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Breakout Session: Banking on Education

By Allison Altdoerffer

A quality education empowers students with the skills and abilities to secure higher paying jobs, build strong families and help in the economic development of their communities. Today, we discovered how Opportunity’s Banking on Education program is increasing educational opportunities for more than 120,000 children in underserved neighborhoods in Ghana, Malawi and Uganda. The panelists were Liesel Pritzker, founder and board chair of Young Ambassadors for Opportunity; Geoffrey Thige, chief operations officer, Opportunity Kenya; Steve Nelson, VP of strategic initiatives, Opportunity International; and the session was facilitated by Char Caldwell, VP of resource development.

Banking on Education panel (from left): Char Caldwell, Geoffrey Thige, Liesel Pritzker, and Steve Nelson.While Ghana, Malawi and Uganda do offer government-funded public schools, financial constraints force classrooms designed for 40 students to swell to accommodate nearly 120. With a stark student-teacher ratio, there’s no opportunity for students to receive personalized education, and thus, individual learning and comprehension suffers.

Not only are public facilities limited in populous areas, but many remote villages and towns are often deprived entirely of any public education. Without government-run programs, many towns have turned to private education run by entrepreneurs. Though by definition ‘private,’ these schools don’t match the lush American view of private schools, and are often as limited in resources as the public schools.

Because these private facilities do not fall within the parameters set by USAID, these programs often go without outside aid and support–even though they are sometimes the only school within a community. That’s where Opportunity International steps in. Opportunity works with these schools to develop loans and offer business training to help schools maximize efficiency, turn a profit, and then invest that knowledge and capital back into the schools to improve the quality of education.

In addition to providing support for schools, Opportunity also offers loans to offset tuition costs for families. Families making less than $2 a day struggle to afford a $51 per year annual tuition, and sometimes are forced to enroll students intermittently for a semester at a time. Interruptions in schooling compromise a student’s learning and potential for success, so Opportunity offers microloans to help parents cover tuition and provide continuous education for their children.

Opportunity has a presence in nearly 500 schools effectively touching over 120,000 students. Char Caldwell, VP of resource development, closed the session by saying, “We truly believe that every child deserves an education.” And through microfinance, Opportunity is making that mission a reality.

This post was written by Allison Altdoerffer. Allison is a public relations professional and a member of the YAO – San Francisco chapter.

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