Learning by numbers

Despite being a successful loan client, Paulina’s school venture was deemed too risky. She could not access the finances she needed to secure adequate resources to educate the children properly.

This was just one of many examples that the not-for-profit IDP Foundation, Inc. (IDPF) came across when conducting research into education across Ghana. It inspired the creation of the IDP Rising Schools Program, a ground-breaking education, finance and training initiative that has increased access to low-fee private schools in the country.

20% of children attend private schools

With the launch of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, many countries, including Ghana, increased their commitment to providing free access to quality education without having the infrastructure to do so.

Overcrowding in state schools and a lack of access to schools in rural areas led to the growth of low-fee private schools to meet the burgeoning demand. In Ghana, one in five children attend private schools, rising to 90% in peri-urban areas.

Most operate with little support from government or NGOs. Teachers are often untrained and on low salaries, and many schools have no electricity and exist on undeveloped land, all to keep fees at a level that can be met by poorly paid locals. The school proprietors have neither access to credit nor the financial literacy to improve their operations.

Under the IDP’s Rising Schools Program, proprietors receive business training that enables them both to take out and successfully repay loans which are used to improve their schools.

A network of nearly 600 schools

The program started by implementing financial literacy and school management courses for operators of private schools. The Foundation established an ongoing partnership with Sinapi Aba Trust, Ghana’s largest microfinance provider, training a number of Sinapi Aba’s loan officers to provide the training.

During or after completing the course, participants in the program could access below-market interest loans, provided by Sinapi Aba and financed by the Foundation, to improve their facilities, build additional classrooms, and purchase land or vehicles.

There are now nearly 600 schools within the program, a significant number that has brought its own benefits. Creating a network for the schools has enabled IDPF to aggregate a segmented market. The next step is to bring additional services and benefits to the schools that will help raise standards.

The Foundation has been working to raise the government’s awareness of the role of low-fee private schools in providing quality education to all children, with the ultimate aim of securing their inclusion and implementation in government policy. Improving the accountability of schools for reaching required government standards will act as a platform to future public private partnerships.

Teacher training with Sesame Workshop

In a further extension to the program, IDPF has developed a long-term partnership with Sesame Workshop, the US-based non-profit behind the Sesame Street children’s television program, to develop a teacher-training service for the schools. Through a combination of in-person training, videos, manuals and materials, the Techniques for Effective Teaching Program promotes child-friendly teaching to address the academic, social and emotional needs of children. So far, 90 schools have benefitted in the first phase, with an additional 50 schools signed up for the next.

Following conversations with Ghana’s Ministry of Education and local NGOs, the plan is to scale the outputs of the collaboration and see broader usage of the TFET program, for example, in teacher colleges and public schools.

Over $2.5m in funding and 92% repayment

The IDP Foundation, Inc. collects data on the schools to measure impact. So far, over 510 loans have been disbursed, with a 92% repayment rate. This has enabled the addition of, on average, two classrooms per school, while the overall enrollment rate has increased by 17%.

IDPF gave a three-year, $1.3m grant to pilot and develop the IDP Rising Schools Program. As the program has expanded, this initial grant was followed by loan funding. IDPF is currently working with Sinapi Aba in order to continue scaling the program. It is also in partnership with CapitalPlus Exchange, a US-based non-profit organization that supports financial institutions in the microfinance market in developing countries. CapitalPlus Exchange is researching other financial institutions with which IDPF can work in order to replicate the program.

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Teaching the teachers

All children love bikes. Shafiqul Islam does too, but this also funds his education.

Short on money, Shafiqul, who lives in Dhaka, Bangladesh, gathered his savings and purchased a second-hand bike. Rather than tearing around his local neighborhood, the youngster started to rent it out to earn a little cash. Shafiqul then started to teach his friends to ride, thus creating a captive market.

After two years, the young entrepreneur has quadrupled turnover. He now owns four bikes and puts the money towards his schooling.      

On the other side of the world, another entrepreneur is blooming. Keen to help her grandfather provide for the family, 14-year old Isabella formed a collective that makes and sells pens topped with recycled flowers. Fulfilling the duties of CFO, Isabella works out the cost of materials and production, runs budgets and even calculates profit margins.

Isabella and Shafiqul have something in common. Both were taught the art of entrepreneurship and financial planning by teachers that benefitted from training and materials provided by Netherlands-based Aflatoun International.   

Sure, Isabella and Shafiqul’s microbusinesses might not turn into a sustainable source of income. But even if they don’t, they have acquired vital life skills that will equip them to prosper in the world of work.

Regional master trainers 

Aflatoun wants to empower 20 million children by the end of 2020. The organization tackles the disturbing truth that millions of children and young adults lack the essential skills they need to thrive in the modern world. Social enterprises have long tried to right this wrong by providing textbooks and exercise books to schools in poor countries. 

But this alone doesn’t work because the material is only as good as the teacher providing the lesson. So Aflatoun focuses on empowering educators to deliver quality social and financial education to children. 

The organization doesn’t teach any children itself. Instead it provides teachers at 192 partner institutions with the curricula and training materials they need to cover five core elements: self-esteem; knowledge of their rights and responsibilities as citizens; responsible saving and spending; planning and budgeting; and learning through enterprise. 

This material is complemented with a series of three-day to three-week training workshops led by ‘regional master trainers’.

Its core program, called Aflatoun, teaches children of primary school age. Its lesson plans include songs, worksheets activities and games that are catered to children of this age and encourage active learning.  

For example, a key activity of the program is to collectively create a small business or community improvement activity. Last year, more than 700,000 children took part in a social enterprise and more than 600,000 participated in a small-scale income generating project. Separate teaching programs have been designed for younger children (Aflatot) and older children (Aflateen). 

Aflatoun’s teaching methods clearly work. A study designed to rigorously evaluate their impact found that teachers in Rwanda that received the training were 15% more likely to apply participatory teaching methods that those that did not. This resulted in 47% of students feeling more engaged in class. These statistics were obtained from one of eight randomized control trials.

Teachers like this approach too. “The Aflatoun methodology has personally enriched my work as the promoter of the Aflatoun Club “Exploradores Solidarios” of the Coomuldesa Institute, because it is dynamic, creative and innovative, which allows the enjoyment of the activities of both the students and the teacher,” says Maria Aminta Zambrano Estupiñan, a teacher at the Coomuldesa Institute, in Colombia.

Local problems, tailored solutions 

Aflatoun’s country reach has grown tenfold in the past decade. It currently reaches 5.4 million children through its partner network, which spans 102 countries.  

Key to its success is the fact that its teaching programs can be customized to local requirements. For example, the humanitarian organization Mercy Corps adapted one of Aflatoun’s programs to create a scheme to tackle the health risks associated with increasing teenage marriages in Tajikistan. The curriculum therefore covers reproductive health, family planning and HIV.    

Aflatoun has also partnered with Mobaderoon, an open network of institutions committed to education for peace, to create a program for children living in post-conflict zones within Syria. The course, which reaches more than 10,000 young people, promotes critical thinking skills that are vital to analyze the underlying causes of conflict. 

What next?

To realize its ambition to reach many more children, Aflatoun is exploring e-learning solutions. But while this may widen its audience, the organization is conscious that face-to-face learning is most effective. Its program may therefore never be 100% digital.

Aflatoun also wants to expand its partner network, especially with corporations. It is already doing so. In Cote d’Ivoire, for example, it works with chocolate producer Hershey to provide young adults with relevant skills for cocoa production. Future areas for potential co-operation include agri-business, digital (for example, mobile banking), and commercial banking.

Despite working with millions of children and hundreds of global private and public sector institutions, Aflatoun is keen to keep raising its international profile. And help teach more teachers new ways to inspire children. 

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