Access to education has increased considerably in Ghana over the last two decades since the adoption of the Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education (FCUBE), Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on education, Education for All (EFA) and the Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4). Despite the progress, Ghana is confronted with consistently low levels of learning in the public schooling system, with nearly 623,500 children of primary school age in Ghana are not enrolled in primary school and one out of four children in the kindergarten age range is not in pre-school. This gap is slowly being filled by private education entrepreneurs adopting different models of catering to the underserved.
A big player in the non-state actors in education delivery is the Low-Fee Private Schools (LFPSs). LFPS are privately-owned schools which target education services to those with low incomes. Despite their growth in the education ecosystem, operational challenges faced by the LFPS in the delivery of education to the bottom of the pyramid in Ghana are access to finances, deficient managerial skills, infrastructure, and low number of skilled teachers.
The IDP Rising Schools Program (IDPRSP) initiated by IDP Foundation is one unique idea strengthening the LFPS sector through the provision of financial services, extensive training in financial literacy and management. The Foundation has partnered with Sinapi Aba Trust, a prominent Ghanaian micro-finance institution to help eliminate barriers to accessing quality education in Ghana for all children while empowering a marginalized, disenfranchised, overlooked low-fee private school sector not affiliated with any chain school system. The partnership is creating awareness of the role low fee private schools play to achieve the Education For All goals (EFA) and Sustainable Development Goals on poverty, education, gender equality, inclusive growth and partnership (SGD 1,4,5,8,17).
In doing so, the IDP Rising School Program (IDPRSP) provides microfinance to low-cost private schools for infrastructure development, vehicle acquisition, and working capital management to the majority of these low-cost schools charging tuition fee of $85 (340 GHS annually or less). This translates into 4.7% of Ghana’s per capita income. The proprietors of recipient schools also receive training on financial and school management. The program also provides assistance in the school registration process with Ghana Education Service (GES), the authority responsible for education standards in Ghana.
The IDP Rising Schools Program began as a pilot in 2008 with 105 LFPS, reaching about 27,000 primary-aged children. Since its inception, 5.6 million GHS have been disbursed in loans to 584 LFPSs in 64 districts in six out of ten regions of Ghana (Ashanti, Brong Ahafo, Upper East, Western, Greater Accra and Central). As of July 2017, the program has reached 138,812 children representing an annual 16.5 percent increase in enrolment of the LFPSs on the IDPRSP, 43% of proprietors have taken multiple loans, 92% of IDPRSP schools registered with Ghana Education Services, 1.8 classrooms added per school after one year of taking a loan, 86% increase in the number of schools with Junior High Schools (JHS).
The success of the Program and part of the reason for the 92% loan repayment rate reflects the type of training offered to proprietors in handling credit and savings, building lasting community relations, the importance of registration with Ghana Education Services as a school and business, and skills on making the financial loans sustainable in order to have a long-lasting impact. Also, the strong partnership with Esri, a software company that enables organizations to create responsible and sustainable solutions via geographic information systems (GIS) has equipped the IDPRSP to map participating schools in the program. The data collected is utilized to streamline data, provide accurate coordinates of schools and access loan risk by region.
HOW IT WORKS
IDP RISING SCHOOLS PROGRAM FLOW CHART
Source: IDP Foundation, Inc.
Loan officers at Sinapi Aba Trust reach out to target schools through orientation programs regularly held across Ghana. Proprietors are educated about the benefits of the program, submit an application, and then undergo a thorough due diligence of their loan application. As a result of this diligence process, borrowers are provided training, which includes nine modules spread across nine weeks. The training focuses on topics such as accounting, community relations, and human resources management. The cost of the training is factored into the loan product provided to the schools, and interest rates offered are below market rate.
Currently, the interest rate average for the IDP Rising Schools Program is 24.91% per annum. Even with the below market rate interest, uncovered in a recent IDP Foundation-commissioned study conducted by Results for Development, only a third of IDPRSP schools surveyed make a profit, while the remaining schools are breaking even or taking a loss. The study consisted of interviews with 150 low-fee private school proprietors (110 IDPRSP schools and 40 non-IDPRSP schools) and nearly 2,000 household surveys.
IDPRSP is unique in a sense that, aside targeting LFPSs with financial services, management training for school proprietors and engagement with government, it uses the Sesame Workshop Program, to assist with child-centered teacher training. The IDP Foundation and Sesame Workshop partnered in 2010 to create the Techniques for Effective Teaching, which utilizes 10-minute videos accompanied by in-person training to encourage teachers to utilize child-centered techniques for schools in the IDPRSP.
The goals of the program are to promote a child’s social and emotional development and build professional pride amongst teachers. The first phase of the Sesame Workshop (2010-2012) covered teachers from 82 schools in 5 regions. Schools were given DVDs, teacher guides and other teacher learning materials to bring back to their schools and conduct step-down training to the rest of the teachers in their schools. The second phase of the program (2017-2019) is expected to train 40-50 additional schools, add four modules on Girls’ Education & Inclusion in the Classroom, Early Education & Child Development, Learning through Play for Early Learners, and Ensuring an Inclusive Learning Space. Also updating teacher guides and child-facing classroom materials, and working closely with GES and district offices to ensure project sustainability.
The key drivers for the IDPRSP are increased demand and participation of the private sector in primary education and demand for credit in low-cost schools which in 2011, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) estimated that there were 6,000 of these types of schools present in Ghana. This number is likely to have grown in the subsequent years. IDPRSP meets about 10% of potential demand. The schools on the IDPRSP continue to face the challenges mentioned earlier.
Providing Education For All and achievement of SDG 4 hinges on the need for state and the non-state to adapt to the changing face of the education service delivery. Innovative solutions need to be provided to ensure that all children in Ghana have access to equitable quality education, and to ensure that providers (state and non-state) are not prevented by inequitable barriers. As we see the nexus of these changes in Ghana’s present education system, we must place importance on the provision of viable solutions, as has been demonstrated in certain arising programs, such as IDP Foundation’s, IDP Rising Schools Program.
UNICEF(2013); Advocating For Development That Leaves No Child Behind Report
 Results for Development Institute, Consumer Insight Consult Africa (2016); Understanding Household and School Proprietor Needs in Low-Fee Private Schools in Ghana: A Needs and Impact Assessment of the IDP Rising Schools Program