Christie Cunningham

Advancing the Low Cost Private School Sector: Shadowing the IDP Rising Schools Program in Ghana

Traveling in Ghana, you can’t help but be struck by the number of private schools dotting the landscape. The IFC estimates that 30% of schools in Ghana are private, with most charging minimal tuition (less than $1 a day) and serving low-income families. Many of these schools were started because their owner identified a market opportunity: government schools were not meeting the needs of the community, whether because they were too far away, unaffordable (government schools are free, but often charge fees for uniforms, workbooks, and lunch), or unreliable. Most low-cost private schools (LCPSs) are owned and operated by a sole proprietor, who may or may not have training in teaching or school management. As a result, while these schools may be the best option for families, their quality varies greatly.

That’s where the IDP Rising Schools Program is making a difference. Since 2009, the IDP Foundation (led by Irene Pritzker) has worked with Sinapi Aba Trust, a Ghanaian microfinance institution, to strengthen the LCPS sector in Ghana by providing financial and management training to LCPS proprietors, along with access to loans for improving school buildings, buying land for expansion, buying a school bus, or otherwise improving operations. The IDP Rising Schools Program has also partnered with Sesame Workshop to develop and deliver “Techniques for Effective Teaching,” a teacher training workshop and set of take-home DVDs that makes use of Sesame characters to instruct teachers in how to make their classrooms child-friendly, differentiate instruction, and use positive discipline, among other topics.

While on a recent trip to visit Omega Schools in Ghana (the Pearson Affordable Learning Fund’s first investment in the affordable education market), I had the opportunity to visit many IDP Rising Schools to see firsthand how they have benefitted from the program and to speak with school proprietors about their experiences. Here’s a sampling of what they had to say:

“-There was no school in the community before. I was a pro teacher in a government school and now I’m retired and doing this on my own. IDP helped me learn how to manage the school and gave me a loan to -improve my building and expand.”

“At IDP I learned how to market my school and how to relate to parents and the community.”

“-I greatly enjoyed the Sesame Workshop and have worked with my teachers to implement the lessons. We know we outperform the other schools, but we want to be even better.”

“-IDP taught us how to manage school resources and how to run the school. It helped us increase enrollment. We learned how to welcome parents into the development of the school as a whole.”

“We’ve been open for 9 years. Our students took the JHS3 (a national exam in the last year of junior high school) for the first time last year and did very well. Thanks to the IDP training, we know our results will be even better this year.”

It’s clear the IDP Rising Schools Program is having a positive impact in these schools by providing access to loan capital and quality training that would not otherwise be available. In building the program, IDP has also built a community of LCPS operators who are now learning from each other and working together to advocate for their schools with the Ghana Education Service. Yet, these schools have a long way to go, and will need to make major improvements in areas such as curriculum and teaching if all students are to receive a high quality education.

The IDP Rising Schools Program is still a work in progress, but offers several lessons for organizations seeking to make an impact in education in developing countries:

1. Work closely with a local partner who shares your mission. IDP has partnered with Sinapi Aba Trust, a microfinance organization with dedicated, talented staff who work tirelessly to improve the program and reach more schools and students.

2. Measure outcomes and continually improve. IDP started with a pilot of 105 schools and collected data to measure the program’s impact on school management and effective use of credit. With strong results in these areas (e.g., 45% reduction in the number of classrooms needing major repair, 22% increase in schools registered with the government, 90% repayment rate on loans), the program will expand its current services and develop new services to improve quality further.

3. Focus on teaching and learning within the local context. The Sesame Workshop program was tailored to meet the needs of teachers in the program. For example, to model child-centered learning, the training put teachers at the center of the workshop, giving them the chance to actively participate and experience how it feels to be a student in this type of classroom setting.

4. Make the government your partner. IDP views the Ghana Education Service (GES) as a partner in providing support to the sector. In building relationships and communication channels with GES and the broader public sector, IDP is helping to raise awareness about low-cost private schools and frame the education reform debate so that low-cost private schools are viewed as contributors in meeting the goal of Education For All.

The IDP Rising Schools Program has benefitted almost 200 schools to date and will expand to reach over 1,000 schools in Ghana over the next several years. We at the Pearson Affordable Learning Fund look forward to partnering with IDP to continue to advocate for and strengthen the low-cost private school sector, which is meeting the critical need of providing access to education for thousands of students in Ghana and across the developing world.

Christie Cunningham is a summer associate at the Pearson Affordable Learning Fund (PALF).

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