Why Amazon Should Sponsor Teachers

By 2030, countries must recruit almost 69 million teachers to provide every child with primary and secondary education: 24.4 million primary school teachers and 44.4 million secondary school teachers. This is likely to be a huge effort for governments, especially looking at the current ratio students:teacher, which ranges from 29:1 (Southern Asia) to 60:1 (Sub-Saharan Africa) – while the ideal ratio is recommended around 20:1.

The shortage of teachers is mainly caused by two phenomena. On one side, government’ investments are mismanaged, leading to obsolete or missing infrastructure and to very low salaries. On the other, population in many emerging countries is increasing, augmenting the “inflow” of children needing education.

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Figure 1. Problem tree

On the other side of the classroom, many desks stay empty. 263 million children and teenagers don’t go to school, including 61 million children of primary school age. Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia account for over 70% of the global out-of school population in primary and secondary education.

Parents play a critical role in this situation. They often perceive school as a cost instead of an investment. For example, mainly in Sub-Saharan countries, several parents prefer their kids helping with the family’ livestock or, probably worse, spending their childhood as Talibé in a daara.

Thus, these regions are and will be faced with high levels of illiteracy, which prevents individuals from job and life opportunities (figure 1). At a national level, the lack of qualified profiles turns into slower economic growth and transition of the economies.

Are donations good enough?

Long distance adoption is a common approach to this problem, with several humanitarian organizations (e.g., WorldVision) providing the essential for kids, from daily meals to healthcare. Some programs (e.g., Tara.Ed) collect donations to sponsor teachers in low-income countries – this mainly works for emphatic reasons, with support from teachers (in developed regions) to teachers in need.

Kiva.org, a philanthropic micro-lending platform, supports teachers, university students and parents who cannot afford school fees of their kids. This crowdfunding mechanism is already active since 2005 and recently reached $1Bn in life-changing micro-loans. Differently from most of NGOs, Kiva.org is one step closer to the model of a social business.

However, all these initiatives rely on the generosity of donors and lenders around the world. Is this the best way to boost the education in developing countries? Are donations and loans sustainable in time? Is education a problem that mainly governments are supposed to tackle?

Invest in education to create new market opportunities

We need to change perspective. We need models of investments instead of models of donations. Investing in education means laying the foundations of a growing and sustainable economy. Literate and educated individuals are the triggers of new business initiatives as well as qualified job profiles. But who should invest and what would be the ROI?

Amazon, like any other company, has an interest in kids learning to read and write. These kids are their future customers: they buy books, apps, movies, smartphones, as well as database storage; they develop small companies, selling their items on Amazon Marketplace. The same is true for any industry planning long term investments in a region: local growing businesses should sponsor secondary schools and support them in designing relevant curricula that prepare a scholar to the required job.

China already began something similar for higher education. They established a number of regional vocational education centres to address Africa’s lack of skilled workers. These will train 200,000 technicians and provide African students with “40,000 training opportunities in China”. Nonetheless, primary and secondary education are usually out of the radar.

The teacher is the key to success

If you can read this, thank a teacher. Great teachers are the enablers of creativity, analytical skills and critical thinking. Teachers are therefore the essential resource to boost the economy. Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, etc., ...they should literally hire teachers in low-income countries, from primary to secondary schools. They should sponsor teachers and reward them depending on their performance: teachers who manage to engage kids and who successfully complete the curriculum should be furthered empowered.

You might be thinking that involving the private sector in the educational system would lead to potentially biased knowledge.  We believe instead that governments and NGOs are the ones in charge of improving and regulating the partnership between teachers and sponsors. We believe that this partnership generates value for the whole  ecosystem (figure 2).

Figure 2. Solution bridge: added value for each player

Student – kids and teenagers have the opportunity to find a mentor in the teacher, someone who gives them unforgettable and meaningful experiences. The teacher is the one who should convince parents in the value of going to class, in the fact that education is an investment in better life and job opportunities.
Teacher – sponsored by organizations investing in the region, teachers can rely on a full salary. Thanks to the incentive mechanism based on classroom performance, the greater commitment and results,  the higher the benefits. Meritocracy, enabled by investments from the private sector, is finally encouraged and can boost better education.
Private sector – local and international companies can design a sustainable business that generates value in the medium-long term. They can target their investments depending on the market opportunities they foresee.
Government – relying on the commitment of the private sector, they can reduce or target differently the budget for education. In particular, the government can focus on finding an equilibrium in the ratio student:teacher. By allowing the adoption of teachers by both local and international organizations, governments can combine educated communities and long-term, sustainable growth. The role of governments will thus move to regulate the investments of the private sector towards the most valuable and sustainable industries in the region.

Open questions

Fear of corporations – education is often seen as key territory of governments. The “intrusion” of the private sector, from many perceived as evil, might be seen as sellout to someone with bad intentions. Fears of strong influence on the children thought, holds governments back to consider this option. How could we find a mutually beneficial setting?

Uncertainty in long-term scenarios –  For several companies the returns in 10 to 20 years could be unattractive. They run business from quarterly announcement to the next and therefore struggle to find supporters of this idea. How could we enable a shorter ROI for this investments?

Credits:
Icons in problem tree and solution bridge: Tomas Knopp, The Noun Project

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