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Low-fee private schools in Latin America: a systematic map

What do we want to know?

The objective of this review is to systematically map existing research on the topic of private education for low-SES population in Latin America. In particular, it focuses on the characteristics, aims and methodology of the included studies.

Who wants to know and why?

In recent years, there has been a significant escalation in private education policies and institutions, particularly for low-SES population. However, discourses in favour of privatisation in education have often remained ideological and not evidence informed. Despite the growing research interest on the topic, systematic efforts are scarce or leave out the Latin American region. This issue is relevant, on the one hand, because the manifestations of privatisation are context specific. On the other hand, there is still an important debate around quality and equity issues of private services catering for low-income populations. Thus, this review tries to present the landscape of research about LFPS in Latin America.

What did we find?

In terms of general features, the included studies were predominantly journal articles from the period between 2008 and 2017, which focused on a single country and used samples composed of learners (or multiple actors). Additionally, studies often drew on secondary data and used student performance as an outcome variable. According to their topic and aims, the included studies were classified in four thematic areas: (TA1) Private education growth in Latin America: trends and explanations; (TA2) Characteristics and composition of private schools in Latin America; (TA3) Decision-making process and determinants of school choice; and (TA4) Relationship between private education and student and system-wide outcomes.

TA4 was the most prevalent (37 studies), and included two different types of aims. The first group of studies focused mainly on Chile and compared academic performance in different types of school (public, private and private subsidised), most of them using standardised tests scores as an outcome measure. The other group of studies aimed to evaluate privatisation interventions or policies, including voucher programmes, PPPs and market policies. Most of these used a quantitative approach. TA3 was the second largest in composition, included 21 studies that explored parents’ choice process. It focused mainly on Chile and was comprised of an equal number of studies with quantitative and qualitative approaches. TA1 included 12 studies predominantly descriptive studies that suggested growing trends of private enrolment growth, particularly among low-SES population. Four of the studies aimed on explanations for private enrolment growth in Argentina. Finally, TA2 includes four studies that sought to analyse school segregation and two studies that explored characteristics of specific kinds of private schools.

What are the implications?

The map’s findings suggest a research emphasis on comparisons of academic outcomes between different schools and the exploration parents’ choice process. The main research gaps, on another hand, have to do with the limited number of studies that analyse the characteristics of LFPS or conduct evaluations of privatisation policies or interventions, and the absence of studies that explore the process dimension of quality. The recommended future studies include systematic reviews of the two emphasised topics and primary research that assess the process dimension of education quality in private schools. Additionally, there is a need for studies that explore the variety and characteristics of private education provision for low-SES population in different contexts.

The review’s findings shed light on the need to understand the phenomenon of LFPS within the broader issue of education privatisation, as well as to explore the inherent issues of quality and equity. Furthermore, the research trends identified in countries like Chile and Argentina reinforce the importance of considering context features when attempting a comprehensive analysis of the topic. 

How did we get these results?

Using both free text and controlled terms, electronic searches were conducted in eight databases and two websites. Additionally, the reference lists of included articles were examined for possible includes. Four inclusion criteria were then applied on two stages: first, to the abstracts and titles of 1665 potentially relevant studies, and then to the full text reports of 89 of these studies. A total of 75 studies (in 79 reports) were included based on the following five criteria: focused on non-elite primary and/or secondary schools, focused or including data from Latin American countries, published between 2000 and May 2017, published in English or Spanish, and empirical (for thematic areas 3 and 4). Data extraction was performed using EPPI-Reviewer 4, retrieving information about the studies’ general characteristics, sample, focus and methods. The results were organised around the final thematic areas.

This report should be cited as:

Blengeri, A. (2017). Low-fee private schools in Latin America: a systematic map. London: EPPI-Centre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London.

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