This Business of Education

On Balloon ICSe we are taught to see opportunity in everything. We are taught that the greatest business opportunities are to be found in applying creative thinking to existing problems, and coming up with innovations that completely change the way we do things.

In Kenya, the 8 years of primary school education are free, but not compulsory. Pupils advance annually from one standard to the next. However, when they reach high school, the government do not provide a free public schooling option. Obtaining a high school education at a public school in Kenya costs an average of 45,000 KSH. For many families this is simply an unthinkable amount of money, and means the end of the line in education for that student. Imagine if you had left school after Primary school – imagine what you would have missed out on, not just on vital learning in the classroom, but learning from being on the playground and by being surrounded by your peers.

According to a report published by Unesco in October, 71 million teens at lower secondary school age were out of school in 2010, with three out of four living in south and west Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. The latter African region has made tremendous strides in increasing numbers of students in school in recent years, yet still has the world’s lowest total secondary enrolment, at 40% in 2010.

The Kenyan Government on its own cannot meet or fund the demand for secondary education; this is where private schools have stepped in to plug the widening gap. These schools can compete for pupils, sack bad teachers, and offer tuition at relatively modest rates in comparison to public schools. Research by the Brookings Institution has found that the fees for two-thirds of children in Kenyan private schools are lower than in the supposedly ‘free’ state system. But these fees, whether official or unofficial, public or private, still disproportionally affect poor and rural families.

Metrine Akainyi – entrepreneur, teacher and mother of three from Pioneer in Eldoret

One entrepreneur who is seeking to bridge the gap between education standards for low-income families is Metrine Akainyi – a teacher and mother of three from Pioneer in Eldoret. She has opened a High School in the vicinity of Jasho Farm – a rural area 5km South of Eldoret Town which was adversely affected by the post-election violence of 2007/2008, a consequence being the severe depletion of the income of its inhabitants.

Eagle Vision High School represents the latest step in rising education standards in Jasho Farm; with 4 private and public primary schools opening in the last 9 years but until now, no high school. Nobody has ever seen fit to open a high school presumably because of low primary-education numbers in the area, and consequential low expectations and aspirations. Not to mention the very accurate assumption that most families would not be able to afford the High School fees.

As an innovative businesswoman, Metrine has stepped in to this seemingly bleak playing field at the opportune moment, to get a handle on an untapped market where she sees potential. The oldest of the local primary schools is just reaching the end of its 8th year, meaning its first batch of graduates will soon be looking for a high school to go to (currently the nearest option is in Eldoret itself).

So how is she planning to tackle the issues which have prevented anyone from making this move before? The answer is a compassionate business model; one that bridges the gap between entrepreneurship and ethics.

Firstly, her fees are set at a huge 65% lower than the national average. Since the school is so small with very few outgoings as yet, this means she still turns a healthy profit per pupil whilst making education costs much more accessible. Secondly, rather than demanding school fees up-front or even per-term, Metrine is employing an instalments system to break the fees down into manageable monthly chunks. Furthermore she is operating on the promise that no student will be sent home if an installment is missed.

Finally, alongside all the work needed to set up a school from scratch, Metrine has been tirelessly meeting with the local Education Authority to ensure bursaries are available to families wishing to send their son or daughter to Eagle Vision. She has already secured 8 bursaries for her current students and is hoping the next round will be released shortly. Bursaries are paid straight to families rather than to the school, and so don’t affect Metrine’s revenue model or how much she receives per month.

Eagle Vision High School is a brilliant example of how entrepreneurs can solve problems that other people assume are permanent. When we surveyed the local population of Jasho Farm, 100% said they thought the school would bring new life to the area and an overwhelming number of older teenagers said it would make them consider going back to school. By thinking creatively and by working in the realm of possibility and change – this entrepreneur is changing her life and the lives of many others. This is what it means to be part of Balloon Ventures.

Written by Ailish Breen, ICSe Volunteer 2015.