India, Kenya, and several other countries have a unique type of school that serves low-income communities – affordable private schools (APSs). Due to poor quality public education, APSs serve a community that would otherwise attend a government school but cannot afford a higher quality private school. These schools charge a fee in the range of $5-$15 per month per student—the school’s only income—and are therefore more accountable to their customers (the parents and students). Technically registered as NGOs, because they are run like businesses that serve a social purpose, they are considered part of the social enterprise space. In Hyderabad, India, there is a robust network of 2,500 affordable private schools. There are approximately 73,000 APSs across India.
As a fellow, I will be working with an APS in a more rural, slum area of Secunderabad. The school serves 531 students with 20 teachers in a small building with 10 classrooms, 3 donated computers (no internet), a small library, 3 toilets, and no playground or common area. I will be working on a variety of projects including improving fee collection and accounting, implementing student extracurricular programs, and other school management issues. I’ve been able to visit two other APSs so far, and will certainly visit more throughout the year. The two other schools I’ve seen varied widely from each other and my school – ranging from 800 students, a variety of after-school activities, play areas, and smart technology classrooms, to classrooms with no doors or walls and no teacher to oversee sports despite access to a field. Parents of students at all three schools, and APSs in general, are primarily daily wage laborers such as rickshaw drivers, fruit stand owners, and maids.
Issues facing APSs in India include lack of: funding, qualified teachers, oversight, and transparency. They also face major competition from other APSs and government schools. In one case so far, there were two APSs across the street from each other, with similar fees, but one school had much nicer facilities and significantly more marketing. Other issues are similar to those that face all schools including lack of creative outlets and critical thinking in the classroom.
My fellowship is funded and managed by Gray Matters Capital (GMC), which works with the APS community in a number of ways including rating the schools and programs, providing greater transparency. GMC is also associated with the Indian School Finance Company (ISFC), which provides loans (at a high interest rate) to APS school owners. Both organizations have a growing and powerful influence in the APS space throughout India.
I’m interested in visiting both a private school and a government school for further comparison. I’m also eager to begin working on improving my school’s ability to serve its community.