Opportunity International’s Education Finance program (EduFinance) continuously incorporates learnings from key stakeholders at all levels to ensure our products and services are well aligned with the local needs of affordable private schools. Recently, as part of this commitment, we partnered with research organisation Three Stones International to conduct a multi-stakeholder assessment in Ghana and Uganda. The final report identified how schools use School Improvement Loans (SIL) and furthered our understanding of how these loans impact the children, parents, educators, and communities that our partner financial institutions work with
In 2014, EduFinance carried out an initial study with 10 affordable private schools in Ghana and Uganda that had taken one full cycle of a School Improvement Loan, identifying positive change across the partner schools. The study, which included interviews and observations in the schools and surrounding communities, found average increases of 24% in enrollment, 36% in teaching staff, 63% in income as well as more than 11 new local jobs per school.
Then in 2018, Three Stones International, an independent research firm revisited these same schools - and 5 additional new partner schools - after having completed 2-3 School Improvement Loan cycles. The study aimed to capture an in-depth and holistic picture of the impact Opportunity’s EduFinance loan cycles have across the range of stakeholders in both countries.
The study identified 7 key dimensions of change:
There were marked improvements in the physical infrastructure of schools, including the expansion of storied buildings and classrooms, increased safety and security as well as beautification. Using an innovative interviewing style, students were asked to describe their school as an animal after the school utilized a loan to make infrastructure improvements. One student commented, “Both [school campuses] are like peacocks, they are very beautiful. I would like it to be the most beautiful school in Uganda.”
Infrastructure investments have also had significant spill over effects for the community, including the renovations of roads, availability of water resources in times of scarcity and better waste management.
Beautification of grounds, Uganda
Schools attributed increased enrollment to improvements in the schools’ marketability such as better infrastructure, quality of teachers, school meals, fee flexibility, stronger community relationships and support from parent-teacher associations (PTAs). Using loan funds to purchase new school buses also proved to be essential for schools operating in peri-urban areas in order to maintain the student population.
New school buses, Ghana
School improvement loans are providing schools with working capital to hire more teachers, and provide higher salary incentives based on attendance, punctuality and student performance. The report also highlighted teachers’ recognition of Opportunity’s EduQuality program, supporting schools to organize into clusters, through which they are able to network, exchange ideas and foster inter-school engagements to support their students’ learning.
A school leader explained, “Last term, we had a workshop where the teachers were trained in how to handle the learners as well as better class practices from an Opportunity International team. This training has resulted in practical teaching and new creative teaching methods.”
4. School Performance
Schools cited improvements in their students’ academic performance over the course of the study. In half of the schools in Uganda, for example, many students achieved Division One status which has been attributed to the quality and dedication of teachers and lower student-to-teacher ratios.
Students at Ghana school
5. Parental Engagement
Inspired by Pathways to Excellence (P2E), a school assessment and development tool delivered as part of Opportunity EduQuality services, schools in both countries reported conducting a variety of activities dedicated to engaging parents, including PTAs and class visits. As a result, parents noted feeling included in decisions and have expressed the benefits of flexible fee payments. At one school in Uganda, for example, parents with challenges covering full fees were offered informal, in-kind school payment options such as food.
6. Community Relationships
In Uganda, school improvements are fostering greater ties between parents, teachers and schools. As schools increase their community visibility, they are seen as role models in diversity by community members, including between Muslims, Christians and other religions and nationalities. Furthermore, some schools have also found ways to give back to the communities in which they operate, including offering bursaries to marginalized children and assisting community members with safe and clean water access.
In Ghana, while there was limited directinteraction reported between schools in the study and the community, schools have continually pushed for advancements on behalf of the community. Some are persuading local authorities to fix infrastructure around the school, such as drains or contributing materials towards improving roads.
Road improvements, Uganda
7. Local Economic Development
Across all study sites, researchers found schools have spurred local economic growth through employment and investments. As employers, schools have hired full-time teachers, bursars, bus drivers, and hostel boarding staff in addition to temporary cleaners, gardeners, plumbers, masons and construction workers. Schools are also contracting services from food vendors, tailors, private bus operators and even a local nurse. Moreover, at multiple study sites, community members observed that there was an increase in retail shops in their neighbourhoods as a result of population growth around the schools.
“All the changes that have happened in my home are as a result of the school because the demand [for her fruits/vegetables] has increased over time as a result of the growing populations around the school.” – interviewed school parent.
The study highlights the numerous benefits that School Improvement Loans can offer a community, from school leaders and teachers to parents and students. A recurring theme in discussions was the overall improvement in the schools’ reputations as desirable places for children to learn and teachers to work. In particular, parental engagement increased markedly through a variety of activities and opportunities to work with the school in new ways. This new parental support network was an interesting positive finding attributed to the school improvement loans.
We are encouraged by reported stakeholder perceptions linking improvements in local schools across Uganda and Ghana to the schools’ access to multiple cycles of credit through the School Improvement Loan product. As we continue to scale our services for financial institutions offering credit to the affordable private school market, and support schools directly via our EduQuality program, EduFinance remains committed to ongoing research and learning. This ensures that students, parents and educators remain at the the core of our programs.
EduFinance supports affordable private schools to deliver accessible, quality education across 20 countries. Through partnerships with over 35 financial institutions worldwide, EduFinance offers two flagship education lending products: School Improvement Loans and School Fee Loans. Over 8,000 School Improvement Loans have been disbursed to school leaders for both capital improvements and work capital needs, and more than 215,000 School Fee Loans have been provided to help families facing cash flow challenges to meet the costs of children’s school fees, uniforms, materials and other educational needs.
The School Improvement Loan product is a key pillar of the EduFinance model. School investments can boost student enrollment through increased space and capacity and improved school quality, attracting more students. Loan terms are aligned with schools’ unique cash flow cycles – i.e. termly student fee payments. With more than half a million primary-aged youth out of school in Ghana, and only 24% of pupils reaching grade 5 on time in Uganda, both access and quality are key factors impacting children’s education that EduFinance seeks to improve.