Download article | By OECD/CERI Secretariat | Published in Demand-Sensitive Schooling, 2006
This article shows how choice is an increasingly important mechanism for parental demand. Countries are giving parents greater freedom of choice and making information more available to inform their choices. There are also significant moves to widen the diversity of programmes and schools among which choices can be made, including through private provision and, in some countries, home schooling.
Several countries have moved to greater diversification of public education, allowing for different types of schools accommodating different student ability levels or parents’ educational preferences. Most systems offer parents the choice between public and private provision although with different understandings about what these terms cover: in some systems, parents pay the entire cost of private education, in others the state fully or partly funds private education. Most countries allow for the establishment of schools based on private initiative, including the recognition of value choices and beliefs. Opportunities for choice between different schools, within the public system and between public and private provision, have become the rule rather than the exception. Even the Nordic countries, where belief in schooling for public good and equity is strong, have increased the opportunities for choice. These reforms in increasing choice have recognised, even encouraged, the use of “exit” strategies as well as shifted the balance between public and private behaviour in shaping education systems.
Enhancing the range of options can be regarded as a means for schooling to better respond to different demands—individual and collective—with parents, families and community interests seen as the “clients” of education. In order to increase transparency for the clients and provide information, schools now make available more statistics and test scores.
In the past few years, the countries in this study have experienced demographic modifications—particularly important that, with fewer children born, and funding based on student numbers, schools are increasingly competing for students instead of selecting them. Thus, making schools more demand-driven, decision-making powers are moving away from the administrators and professionals to parents.
Although this article’s evidence does not permit any comprehensive evaluation of different choice mechanisms, it does show that individuals and groups are not responding in the same way. The better educated, middle class parents tend to exercise their choice options more frequently than less-educated parents. Better educated parents tend to move to urban areas for jobs, and unlike rural areas in which there are few schools available, urban areas have a wide selection of schools. Therefore, with more schools among which to choose, urban parents have more choice. In urban areas, the proximity of schools might encourage competition among the schools for students and lead to improved educational provision. However, inequality among the schools can also result. As highly-educated parents tend to be wealthier than other parents, when they choose certain schools for their children and fund those schools, other urban schools’ needs may go unnoticed.
This article has raised other concerns which describe the change that has occurred in promoting variety in schooling options and allowing parental choice. Providing options for choice can be a response to demand and a powerful incentive for development.