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Educational Entrepreneurs, Bringing Schools to the Underserved

By Janelle Lassonde

Education is one of the most vital development tools for individuals and countries. Through the Banking on Education initiative, we’ve disbursed over 450 loans to educational entrepreneurs operating private schools in underserved neighborhoods in Ghana, Malawi, Uganda, the Dominican Republic, and India.

As part of this initiative, Opportunity also partners with the IDP Foundation Rising Schools Program, which is pioneering a sustainable education model that combines financial and non-financial capacity building services in support of extremely undeveloped schools in rural Ghana.

At the Fall Microfinance Conference in October, we heard more about our education financeinitiatives, including the IDP Rising Schools program, from the experts and supporters who know them best. The panelists at the Education Finance breakout session were Teddy Ajiku, Opportunity Uganda Insight Trip coordinator; Nancy Hughes, member of the Board of Governors and Insight Trip traveler to Ugandan schools; Liesel Pritzker, vice president and director of program development for IDP Foundation, Inc.; and Ritish Thalla, Opportunity’s program manager

From the session…

  • Ritish: We have 346 active school loans, plus around 5,000 student loans, for a total of 125,000 students impacted. The World Bank classifies C- and D-level schools, which generally have buildings that are dilapidated and there are very little resources or infrastructure. These make up 66% of our developing and 23% of our emerging school loans. Though, by this time next year, we will be focusing more on emerging schools. We’re about halfway to our goals to expand into 10 countries and reach 150,000 more students. Next year, we’re hoping to move into Romania and Mozambique, but all of this expansion is contingent on donations. One exciting program is our scholarship program in India, offering educational opportunities to girls in secondary school and community college, covering the costs of their school fees. Women and girls are often forced to terminate their education at primary school, so that’s why programs like this are so important.
  • Teddy: I coordinate Insight Trips to Uganda, and introduce travelers to the work being done there, including our education finance programs. We visit our client Trust Groups, where I often serve as a translator too. When I was a loan officer earlier, I saw that 95% of the clients have school fee loans. This high proportion highlights how important it is to parents to have access to education for their children. Through school fee loans, we are able help cover other incidental educational costs too, such as uniforms and supplies, so that is why these loans are so important.
  • Liesel: The IDP Rising Schools Program in Ghana adapts loan products for the needs ofschool proprietors. We also saw a need to add a lot of capacity-building and school financing for proprietors. We train school proprietors on how to interact with their PTAs and finance training officers. Our goal is to see that the schools grow not just in terms of access to capital, but in educational quality and improved learning outcomes for students. To this end, we are training teachers to use more educational tools to effectively teach children, and produce better literacy rates and exam scores in their schools. School loans also help proprietors improve facilities such as sanitation services, which can be particularly important to older children and adolescents, helping them feel more comfortable at school.
  • Nancy: We visited Uganda on an Insight Trip and saw firsthand the work being done inschools in Uganda. In Trust Group meetings, when we saw clients receive their school fee loans, they were so happy. That was a very exciting thing and something that is more recent. Opportunity hadn’t been offering education finance loans when I first joined the board. The best thing you can do is talk to people, to corporations, and explore. This field is a whole new world–so share your ideas. This exploration can lead to unexpected opportunities–corporate partnerships and connections with strategic partners.

Sarah Mugerwa Walusimbi didn’t like the way schools operated in Wakiso, a semi-urban, lower-middle class district of Kampala. So in 1997, this qualified teacher opened Kireka Hill Infant Day and Boarding School to 30 children.

The school’s impact in the community blossomed with funding. Sarah’s initial education finance loan of $4,300 has grown into a fourth loan of $6,200 with Opportunity Uganda–and Kireka Hill has developed into a three-story classroom building and residential complex. Its student body, now numbering 446, covers three pre-primary levels and grades 1-7, overseen by 15 teachers and nine staff. The school has 190 boarders, many of whom are Sudanese refugees or HIV-positive. Sarah continues to build dormitories, classrooms, a library, a pre-primary playground, toilets and dining facilities. Meanwhile, Opportunity’s staff trains school administrators in good business practices.

Significant issues remain. The school has no running water. Classrooms average 50-55 pupils per teacher and assistant–still an improvement from governmental schools. About 20 pupils can no longer afford their fees, but Sarah keeps them in class. “Stopping this child means they won’t go on to secondary,” she says–or into the job market or university. Behind her desk, a tapestry hangs with the words: “By God’s Grace, I Am What I Am.”

Kireka Hill’s students continue to aim high. As grade 7 students prepare for standardized secondary school entrance exams, Sarah asks, “Who will make it?” Every child raises a hand. One boy wants to be a pilot. His neighbor a doctor. One girl aims to be an accountant. Another a nurse. Voices ring throughout the classroom: lawyer, engineer, mechanic, teacher. These are the voices that will guide Uganda’s future.

-Written by Opportunity supporter and Uganda Insight Trip traveler Janelle Lassonde

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