• Doing their homework

    Big business is helping African governments improve the quality of education and children’s access to it.

    Doing their homework

    When the border town of Ressano Garcia in Mozambique was selected as the location for the world’s largest interim gas-fired power station, the local community received not just a prizewinning plant, but also a complete overhaul of their dilapidated primary school.

    In July 2012, the impoverished 1 400 learner-strong Escola Primária Completa became one of the first schools outside of South Africa to benefit from the Adopt-a-School Foundation. The non-profit programme focuses on ‘whole school’ development and has adopted 595 schools (three in Lesotho). It aims to turn under-performing, run-down schools into properly managed, well-resourced facilities with competent teachers and good academic results.

    South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa is the brain behind Adopt-a-School. He is also the outgoing executive chairman of the Shanduka Group – the investment holding company that set up the Ressano Garcia power plant in a joint venture with power generation firm Aggreko.

    He said: ‘While this is a temporary power solution, it is likely to have a lasting impact. The adoption of the Escola Primária Completa school will result in a significant improvement in the learning environment at the school over the next five years and will leave a lasting, positive legacy in the local community.’

    Adopt-a-School is donor-driven and will tailor a project to meet corporate social investment (CSI) needs. Since its inception in 2002, the organisation has invested more than ZAR145 million in education, built over 340 school facilities and created more than 5 000 temporary jobs in disadvantaged communities, reaching over 600 000 beneficiaries.

    Communications manager at Adopt-a-School Nicola Vogel says: ‘We moved into Mozambique and Lesotho because our funders felt passionate about going there. But our experience is here in South Africa; it’s what we do best.’ She adds that the two neighbouring countries are accessible by road, but reaching further into Africa would prove more expensive.

    In South Africa, a massive 43% of the total CSI spend of ZAR7.8 billion was directed towards education in 2012/13

    ‘We work on a case-by-case scenario,’ says Vogel. ‘In Lesotho we found it easy to create relationships with government and the community because James Motlatsi, who is a founder and board member of the Adopt-a-School programme, was our champion and the local people knew him. We adopted three schools in his home village of Morifi – small schools, very rural, probably like South Africa’s most remote schools.

    ‘In Lesotho, the grades and assessments are structured slightly differently from South Africa, but in Mozambique the main challenge was the Portuguese language barrier. We partnered with the Africa Foundation for Sustainable Development, which introduced us to Mozambican service providers and government officials, helped with general translations, and sensitised us to the different culture.’

    A key element in the Adopt-a-School model is the involvement of communities through the use of small local businesses and contractors as well as the creation of jobs for unemployed parents.

    There’s a long waiting list of schools wanting to be adopted. However, being adopted means entering into a two-way partnership in which the school management, educators and learners all become accountable in meeting certain academic targets. Those schools that succeed are rewarded with incentives such as a new science lab or computer centre.

    The corporate ‘adopters’, who are encouraged to become personally involved with their adoptive schools, include major banks such as Nedbank, Standard Bank and Absa, as well as companies such as Oxford University Press, Lafarge and Grindrod. The Industrial Development Corporation has adopted 20 schools and the Kagiso Shanduka Trust (a partnership between the Shanduka Foundation and Kagiso Trust) pledged ZAR200 million to adopt 371 schools in the Free State. The provincial education department pledged another ZAR200 million.

    Vogel says: ‘We match the corporate funders to a school, depending on how much they want to spend and for how long they can commit. Ideally they should come aboard for five years, then hand over the ownership of the projects to the school and the Department of Basic Education. Our programme shows that public-private partnerships do work.’

    The introduction of free primary school education in many sub-Saharan countries has widely increased access to schooling. This means most young children are at school, but what do they actually learn?

    Unesco’s 2013/14 Education for All Global Monitoring Report reveals that 175 million children, most of them girls, remain illiterate in the region. The report lists numerous reasons, notably lack of funding, overcrowded classes, insufficient textbooks, poor basic infrastructure such as classrooms and toilets and, perhaps most importantly, teachers who are not motivated or qualified to do the job.

    Africa’s big business already channels a large portion of its CSI into education projects. In South Africa, a massive 43% of the total CSI spend of ZAR7.8 billion was directed towards education in 2012/13, reports the 16th CSI Handbook, as published by consultancy Trialogue. In comparison, the next closest sector (social and community development) received only 15% of the total CSI expenditure.

    Some of this spending goes into bridging the digital divide. Information and communications technology (ICT) firms are using their expertise to connect schools in Africa to the internet. For instance, software giant Microsoft has partnered with the Rwandan Ministry of Education to create easier access to software licences. ITWeb reports that only 6% of primary and 18% of secondary schools in Rwanda are connected to the internet. To date, more than 13 million students have already benefited from Microsoft’s Partners in Learning programme in sub-Saharan Africa.

    Meanwhile Vodacom, in conjunction with the South African Department of Basic Education, Cisco and others, has established nine ICT resource centres – one in each of the country’s provinces – where maths and science educators are taught how to integrate ICT into their teaching.

    Ultimately, each government is responsible for delivering quality education in its own country, but in Africa, most rely on the assistance of big business, non-government organisations (NGOs) and international agencies.

    UNICEF’s Schools for Africa is a prominent campaign that receives high-profile corporate funding from firms such as Gucci, Montblanc, Starwood Hotels, Nokia, Cadbury and Siemens. Supported by the late Nelson Mandela, Schools for Africa operates in 13 sub-Saharan nations.

    A new ‘edupreneurial’ trend is the explosion of low-cost private schools for the poor. In Kenya, the rapidly expanding, for-profit Bridge International Academies is offering a ‘school-in-a-box’ model that provides standardised quality education to the masses for US$6 per learner per month.

    In Africa, most governments rely on the assistance of big business, non-government organisations and international agencies

    The schools reach operational sustainability in as little as a year and they are cashless – all administration and transactions are done by mobile phone, from admitting new students, to receiving school fees or paying staff salaries. Investors include Bill Gates and the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation.

    The first Bridge academy opened in 2009 at a Nairobi informal settlement. Five years later, in May 2014, there are 303 academies in Kenya, catering for more than 95 000 learners, with a staff of just over 4 000. The company sums up its 2014 successes: ‘Approximately 50 more academies are slated to open throughout the rest of the year. Expansion preparations [have begun] for Uganda and Nigeria.’ At the WEF on Africa, Bridge International Academy founders Shannon May and Jay Kimmelman were awarded the title of 2014’s Social Entrepreneurs of the Year.

    In Ghana, a chain of low-cost private schools that delivers economic returns to its investors is proving popular among poor communities. Founded in 2008, Omega Schools now number 38 and educate more than 20 000 students. The latest investor is British education and publishing group Pearson, which has also backed Kenya’s Bridge academies.

    In the non-profit sector there are six LEAP Science and Maths schools in South Africa, specifically aimed at boosting gifted learners from poor families. These schools are funded by private and corporate sponsors and are producing excellent academic results.

    Back at the state-owned schools, the Adopt-a-School Foundation has been pioneering its whole school development, based on public-private partnerships and holistic principles. The underprivileged schools receive, for instance, basic infrastructure such as access to water, sanitation and electricity, as well as sophisticated units such as new science labs, libraries and computer centres. They also install perimeter fencing for physical security. Other interventions include the development of teachers and strategic management planning; learner support in literacy and maths; and extra-curricular activities such as sports programmes and leadership clubs.

    Adopt-a-School also looks after social welfare by establishing vegetable gardens, testing eyesight and supporting orphaned and vulnerable children. To round it off, the programme aims to instil discipline, respect and pride in all learners and educators.

    The model has worked locally, in Lesotho and in Mozambique. Surely the blueprint could be adjusted by private-public partnerships further afield, to benefit the rest of Africa?

    By Silke Colquhoun
    Image: Corbis/Masterfile