Co Author: Catherine O’Shea
9 min read
Like many projects, COVID-19 brought an early end our Opportunity EduFinance pilots in Rajasthan and Haryana, India in 2020. However, since launching our EduQuality pilot work in India in 2018, we were still able to document key lessons that are informing our full 3-year EduQuality programme planning and launch for 2022. Our pilot revealed:
- We needed a strong, clear, explicit business case for why financial institutions should invest in low-cost private schools.
- We should plan time for more in-depth discussions to help schools understand the value proposition of a professional development programme.
- School leaders and teachers will not actively engage in the programme unless they clearly understand the direct benefits of participating.
Ahead of the launch of our 3-year EduQuality programme, we partnered with KPMG India to conduct market research with a focus on:
- Examining potential opportunities to increase access to quality education for children attending low-cost private schools (LCPS)
- Understand the existing and emerging needs and challenges of LCPS
The study essentially revealed three key areas which low-cost private schools struggle with:
- Access to education finance
- Access to professional development
- Access to technology
To address these significant challenges, we need to engage all stakeholders within the education ecosystem. To do this, Opportunity EduFinance launched a 3-part webinar series titled: What’s next for LCPS in India? The aim of this series was to hold discussions with education service providers, school associations, financial institutions, donors, and technology providers who are part of the rapidly changing dynamics of the Indian education ecosystem.
Here’s what we learned listening to these compelling experts…
WEBINAR 1: Access to Education Finance
For our first session, we brought together four key panelists representing Kaizenvest, Central Square Foundation, Indian School Finance Company, and Opportunity EduFinance to discuss the opportunities and barriers for education finance in India.
In our research with KPMG India, school owners highlighted two key challenges: finding a financial institution willing to lend to them, and the school’s ability to afford those loans. Seventy percent of schools interviewed cited high interest rates, 72% cited poor product fit and 73% cited inability to identify a financial institution willing to give them a loan.
Panelists revealed that one of the biggest barriers to accessing formal finance is a lack of acceptable collateral and legal and governance structures. Our research corroborated this, with 76% of schools interviewed reporting the need for loans related to building development and other infrastructure. However, there is a strong lender preference for lending for ICT equipment and vehicle loans, rather than infrastructure. As a result, this makes it challenging for schools to attract funding from commercial funders. Additionally, most schools in India are registered as trusts and societies, which adds another layer of difficulty.
By exploring different liability structures, co-lending with commercial banks, and alternative sources of funding that reduce the cost of borrowing, financial institutions can benefit from this demand for capital while making financing more affordable for LCPS. By designing products that work for schools and making formal funding accessible, financial institutions can have enormous impact on the quality of education that learners attending LCPS can receive.
“There is tremendous opportunity for impact investors to set-up and catalyze access to finance for schools in rural areas that often miss out on financing opportunities due to the location of the school, a lack of acceptable collateral, or its governance structure.”
– Nirav Khambati, Managing Partner, Kaizenvest
WEBINAR 2: Access to Professional Development
To understand the training needs of schools and how they can overcome gaps caused by the changing education ecosystem, we brought together four key panelists from mantra4change, AVPN, Opportunity EduFinance and Global School Leaders.
The biggest challenge facing schools today is the learning loss experienced by students. Organizations like Mantra4Change who are working closely with schools are noticing at least 3 years’ worth of learning loss in students that are going back to school. This is in addition to the loss in social-emotional wellbeing of learners and staff.
With the rise in EdTech and availability of digital resources during the pandemic, many schools and parents are turning to tech-based solutions to address these issues. However, the lack of access to tech and complex learning solutions have contributed to learning loss and increased inequities.
“While innovating tech solutions for learners attending LCPS, we need to make sure that the technology is not getting in the way of their learning.”
– Azad Oommen, CEO, Global School Leaders
Prior to COVID-19, professional development was sidelined to a great extent by LCPS. However, post-pandemic, schools are recognizing the need for upskilling their teaching force specifically around use of digital tools. Our study found <60% of teachers were using digital medium for teaching in the present situation. There is also high demand for support on covering learning loss, and managing social emotional needs of students and teachers. Furthermore, the New Education Plan (NEP 2020) has led to the emergence of new areas for development for schools.
“Post Covid-19, there has been an increased willingness from school leaders to invest, and from teachers to access professional development services. This presents an immense opportunity for service providers to improve their reach and scale and for schools to access the support they need.”
– Renée McAlpin, Opportunity EduFinance
By shifting the focus from simply delivering training, to helping school leaders develop a vision for school improvement and helping create benchmarks for school quality improvement, professional development organizations can help institutionalize change in classrooms.
LCPS alone cannot address the issues of learning loss and upskilling. Greater collaboration between the public and private education systems is required to ensure that the needs of all learners are being met. One way to achieve this partnership is by making professional development accessible to LCPS. By mobilizing grant and impact capital towards these programs and services, we can help providers support learners attending LCPS at scale.
“There is a lot of opportunity to innovate within the LCPS space and a lot of it will be driven by professional development.”
– Lavanya Jayaram, Executive Director, South Asia, AVPN
WEBINAR 3: Access to Technology
In light of Covid-19 and our increased reliance on technology, during this webinar we considered the impact technology has had on LCPS and learners during the pandemic, and whether tech companies have been able to meet their requirements. For this discussion, we bought together key panelists from NISA, Educational Initiatives, Finwego (formerly Anthem) and Opportunity EduFinance.
There’s a digital divide between urban and rural areas in India, where the further away you move from the city, the poorer the connectivity. There’s also a divide between learners who come from mid- to high-income households and those from low-income households, where the affordability of devices impacts learner’s ability to engage with remote learning. This has been exacerbated by Covid-19, as households have experienced significant loss of income. UNICEF reported that In India, 42 percent of children between 6-13 years reported not using any type of remote learning during school closures.
“We need to ensure that parents’ lack of affordability of technology is not handicapping their child’s ability to learn. Parents can’t afford technology today because they are facing a number of financial issues and the government is in the best position to help improve household economic conditions. We need to advocate, introduce new legislation and work on our policies such that technology does not become a hurdle for children and schools trying to achieve quality education.”
– Dr. Kulbhushan Sharma, President, NISA
Schools have been quick to adopt technology solutions during school closures. While this rapid adoption of EdTech may have been driven by necessity during school closures, it is very clear that use of tech in schools is here to stay. We now need to focus on making technology usage sustainable for schools. For this to happen tech providers and manufacturers need to come together to create products that are affordable and relevant.
“LCPS are affordable and accessible, now we need to focus on making them sustainable and technology is an important partner in doing just that. We need to shift the focus from using technology just for teaching, but also using technology to help run school operations efficiently.”
– Shiv Vadivelalagan, CEO and Co-founder, Finwego
When building operational management products for LCPS, tech companies need to be aware of the basic requirements of such schools and focus only on core functions. This may include admissions management, payroll, fee management and communications.
Technology can also be a fantastic diagnostic tool leveraged to assess the learning levels in children and identify learning gaps. If technology can be used to deliver content at the right level, then it will have a greater impact on learning outcomes of children.
When providing tech solutions to schools, it is not enough to just provide LCPS with technology. There needs to be greater support that focuses on:
- Training – How to integrate technology
- Capacity building– How to use it in classroom learning
- Change management –Helping staff and parents to transition
While tech is not a substitute for offline learning, it is an addition and one that is going to continue in the future. Classroom learning is important, and technology is an undeniable partner to classroom learning. But all stakeholders in the sector need to work together to remove the hurdles stopping technology from becoming accessible.
“Technology is transforming education in India and the various fintech and EdTech solutions fit really well in the education value-chain as they can deliver critical outcomes at scale. Now they need to be simple, user friendly and affordable for LCPS.”
– Sakshi Sodhi, Opportunity EduFinance
What’s next for Opportunity EduFinance in India
Opportunity EduFinance delivers school leader and teacher professional development training to low-cost private schools as part of our 3-year EduQuality programme. Ahead of our launch in India in 2022, we are taking steps to ensure that our programme addresses the specific training needs of our target school leaders and teachers. This means adapting and localizing content to state specific vernaculars, taking a hands-on and activity-based approach to training and digitizing content to deliver greater impact.
Our EduFinance Technical Assistance team is already working with a number of financial institutions to help them design education loan products aligned with the specific needs of low-cost private schools and parents. Through technical assistance, we help partners launch and grow sustainable EduFinance portfolios, and will continue to work towards breaking down the barriers between potential school borrowers and lending institutions. We look forward to launching the new 3-year EduQuality programme in collaboration with our financial institution partners, offering their school borrowers the types of professional development they will most benefit from in this changing education ecosystem.
About Opportunity International EduFinance
Opportunity International EduFinance, with headquarters in London, United Kingdom, partners with financial institutions around the world to help them develop, launch and manage sustainable education lending portfolios, focusing on the development of two flagship education lending products: School Improvement Loans and School Fee Loans. EduFinance currently has 91 financial institution partners in 27 countries, through which more than 13,700 schools and 134,000 parents are currently borrowing, benefiting an estimated 9.2 million children globally since the start of the program. Discover more at www.edufinance.org or join the conversation on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.
 As part of the study, we interviewed 100 LCPS across 10 states, 16 professional development organizations, 13 financial institutions and 6 regional school associations to understand the needs of schools and service providers