Opportunity International Launches Microschools(TM) – New Frontier in Breaking the Chain of Poverty
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
OAK BROOK, Ill., July 25 /PRNewswire/ — Opportunity International, a leading innovator in the microfinance industry, today announced the expansion of its microfinance school loans program to bring greater educational opportunity to poor children, especially girls. Microschools of Opportunity(TM) is a new initiative that provides loans to “edupreneurs” who open schools in poor neighborhoods where children cannot access public school for a variety of reasons.
Groundbreaking 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. Tooley’s research provided inspiration for the development of Opportunity International’s new microschools(TM) program.
“Microschools of Opportunity is the third leg of the stool to help the poor escape poverty and transform their lives once and for all,” said Christopher A. Crane, president and CEO of Opportunity International. “Our core business in microfinance is making small loans to entrepreneurs to help them work themselves out of poverty. But often, that isn’t enough.
“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,” Crane said.
Microschools are now operating in 50 neighborhoods and towns in Ghana in a pilot program. The program incorporates what Opportunity International has learned from providing loans over many years to “edupreneurs” who have opened schools for the poor in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
School loans are higher than small business loans typical of microfinance institutions. School operators need more funds and longer repayment terms, usually to build or expand school facilities. Loans are of several thousand dollars and payment terms can last a year or longer. The average school size of a Microschool of Opportunity in Ghana is about 200 students.
“Our initial goal is to expand the pilot into several other countries in Africa and Asia. Schoolchildren will be able to attend good quality schools operated by ’edupreneurs,’ many of whom are women and are experienced, qualified teachers. We expect that over the next three years, we will help our clients educate one million poor children,” Crane explained.
Better than public schools, leading expert shows
Tooley is president of The Education Fund for Global Orient that focuses on improving education in developing countries. 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.
“An education revolution is taking place,” Tooley said. “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 said.
“I am thrilled that Opportunity International is expanding schools for the poor. I have seen the benefit that these schools bring to an entire community — the parents, the families and especially the children who are getting a quality education from teachers who are dedicated and committed,” he added.
Microschools provide advantages to girls
A key component of Microschools of Opportunity is that it offers girls an equal opportunity for education, which in many countries has been lacking. “Microschools are usually located right in the neighborhoods where the poor are concentrated,” Crane said. “As a result, parents tell us they feel safer sending their daughters to these schools. This will help break the discriminatory cycle that has existed against girls in many poor countries.”