I was fortunate to spend the majority of these nine months in India working with friends and colleagues to explore “solutions” to problems I saw with affordable private schools.
I’m sharing some of these ideas here. For a variety of reasons, these ideas were not implemented, though we were able to explore the feasibility of many of them and speak with potential partner organizations and schools. Some of these ideas are untested and complex, and require significant time, human capital, and financial support beyond the scope of my resources. And ideally they should be school and locally-driven initiatives.
I’m not sharing these ideas because I think they are novel, game changing, or will necessarily even work, but because perhaps you know of someone working on a similar concept, or can tell me why these ideas would or wouldn’t work. Or maybe you would like to try them out yourself. For whatever reasons, I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Problem: APS Coordination and Scaling
There are many great organizations interested in working with APS, and many problems that all APS face, especially with the introduction of RTE. However, there is no central body that can coordinate with multiple APS at once. Furthermore, APS provide a unique access point to the community that is not taken advantage of by social enterprises to introduce and scale programs.
While there is an association for private schools in India and there are informal associations of APS school owners run locally, APS could really use a national association dedicated to representing, tracking, and advocating for APS. A national coordinating body would also be useful for introducing organizations to APS to scale projects, and for tracking data about these schools. As you’ll notice, all of the ideas suggested below would be easier to implement if a coordinating body of APS existed.
Social Enterprise – APS Partnerships
APS have access to local communities and are best poised to be points of contact for the community for training and opportunities. Social enterprises looking to scale their services in a community should look into partnering with APS to provide their services to the school’s families. This concept could work for so many types of organizations and services—from selling water filters, to sourcing entrepreneurs and customers for an organization like VisionSpring, to selling nutritional snacks or providing health services. APS with computer and Internet could also be used after-hours as business process outsourcing centers for organizations like Samasource. Such partnerships could also serve as the basis for much-needed alternate sources of revenue for APS.
Problem: Irregular Fee Payment
As I explain here and here, APS have a difficult time collecting regular and full monthly fees, and parents have a difficult time paying them. Financial instability in the school lowers school quality, so there needs to be a more concerted effort to help schools address this issue.
Child Savings Account
One potential solution to the problem of irregular school fee payments and lack of savings accounts for low-income households is to create a child savings account (CSA) for APS that is accessible for payment of school fees as well as for savings for the child’s future.
Accounts for low-income individuals need to be liquid, have a zero or very low minimum deposit, and a small savings deposit option. The accounts should be accessible in the local community, and ideally provide a return on savings. For a savings account to be most beneficial for APS, the parents, and the children, the accounts should be linked to the APS in some way to be accessible to pay school fees in periods of need, and married to the concept of saving for education. While most CSAs only become accessible when the child turns 18, this account should be made accessible at all ages, to enable withdrawals to pay school fees. Some banks already incorporate this option into their CSAs, making accounts technically closed until age 18 but allowing sanctioned withdrawal options for school fees or education. Some banks regulate this by providing payment directly to the school.
There are multiple account model options for CSAs for low-income APS families, including no frills accounts, banking correspondents, matched savings accounts, children saving directly. All of these options have been tested and implemented in the field for years. The options of types of accounts and potential solutions are not limited to these listed, which is why thorough market research of options for APS communities is required.
Financial Education for Parents
Parents at my school were interested in learning about saving options for their children, especially in regard to long-term savings for college and the future. The mere act of asking them questions related to their savings practices was enough to spark their interest. While parents are aware of the importance of financial management, they are unaware of all of the financial tools available to them. Better knowledge of financial options would help parents improve the financial decision-making, and when affiliated with the school, this could lead to more timely and full payment of fees.
In order to provide financial education to parents, APS could partner with an organization such as Accion to customize a financial education program. The financial education organization and APS could also identify a local partner to run the trainings in the schools, using trainers such as corporate employees as a pro-bono CSR service. This model works well with Junior Achievement in Hyderabad. School owners and teachers are not suitable candidates to run trainings at schools since they are not familiar with the subject and could be viewed by the parents as untrustworthy sources on this topic. The training would need to be in the community’s local language, as parents tend to have limited to no English language skills. APS students could also benefit from financial education courses from an organization like Aflatoun.
Problem: Impact Assessment
As I wrote here, we need to be more creative about understanding the impact of APS beyond looking at learning outcomes.
Idea: Alumni Association and Data
An important indicator of the impact of APS is the ability of these schools to lift students out of poverty into college and the careers they aspire towards, such as medicine and engineering. But little data exists on the lives of alumni of affordable private schools in India, and internationally. The knowledge of APS alumni that does exist is predominantly anecdotal. Data should be collected on rates of college acceptance, college graduation, careers, and income of APS alumni. Such data can be used by schools or by the broader education space to better understand the effectiveness of APS and to understand gaps and areas for improvement or additional services for APS.
After speaking with multiple school owners, we found there was much interest in this concept. However, school owners emphasized the need to first build an alumni tracking mechanism and alumni network for the school before they could collect data. APS, with few resources, need an easy, efficient, and low-cost mechanism for tracking alumni data. Options include an SMS, phone, or written survey, or in-person alumni events. An organization could take the lead in building a scalable APS alumni network model, with service offerings such as career advice, and work with APS to implement the model at individual schools. Or an organization such as J-PAL could do scientific field research on this issue.
Problem: Parent English Skills
Parents who send their children to APS understand the value of English language skills, and are eager to learn English themselves. It would be beneficial for the students if their parents can practice English in the home. However, most APS or service providers associated with APS do not currently provide English language learning opportunities to parents.
Idea: Mobile English Learning
APS and a partner organization could provide parents with access to a service that teaches English skills on mobile phones through voice and SMS. The users would be recruited and trained in partnership with APS, which will be used for space to host trainings and to advertise the opportunity. Revenue could be from participants, or from targeted advertisements sent to the users.
The advantage of a mobile phones solution is that they can learn English at their own time without having to attend daily or weekly classes. This is of particular advantage for women that are expected to spend the majority of their time in the home due to cultural expectations. The users will also then be able to take advantage of other mobile resources once they gain the necessary English skills.
Even if not through mobile phones, I think that English courses for parents at APS is a great idea. My colleague recently launched such English language courses for mothers at her school.