Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Financing schools for the poor

In very poor countries like Tanzania the public school system struggles to provide even the most rudimentary education for children. School rooms are nonexistent or decrepit, teachers are untrained and absent, and there are few books or supplies.

Outdoor classroom in Ghana

Microschools are tiny schools run by committed individuals who provide basic education for a few local children at a cost of a few pennies per day. Recent research by James Tooley, a leading academic expert on schools for the poor, has shown that these schools outperform their public school counterparts across Africa, India and China.

In 2006, while a professor of education policy at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, England, Tooley published a groundbreaking, award-winning research study on the impact of these schools in five developing countries -- China, Ghana, India, Kenya and Nigeria. He found that,

Contrary to previously held beliefs, schools for the poor are superior to government schools, school teachers are more committed and education outcomes are better. All this is accomplished for a fraction of the per-pupil cost of government schools.

Tooley's extensive three-year study, which is ongoing, investigated education in all types of poor environments – from slums and shantytowns in metropolitan cities to remote rural villages in impoverished regions. More than 24,000 students were tested in key curriculum subjects and research was conducted with parents, teachers and school managers. Tooley says,

An education revolution is taking place. In the poor urban areas surveyed, the vast majority of schoolchildren were found to be in 'budget' private schools. These schools charge very low fees, affordable to parents in poverty.

The study found that concerns of lower quality education were misplaced when compared with public education in the countries studied. Tooley explained,

In every setting, teacher absenteeism was lower and teacher commitment – the proportion of teachers actually teaching when our researchers called unannounced – was higher in the schools for the poor than in government schools.

The poor have found remarkably innovative ways of helping themselves, educationally, and in some of the most destitute places on Earth have managed to nurture a large and growing schools industry.

Tooley’s research has encouraged microfinance provider, Opportunity International, to develop school loans programs to help these microschool to bring greater educational opportunity to poor children, especially girls. Christopher A. Crane, president and CEO of Opportunity International, says,

Transforming the precarious lives of the poor requires three elements: banks that provide loans and savings accounts that allow the poor to buy food and shelter, microinsurance so a death in the family or illness doesn't throw them right back into poverty, and education -- the element that has the most hope of eliminating the cycle of poverty with their children's generation. This is truly value-added microfinance.

A loan from Opportunity International can help a tiny neighbourhood school to expand and serve more students. The average school size of a Microschool of Opportunity in Ghana is about 200 students.

Opportunity International is rolling out its school loan program and expects to help its clients on three continents to educate one million poor children over the next three years.

What a great program! Like the School of St Jude, Opportunity International is brings basic education to children from the poorest families, in countries where government revenue is not sufficient to provide this essential service.

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Anonymous said...

Tanzania as a country is not poor, it is just unfortunate that we do not have leaders who knows problems we are facing, they are blinded by ignorance, corruption and shortminded ideologies. We have enough resources to be among well developed countries. the title for your post should be "Financing schools for stupid people" and not otherwise.

Gillian said...

Hello Anon, thanks for your thoughts. As you say, good leadership can take a country a long way.Tanzania has shown strong economic growth in the past few years, so I think that things are improving slowly. There is such a long way to go!

The School of St Jude is educating hundreds of kids so they don't grow up ignorant or corrupt. I'm very glad to support it.

Jeff Msangi said...

I will agree with anonymous on the point that Tanzania as a country it is not poor.Additionally,I think even the Tanzanian people are not poor either.Poor or poverty to me is someone who has nothing.Tanzanians have something, a lot of something.Natural resources,land, a comparatively peaceful country compared to many african countries,morals etc etc.What they lack therefore is leadership.When we constantly keep telling our people that they are poor, we are psychologically paralyzing them.If you are poor,what do you do?You sit down and wait for the donors to come and resque you after utilizing all the natural resources surrounding your household.To me that is way wrong.We need to remind the people about the utmost wealth they have.Then tell them exactly what to do with that wealth.That way we are more likely to see a different nation sooner than later.I hope that is what you teach your students,that they are not poor but only needs to make use of their god gifted wealth.

Gillian said...

Hello Jeff,

Yes, it is very true that Tanzania has many riches and that good leadership is important.

I think that the School of St Jude does just what you say - it gives children an excellent education, so they are not stuck in a paralyzing world view of hopelessness. The kids at St Judes are optimistic and enthusiastic - like most kids in Tanzania they love to go to school. They love to learn.

The good education they get at St Judes respects this love of learning and helps them to make the most of their natural abilities. The School has a long term vision to support these kids right through to the end of tertiary training. So this should help to build the future leaders of Tanzania and make a difference sooner than later.

Jeff Msangi said...

Thanks for doing that.We just have to be careful with what "excellent education" means.Otherwise thanks for doing a good job.