The Millennium Development Goals were to be met by 2015. What’s to do once 2015 has been and gone and the goals for universal primary education and equal enrolments among girls and boys have not been met?  Well, it looks like the message is, “let’s start all over again and set another framework”. Really?

The post-millennium development goal agenda is now on the table. Last week a meeting was held in London with the great and the good to discuss a new framework to tackle poverty eradication…. again. But haven’t we been down this road before? What lessons have been learnt?

Well, for one, we need to be asking the poor what they want and what works for them?  During a visit to the slum of Kiberain Nairobi, Kenya, walking around a government school, I asked what the head mistress thought about the introduction of Free Primary Education (FPE), a good thing according to the Kenyan government, UNESCO, Bill Clinton and the World Bank amongst others? The answer came back “No one ever asked us, no one ever does”.

It turned out she didn’t want children from the slum in her government school. “They have their own schools” she said, “Everyone knows those in the slum send their children to their own schools. It only implies a transferral from one type of school to another”. The affordable school owners didn’t want it either, and parents were sending their children to low cost private schools in Kibera anyway. So why make the change? Because governments and aid agencies around the world thought it was a good idea,… without asking the poor.

Times need to change.

When the goals were originally set low cost private schools just didn’t figure in the discussions with regards to achieving education for all, a rather meaningless attainment anyway, attending school is very different from learning something in school, what’s needed is ‘quality education for all’, and that means whatever management type the parent chooses.

Times have changed. And rightly so. The work that I’ve been doing at Newcastle University and the E.G. West Centre shows that the majority of poor children living in urban slums, shanty towns and low income areas in developing countries around the world are attending low cost private schools. It has taken parent power, wanting what’s best for their child, to make the world sit up and notice that what really counts is what’s best for the children. And parents know best. Illiterate parents in slum areas know what they want for their children. Many believe that by paying for affordable learning (£3-£4 per month) they get a better quality provision which is accountable to them. Research agrees with the parents.

So if a message needs to go out to aid agencies, politicians and decision makers it is listen to what parents want, allow choice to flourish, look at the evidence, and focus on what’s best for the children.

This blog by Pauline Dixon was originally published on Pearson’s Affordable Learning website on November 8th 2012