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Re-imagining the Scholarship

By Nathan Byrd

This summer, 83 students in Rwanda have received multi-year scholarships from Opportunity International as part of an exploratory pilot programme aimed at re-imagining the modern scholarship.

Scholarships in the developing world have traditionally been seen as an all-or-nothing game.  A student is either in extreme poverty who needs everything handed to them, or they are not.  But our world does not exist in absolutes.  Now is the time to recognize this and adapt to individual needs.

There are two ways of talking about affordability of education at the family level: 

  1.  Financial affordability is a hard number – how much does the family have in its pockets and how much can they get from the bank. 

  2. Attitudinal affordability – how much are they willing to sacrifice to ensure that their children remain in education.

Opportunity International’s sustainable scholarship model will test the strength of parent’s resolve to keep their children in school, whilst enabling them to also increase their income.  It will test different grade levels, timing and affordability in order to provide the best scholarship programme for each student.  Over the course of 2-3 years, the programme will provide the majority of funding in year one, followed by a reduced amount in the subsequent year/years that prepares parents to take on the full cost of schooling.

By the end of the scholarship our goal is to have freed up income so that parents can invest in an enterprise, increase their profits and be prepared to take on the rising costs of education moving forward. 

Not only is this approach innovative, it is designed to save money and expand impact.  Compared to the all-or-nothing model, less money is spent on each student which means more children can be reached.  But can this smaller amount of money really make an impact on children’s lives?  We anticipate that this will have a stronger, longer-lasting impact on a child’s longevity within the formal education system than the all-or-nothing scholarship model.  Parents have input in this new approach – they are paying a portion and we engage with them to plan for the day when the scholarship is no longer available, making this model more impactful and sustainable.  Parents, not money, are the key to keeping children in school.

The sustainable scholarship programme will have two test classes as a part of its pilot in Rwanda.  Before the year closes two more countries, which are yet to be confirmed, will take part in another pilot programme. 

(Nathan Byrd is Opportunity International’s Global Head of Education)

You can read more about this Scholarship initiative in a recently published piece in Study International.

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