Investing equity in our youth

Millions of poor parents send their children to private schools. They refuse the pitiable education and the free meals provided by government schools and choose to pay Rs 25 – Rs 250 per month to educate their children in “English medium” schools.

The private schools range from one-room, one-teacher set-ups to big buildings that house several thousands of students. There are thousands of them crammed in the by-lanes of urban slums. Hyderabad has at least 1,100 such schools and this number is quickly increasing.

Research has shown that these schools deliver a quality of education that on an average is better than what the government schools offer.

And yet, while government schools receive large amounts of state funding, the private schools are systematically deprived of resources. They are unrecognized by the education ministries and denied credit by banks. The edupreneurs (educators cum entrepreneurs) who run these schools rely on family funds and stake their personal assets to ensure that teaching is not disrupted.

We are a group of student – entrepreneurs from MIT who want to invest in Indian edupreneurs serving poor communities to ensure that the next generation receives quality education.

If you are:
* a teacher or an edupreneur
* searching for resources for your existing school or a new school
* interested in private education for the poor and have suggestions
and comments
please contact us at priya@thesparkgroup.net or call us at 99033 77914

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

 Priya on Tempo

On the way back from the Byrraju Foundation, we couldn’t find an auto. Solution: The open cargo bed of a tempo. Cost: Rs. 20 🙂

The Edupreneurs of Hyderabad

Anwar started one school in a Hyderabad slum a few years ago. Today he runs four schools, is constructing a junior college for girls and wants a loan to start yet another college. Anwar is an edupreneur – a unique breed of innovative, enterprising entrepreneurs committed to delivering education in spite of insurmountable odds.  

At the entrance of Anwar’s school is a huge banner with pictures of students who received merit ranks – a brilliant strategy that recognizes the success of his students and advertises the school to parents who are choosing between the 15 other neighborhood private schools. Anwar stands below the banner each morning for two hours talking to parents who are concerned about their children’s progress. He addresses queries ranging from school fees to complaints about the neighborhood bully. Anwar is extremely responsive to parent’s needs – the students’ report cards have graphs depicting their performance, pictorial depictions that help illiterate parents monitor the progress of their children. To address any concerns of teacher absenteeism, Anwar is now installing cameras in all the classrooms.  

Anwar’s students have done him proud. All the classes that we visited were packed with well-dressed, disciplined, eager students who wanted to become engineers, teachers, doctors and academics. These are children of mechanics, day laborers, farmers and truck drivers. They pay Rs. 70 – Rs 200 to attend Anwar’s school because it offers a good quality education and gives them an opportunity to fulfill their dreams. 90% of the girls in Class X said that they loved Math and wanted to become engineers – it is likely that their parents will force them to discontinue their education because of the absence of a nearby college, but Anwar has a solution – he is building a college that caters exclusively to the hundreds of girls in the neighborhood!  

In a country where public education system has failed, Anwar’s four schools stand testament to the private entrepreneur’s determination to provide a decent education to the average Indian child and earn a sizeable profit doing so.

Iron Gates And Compound Walls

Our first visit to a government school – the building was freshly painted. It was also almost deserted at 1 pm. Classes were either empty or had a few girls. The boys were wandering outside. They had had their fill of the mid-day meal and didn’t see a reason why they should sit around in classrooms waiting for their teachers to show up.

The only teachers who were taking classes were the “Vidya teachers” who are paid Rs 1000 and can get fired. The government teachers who earn up to Rs 12,000 chose either not to attend the school or left early to take tuitions (which they are legally prohibited from doing).

There were 18 toilets in the school of which 17 were locked and the only open toilet was filthy. The school had a fancy computer room with several brand new machines and a state-of-the-art projector that was barely used. Why? This is because the school did not have a computer teacher.

Graphs on the principal’s office walls showed that 17% of the students had passed the state board exam.

The school had a shiny new gate that is used to prevent children from escaping until 12:30, which is when the mid-day meal is served. When asked why classes were empty, the principal complained that it was because the school did not have a compound wall!!!!

Hum Honge Kamyaab

Tooley and Saajid

Prof. James Tooley and Saajid lead the Hyderabad edupreneurs in a rendering of “Hum Honge Kamyaab” (We shall overcome). Over 40 private school owners from the old city of Hyderabad attended the meeting convened by Prof. Tooley’s Educare Trust. In the meeting the owners discussed the day-to-day problems they are facing and how financial resources could be applied to address their challenges.

For Priya and I, it was heartening to see the work that Prof. Tooley and the Trust have been doing. And above all, it was reaffirming to meet the entrepreneurs of Hyderabad. People like Anwar and Reshma – people that we had hoped to find when we quit our jobs and moved back to India.

Overall, we find the vision of private entrepreneurs providing education to poor communities, highly compelling. We also agree with Prof. Tooley that providing these entrepreneurs with financial resources would be a very effective way in helping them increase the reach and quality of their services.

Chalk-a-Block

Tution Students

Students of elite schools in Kolkata squeeze into a little room waiting for their Chemistry pivate tutor. There were 22 students attending this particular session. Each student pays 600 Rupees per month. A popular tutor could run up to four such sessions per day. We heard of tutors who find this so profitable, that they have quit their day job as teachers. Most students select their tutors based on word-of-mouth reputation. This tutor arrived 10 minutes late and did not have time to talk to us 😦

Naihati – outskirts of Kolkata

Meeting school Principals was never more difficult. Ayan, Priya and I were constantly turned away because the Principals were busy preparing for the April examinations!. So much for driving for 2 hours and cold calling at schools. We did meet a very young enterprising school owner who had taken up franchiseeship of “alohaindia” – the company started by Shakuntala Devi, the Math Guru. The children at the school were well disciplined, the school premises were clean and the teachers always had a smile on their faces. We also met the hostile Principal of a Miltary school, who was not interested in having “non-army” personnel on the premises!!. Needless to say, we didn’t have much succcess at this school!!

Raja Bazaar – bylanes of Kolkata

cal-school-boys.jpgcal-schools.jpg

Chetan and I visited two schools during our visit to Raja Bazaar.

Both the schools were housed in tiny brick huts and would surely become extremely uncomfortable in the summer months. Funds allow only for a single session taught by a lone educator. Though poverty seemed rampant everywhere in the slums, there seemed to be a cheerful spirit amongst everyone I met during my visit. The children were extremely bright and looked forward to their annual “Camlin drawing competition” just as we were leaving.

The school fees ranged from Rs 25- Rs 35 a month depending on the class attended. Unfortunately, while this sum seemed on the higher side for some of the families, the same parents did not hesitate to spend Rs 60 a month to send the children for a “coaching class” in the evening!.