even where public education offers free tuition, free meals, and free uniforms. Across the board, these children are outperforming their public school counterparts with higher test scores due to smaller class sizes, more motivated instructors and accountability with parents.

As Tooley explains near the end of his new book The Beautiful Tree, “There’s no ‘TV tragedy’ here, or another depressing story out of Africa, nor another dismal tale of how the poor in India and China are sidelined as their countries juggernaut toward development. Instead, the poor are empowering themselves.”

As with all the ‘intellectual entrepreneurs’ with which Atlas works, Professor Tooley deserves all the credit for having the vision, energy and talent that has led to the success of his projects, and the consequent re-thinking of the role of government in improving education for the poor. But we do take a great deal of satisfaction in knowing Atlas helped along the way.

In 1999, Atlas was able to provide a small grant to fund a Tooley-led research project on private schools for the poor in the Philippines, which helped set the stage for his larger projects in India and sub-Saharan Africa. Soon after, Tooley’s E.G. West Centre was the recipient of major direct investment by the Templeton Foundation to extend his research, which has continued to flourish and extend to the rural mountains of China and South American shanty towns.

Atlas has continued to support Professor Tooley and his refreshing detective work and support for private education among the world’s destitute populations. In 2006, Atlas recognized the E.G. West Centre with the Templeton Freedom Award for Free-Market Solutions to Poverty. And in April, 2010, Professor Tooley and the Cato Institute received Atlas’ Sir Antony Fisher International Memorial Award for best publication for The Beautiful Tree.

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