Microschools – Opportunity International’s Contribution for Achieving MDG 2
The United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s), established at the Millennium Summit in 2000, consist of eight goals related to international development topics such as poverty eradication (#1), promotion of gender equality (#3), global health issues (#6), or environmental sustainability (#7), and to which all UN member states have agreed to accomplish by 2015.
MDG #2—to achieve universal primary education—addresses the importance of literacy for advancing human development and tackling extreme poverty. Nobel Peace Laureate and former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in the foreword of UNICEF’s 1999 “The State of the World’s Children” report, refers to education as “a human right with immense power to transform. On its foundation rest the cornerstones of freedom, democracy and sustainable human development.”
But although considerable progress has been made with respect to MDG #2 since the year 2000, there’s still a long way to go. In Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, around 38 million children of primary school age are still not enrolled in any kind of primary education. In developing countries, the cost for education consumes an enormous amount of a poor family’s income, if it sends its children to school at all. Although public schools often don’t charge tuition fees, sending the children there nevertheless involves other indirect costs such as textbook fees or costs for compulsory uniforms. Further, the school might not be in the immediate neighbourhood of the families, resulting in additional expenses for transportation. At the end, all these indirect costs keep school children out of the classrooms. Microschools run by “social edupreneurs” are therefore a viable alternative to public educational systems.
Opportunity International, a leading non-profit organization founded in 1971 as one of the first microcredit lenders and committed to solving global poverty, is also a pioneer in the area of microschools. In 2007, it launched its Microschools of Opportunity™ program that provides loans to teachers who open schools in poor neighborhoods where children, especially girls, would otherwise be unable to access public education. And that’s also where the name comes from—it refers to the fact that the schools are financed through microcredits, rather than to the actual size of the schools.
Microschools are factually private schools. Nonetheless, many low-income families in developing countries are willing to pay the fees, since the advatages over public schools can be significant. For example, they are often located close to the poor households, be it in rural areas or in urban slums. Further, as decribed above, the total costs (i.e. including the indirect costs) can be notably lower in microschools as compared to public schools. The impact, therefore, is manifold—on one hand, the children can attend school and profit from quality education, and on the other hand it allows the family to spend the already limited funds for other things, e.g. establishing a small business.
In his essay “Private Schools for the Poor“, James Tooley, professor of education policy at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne in England, mentions that “[i]t is a common assumption among development experts that private schools for the poor are worse than public schools.” He deconstructs this myth, based on his research, and concludes that “it is not the case that private schools serving low-income families are inferior to those provided by the state” and that they even “seem to outperform their public counterparts.” He also dismantles another myth, namely the one of the “accepted wisdom [...] that private schools serve the privileged; everyone else, especially the poor, requires public school.” Opportunity’s microschools are a convincing proof of the opposite.
Image: © Opportunity International
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