Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Kiva Innovations: Tackling the secondary education equation

Secondary schools are creating a bottleneck for higher education.

In past Kiva Innovations posts on this topic, the focus has been on advancing and financing higher education. In this entry, I take a step back to focus on the key prerequisite for college studies -- no, not university entrance exams -- high school.

Kiva borrower Ana took out a $1,275 loan to pay school fees in Indonesia.

While primary education has found a strong protector in the Millennium Development Goals, and higher education has its consistent advocates, secondary education has yet to find its heavyweight champion.

This is reflected in the poor quality and absence of secondary schools across the developing world. In the past 40 years -- as the primary school completion gap between rich and poor countries has narrowed -- the secondary school completion gap between rich and poor countries has widened.

A large share of students in the developing world are unable to make the jump from elemantary school to secondary school. Around the world, 90% of children complete primary school, but only 68% enroll in secondary school. At a regional level, sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest secondary enrollment rate at 36%.

As for graduation rates from secondary institutions in developing countries, the numbers only get bleaker. In contrast to the majority of countries in East Asia and the Pacific, North America and Western Europe, where graduation rates are 70% and above, three-quarters of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa have graduation rates below 40%.

The supply problem

The supply of secondary schools is falling short of meeting the increasing demand for secondary education in developing countries.

There are a number of drivers for higher demand, including the international community’s push for universal primary education, a rapidly growing youth population, and the demand for more high-skill laborers due to technological change. But governments and private providers have not been able to build enough schools to keep up with this growth.

There is also the challenge of quality control. Developing countries are disadvantaged in terms of resources, classroom sizes, and teacher quality. Standardized test results show that this has resulted in poorer performance by students from developing countries in comparison to their counterparts in high-income countries. 

This leaves developing countries facing the "twin challenge" of expanding access and improving quality at the same time.

Saliman (left), a laborer in Indonesia, took out a Kiva loan to pay school fees for his daughter, Sri, who wants to become a public accountant to help support her parents and younger siblings.

The demand problem

Imagine what it's like to be Anne, a sub-Saharan African schoolgirl. Anne attended primary school for free, but she couldn't afford a school uniform or supplies. At home, she was expected to carry a heavy load of domestic work. Out of the ten students from her class of 100 to continue to secondary school, she is one of three girls. 

Anne lives in the village because the closest school to her house is too far to walk to on a daily basis. Her teacher is also frequently absent, which has affected her performance. She can't afford the school fees, and while she was supposed to receive a bursary from the government, the money has not arrived. As a result, she is unable to return for the next term.

In developing countries, there is a significant gap in enrollment and completion rates between rich and poor households, rural and urban areas, and boys and girls. As seen in Anne’s case, barriers to enrollment in secondary school include school fees, teacher absenteeism (aggravated in Sub-Saharan Africa due to the AIDS pandemic), financial concerns at home, and distance to schools.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, the average household spends 44% of its money on secondary education, compared to 7% in North America and Western Europe. According to a study by the World Bank, low levels of participation in secondary school in Latin America are attributed to a loss of interest because of high repetition levels, poor quality of curricula, and the general perception that secondary education is irrelevant to students’ futures.

Kiva’s response

Kiva is working to close the secondary education gap by supporting organizations like African Leadership Academy (ALA) in South Africa -- a new Field Partner as of last week.

ALA is a boarding school in South Africa with a mission to educate and develop the next generation of African leaders. ALA provides a rigorous two-year curriculum and cultivates leadership development, entrepreneurial training and an understanding of African issues.

Students at African Leadership Academy.

Kiva is also working with a number of Field Partners around the world to provide secondary school fee loans. These include National Microfinance Bank in Jordan, Kenya Agency for Development of Enterprise and Technology (KADET) in Kenya, Micro Credit for Development and Transformation SACCO (MCDT SACCO) in Uganda, Fundaci├│n Mario Santo Domingo (FMSD) in Colombia, and Banco D-MIRO S.A. in Ecuador.

Through its tuition and laptop loans to high-performing secondary institutions, Kiva hopes to address both the demand and supply challenges posed by secondary education. On the demand side, Kiva is providing low-income families with the means to keep their children in school. On the supply side, Kiva is allowing schools like ALA and ATSS to improve their operational sustainability and expand the reach of their programs.

Kiva is thrilled to be contributing to global education financing, and plans to expand its education portfolio going forward.

Rebekah Chang is an intern for Kiva’s Strategic Initiatives team, looking for new partners and loan products to extend opportunities and access to more people around the world. She replaces Ian Matthews. Rebekah has an M.A. in Development Economics and Conflict Management from Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. Send her your feedback on this blog series at blog@kiva.org.

This is part of a larger series on Kiva’s strategic initiatives and innovative loan products, which are designed to expand opportunities for more borrowers. Kiva is excited to partner with schools that provide loans to disadvantaged students all over the world.