Education That Pays for Itself

> Posted by Luis Fernando Sanabria, Gerente General, Fundación Paraguaya

Imagine a school in a developing country where… Students get a high-quality, practical education while learning to run competitive small-scale enterprises. Students learn by doing, earning, and saving. Students graduate with the entrepreneurial and life skills they need to make a decent living and overcome poverty. And school enterprises generate the resources needed to ensure their school’s long-term financial sustainability.

This school is not a dream. It is called the San Francisco Agricultural School, and it is located in the town of Cerrito, Paraguay.

In 2003, the San Francisco Agricultural School adopted a unique approach to education: it set its sights on becoming a financially self-sufficient agricultural school. This model, developed by Fundación Paraguaya, gives low-income students primarily from rural areas the opportunity to get a high-quality, relevant secondary education while learning practical technical and business skills. To achieve these goals, financially self-sufficient schools teach students to operate real businesses, with the goal of generating enough income for schools to become financially self-sustaining.

Schools following the financially self-sufficient school model use a “learning by doing, selling, and earning” methodology, through which students get hands-on experience running their school’s microenterprises, marketing the goods and services produced, and saving in student cooperatives. Students spend half their time in the classroom and half in practical activities in school enterprises, learning not only how to produce efficiently but also how to package, sell, and market their products to meet demand. The schools are generally managed by principals with business backgrounds who coach subject teachers in entrepreneurship and business management.

This framework can be adapted to different countries, cultures, and markets. For example, schools following the financially self-sufficient school model have been established by a coffee company in Nicaragua, in a UNESCO-recognized forest reserve in Paraguay, and in a remote rural area of Uganda. Fundación Paraguaya has also established offices in Tanzania, where it is helping five Tanzanian schools adopt the model.

Fundación Paraguaya’s sister institution, Teach a Man to Fish, has developed a network of over 3,000 schools interested in the financially self-sufficient school model in over 150 countries. Fundación Paraguaya and Teach a Man to Fish provide guidance and technical assistance to help interested schools adopt the model and adapt it to local needs and conditions. This support includes online guides, such as “School in a Box,” for teachers and principals, e-learning courses for schools replicating the model, and field visits to Fundación Paraguaya schools.

To share best practices, Fundación Paraguaya and Teach a Man to Fish hold an annual conference where interested organizations can learn more about the financially self-sufficient school model. This year, the conference on “Education That Pays for Itself” will take place October 22-24 at the model school in Cerrito, Paraguay. For more information, and to register, click here or contact Luis Fernando Cateura, manager of the financially self-sufficient school program at Fundación Paraguaya.

Image credit: Kiva

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