Home > International Development, Microfinance, Microschools > Microschools – Opportunity International’s Contribution for Achieving MDG 2

Microschools – Opportunity International’s Contribution for Achieving MDG 2

Microschools of Opportunity™

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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  1. Raghu Ram Bhallamudi
    July 14, 2010 at 3:16 pm


    I would like to know if there are any such “micro schools” in Peru. Can any one send me the information regarding the micro schools or NGO’s working on primary education/ adult education and farmers education activities in Peru.

    Thanks in advance


  2. Andrew Smith
    November 3, 2010 at 4:41 pm

    Dear Roberto,
    This comment was actually posted partly in response to your comment on http://www.oxfamblogs.org/fp2p/?p=3666#comments

    In case you don’t read it. I’ve duplicated it here for your delight and delictation.

    fascinating read. I work in Ethiopia and worked in the pastoralist Somali region for a number of years until Jun 2009. I was actually managing an Adult Education Programme for SIM in Jigjiga.

    We had the fantastic experience of handing this over to a returning Somali educationalist who was for some time a professor in Muqdiisho University and then studied in Italy and finally ended up starting a Somali newspaper in Canada.

    The school in Jigjiga now run by Dr. Ahmed “Barkhadle has expanded to 800 students studying Maths / Literacy in their native Somali (using material developed & printed by us). Sadly it faces closure in a few months as their donor (Mercy Corps) wants to focus on new projects rather than this existing one. It’s staggering really. He’s a rare bird, he lives off his own business (high quality primary education in Somali Region) and not only does he take not one Birr from MC to run their Adult Education Programme but he’s actually taken 150,000 Birr of his own money from his business to support the school as the MC funds have run out.

    Dr. Ahmed has become a very good friend over the years and I promised him I’d try to help to prevent these 800 young adults who have missed out on formal education for all kinds of reasons being sent home. \
    As Somali speakers we do a fair bit of consultancy in the Somali region but we’re not really able to provide the kind of mid-term financial support he needs.

    Dr. Ahmed’s vision is to have the school supported by the Somali diaspora and a business venture (his background is actually animal husbandry and he plans to start an animal fattening centre in nearby Babile and use some of the profits to fund his Adult Education school.

    Why am I writing all this. Because it sounds like you may know
    a) Someone in Ethiopia who may be interested in meeting Dr. Ahmed
    b) how I go about getting him funding for 2 years while he becomes self sufficient and achieves his dream of Adult Education BY SOMALIS, FOR SOMALIS.

    Maybe some of your readers can contact me too.
    andrew at drcethiopoia dot net.

    Kind regards


  3. November 8, 2010 at 5:04 pm

    Hello Ricardo,

    This speaks exactly to my post, thanks for the link. I suppose the next big question is how will the establishment react to micro-schooling as an option to state run schools. Banks never wanted poor clients leaving MFIs and converted NGOs to their pick of the market. However government schools do want the poor and in many countries employ large numbers of people to serve this segment. Poaching will stir the pot I would suspect.

    In the end we arrive however at the most moving message – the poor care and are capable of making smart investment decisions just like the rich. So let’s stop the needless subsidization and start serving the market as if they were any other citizen segment.


  1. May 28, 2010 at 5:11 pm

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