Rising Schools Program
Low-fee private schools (LFPS) are an organic community response to overwhelmed public education systems in low and lower-middle income countries. These schools are owned and operated by local education entrepreneurs who charge an affordable tuition for children underserved by the public system. However, despite growing market demand, LFPS often lack access to many basic services and are usually disenfranchised and marginalized.
In July 2008, IDP Foundation founders Irene Pritzker, and her daughter, Liesel Pritzker-Simmons, traveled to Ghana to look at various microfinance programs. After meeting several loan clients, Irene was introduced to Paulina, who owned a school in the Agbogbloshie market in bustling Accra. Although Paulina’s main business was selling yams, Paulina felt compelled to open a low-fee private school in the market to create a safe learning environment for the children of the traders.
There was clearly demand as her school quickly grew to serve over 400 students. Paulina soon needed to reinforce the second story of her building to safely accommodate her growing student body, so she approached her loan officer for a microloan. Despite having received loans for her yam-selling business, she was unable to secure a loan specifically for her school.
Through extensive market research, it became clear that Paulina’s story was not unique. Paulina’s school represented one of an estimated 6,000 low-fee private schools in Ghana, according to a 2011 report by International Finance Corporation (IFC). Although LFPS are owned by independent proprietors serving low-income communities, government and multi-lateral funding agencies offer little to no support because the schools are privately owned. As a result, the IDP Foundation wanted to create a program that would provide essential services to this growing sector.
In September 2009, the IDP Foundation, Inc., in partnership with Sinapi Aba Trust (a Ghanaian microfinance institution) created the Rising Schools Program to support existing schools reaching those at the lowest levels of the economic pyramid. School fees in these low-income private schools were on average $15 per term. The program began with a pilot study of 105 existing very poor private schools with an initial enrollment of 27,000 primary-aged children.
The program is a market-based solution coupled with access to extensive training in financial literacy and school management for LFPS proprietors. The cost of the training is factored into the terms of the loan products which are then provided to meet the specific needs of the school. Proprietors are offered the necessary tools to stabilize their schools and prioritize for the future. The Program partners strongly emphasize working within the Ghanaian government’s educational framework.
The targeted training modules address the unique needs of school proprietors, with topics ranging from creating financial documents (such as cash flow statements and balance sheets) to school management issues (such as engaging parent-teacher associations and working with district officials). In addition to empowering school proprietors with adequate training, IDP Foundation worked with Sesame Workshop to develop teacher training videos, addressing pedagogy and activity-based learning techniques to enhance the quality of teaching in the classrooms.
The Rising Schools Program is a realistic market-driven program which respects, recognizes and empowers the efforts of the poor to achieve education for all. We advocate for a strong public-private partnership between the school proprietors and the government in order to support improvements in access to learning and the inclusion of all children.
As of 2023, the program has reached almost 200,000 learners across over 900 schools and continues to maintain an average repayment rate of 97%.
IDP Foundation believes that low-fee private schools play an integral role in meeting national education agendas and therefore must be recognized as legitimate contributors and thus integrated into a connected system of education that is governed by the state and supported with tailored interventions so that they can continue filling the gap. Quality education for all leads to greater valued human capital, which in turn will break intergenerational poverty resulting in a level of economic stability that can sustain a robust free public education system.