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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