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Q:   Why focus on education in Africa?

It is widely accepted that education is the foundation for long-term development and the success of a country. South Korea and Ghana are often cited as examples of countries of similar size and demographics that in 1960 matched in GDP. Since that time, South Korea has surged ahead, fueled by world-class education and industry, while Ghana and its neighbors remain largely stagnant. Education has been expressed as a key global priority through initiatives such as the Millennium Development Goals and Education for All initiative.

Unfortunately, despite efforts to improve the situation, education in Africa remains in crisis. In Sub-Saharan Africa, nearly 1/3 of primary school-aged children cannot attend school due to reasons such as cost, overcrowding, or distance (1). In Zambia, where we work, over 400,000 are not enrolled in school, and another 500,000 children are enrolled in community schools with uncertified teachers and inadequate resources (2). As the world experiences rapid globalization through expansions in trade, communications, and travel, education becomes even more critical for individuals to reach their full potential and contribute to their local and global economies.

Q:   What is the solution to the education crisis?

Part of the solution is money. While the Zambian government spends a fair amount on education per capita and major donors pour money into the problem, the funds quickly run out when expanding the traditional education model, especially after a few years. The Impact Network model addresses the money issue by using e-Learning and training local teachers to lower costs, while exploring social enterprises to generate income and support school operations. This sustainable approach can make government and donor funds go further and for longer, making the goal of universal education more attainable.

Part of the solution is quality. Even where students have access to schooling, lack of supplies, untrained teachers, and inadequate curricula prevent students in rural Africa from excelling. Impact Network incorporates a standardized and interactive e-Learning curriculum in partnership with iSchool, which aims to raise test scores. The e-Learning platform also lends itself to curriculum improvement, research and evaluation.

Q:   Why Zambia?

Co-founder David Seidenfeld has spent a great deal of time in Zambia, beginning with his Peace Corps service from 2001-2003. In 2008 he returned to complete his statistics PhD thesis, and he continues to travel to Lusaka frequently for his work. During his time in the country, David has learned local languages, made invaluable connections, and also secured a grant from the World Bank to build our first school. Having a foothold in a country, understanding the context, and being able to work with locals is critical to success of a new development initiative. Our intention is to work with the Zambian government to scale nationally, and also to explore expansion into neighboring countries with similar environments such as Mozambique or Malawi. Zambia is also a peaceful country with a strong democratic tradition, making it a suitable starting point for testing our model.

Q:   Why projector-based e-learning?

e-Learning comes in many different flavors. When it comes to e-Learning in rural Africa, the rule of thumb is to start with something simple that works, then build on it. For Impact Network, projector-based e-Learning is our flavor of choice because it is affordable (and therefore more easily sustainable) and should provide a significant boost in the quality of education as compared to traditional teaching methods. Only one laptop and projector are needed deliver a robust, interactive curriculum to up to 240 students. It also requires less power (which means fewer solar panels), and can easily be operated by local teachers.

Q:   How do we measure success?

Researchers from American University conducted an evaluation of the eSchool 360 in 2013 and 2014. The evaluation examined five Impact Network schools, five surrounding government schools and five other community schools. It consisted of a baseline study, an 18-month quantitative impact evaluation measuring students’ math and literacy skills, a qualitative analysis based on interviews and focus groups, and a cost study. Researchers concluded that Impact Network schools cost less than 1/3 of government schools, while simultaneously improving the numeracy and literacy skills of students. Specifically, they found:

  • Across all subscales, Impact Network students demonstrated learning over the 18-month period.
  • Impact students show improvement on standardized math tests (EGMA), and literacy tests (EGRA). In most subscales, their learning is equal to or more than their peers at government and community schools.
  • Parents perceive Impact Network schools as an improvement to overall schooling quality. The e-learning program indicates an increase of motivation among students.
  • Impact Network provides important services that improved the overall working conditions for teachers, so that they are more motivated to attend school and teach.

For the full story, check out our research brief.

Q:   How is Impact Network funded? What is the plan for scaling up?

Building and operating our schools is funded by grants and the generosity of our donor network. On the operations side, Impact Network runs like a lean bootstrapped startup company, with much of the Impact team volunteering their time and covering most operational costs out of pocket and the remainder mainly from large individual donors. To scale nationally we are in early talks with large international NGO's as well as the Ministry of Education in Zambia regarding the prospect of partnership and scaling nationally. We are also exploring the possibility of profitable social enterprises which might be able to fund the eSchool 360 at scale.

Q:   Are the students on the website real children?

Yes, we get asked this. Rest assured, every single student whose photo is on our website is a real child in rural Zambia. Though some organizations' websites may use out-of-date or "stock" photos of children to promote their mission, Impact Network only posts photos of the actual students who are enrolled in our schools.

Q:   Is my contribution to Impact Network tax-deductible?

Yes. Impact Network is a 501c3 organization, so all donations are tax-deductible to fullest extent allowable by law.

Q:   How can I be a part of Impact Network?

There are several ways to get involved with Impact Network, and we appreciate every single one of them! You can sponsor a student, host a fundraiser, or check out our volunteer and internship opportunities.

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Q:   I have another question...

We love to answer questions! Shoot us an email or give us a call at 917-791-4145.
(1) http://www.usaid.gov/locations/sub-saharan_africa/sectors/ed/index.html
(2) Chondoka 2006, Situation Analysis of Community Schools in Central Province.