What should schools do when they are hit by lack of funds? Turn to the government or the PTAs? Or, they could simply set up their own businesses and generate income. That is the solution Lindsey Crouch and ‘Teach a Man To Fish’ - the London-based NGO she represents - have in mind anyway.
“Our basic premise is that education can pay for itself,” said Crouch, who was in the city for a training programme of the British Council. “In fact, the organisation was started on the back of an experience our managing director Nik Kafka had while working for a microfinance institution in Latin America.”
A certain high school in Paraguay, she went on explain, was suffering from all the problems that any state-run school in a developing country faced - unreliable government funds, poorly paid teachers, students not getting a decent education, the imminent threat of being closed down.
“But the school was taken up around 11 years ago by an NGO, Fundacion Paraguaya, which encouraged establishing a number of small-scale, on-campus enterprises,” said Crouch. “Now the students have set up a number of businesses - they have a hen house, they grow crops, a milk factory where they make cheese - and now the school generates about 4,00,000 US dollars a year which takes care of their expenses.”
‘Teach A Man To Fish’, set up in 2006, also tries to help schools set up businesses and make their own money so that they can be “financially self-sufficient without charging fees or having to rely on the government” by “teaching entrepreneurship within real school-owned businesses that generate real profits”.
“But in order to extend our reach and encourage small projects as well, the School Enterprise Challenge (SEC) was started two years ago,” said Crouch who, as Programme Development and Learning Manager of the organisation, developed the SEC programme.
The SEC, Crouch explained, is a global competition open to all formal educational institutes in any country where they are expected to develop a business - “anything from arts and craft-making to beekeeping but with a positive social and environmental impact” - and this also gives the school an opportunity to generate additional income for itself. In addition, cash awards of up to 5,000 US dollars are also given to winners.
“Schools have to register at our website and then send in their business plans by August,” she said. “We also give them educational material and feedback on how best to follow through. The schools are expected to launch an income-generating business by December. Over the two years of the competition, we have found that on average the schools earned around 1,500 US dollars.”
But what will schools do for the start-up capital?
“Schools are encouraged to minimise capital and then utilise whatever resources they have,” replied Crouch. “Often they forget they have any. For example, a school that has school buses means they have transport; or a skill set is a resource as well - in one school, students gave computer lessons to elder people in the community.”
The SEC has brought them in partnership with 300 schools in 41 countries, 55 of them being in India, she said.
“While many have set up art-and-craft businesses like incense stick making and greeting cards, one school in Kolkata - The Heritage School - set up a project where they grew mushrooms on waste which would have otherwise been burnt,” said Crouch.
Among the Indian schools that have found mention on the organisation’s website are Vidyadhiraja High School, Mumbai and Kadvibai Virani Kanya Vidyalay, Rajkot. The former started an agarbatti-making business on a start-up capital of 13 US dollars and generated 412 US dollars in its first four months. The Rajkot school, on the other hand, started a stall selling healthy food at a low cost and the profits generated helped the school buy computer equipment.
Those schools wishing to participate in the SEC-2013 can register and learn more at www.schoolenterprisechallenge.org