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Two months ago I started a journey, in monthly installments, to two fictional cities—Assetsville and Needsville—both cities representative of poor communities in Africa. While the issues, such as poor health care and dirty water, in these cities are identical, the responses to these issues could not be more different—both in philosophy and methodology.
Tomorrow’s leaders are currently studying in schools across our country and around the world. The importance of how we educate our children cannot be overstated. However, well-documented problems exist in the educational systems of even the wealthiest of nations, including our own, as we stare at a future where, for the first time in our history, illiteracy rates will be higher for our children than they are for us. These problems are only exacerbated in places like in Needsville and Assetsville, where infrastructures are broken, governments are corrupt, and safety nets are porous.
Needsville’s leaders are aware of the depth of the educational problems in their community. In some parts of the city, the schools are the issue. Accountability does not exist. Teachers rarely show up, or show up intoxicated, and students receive only a semblance of an education. In other parts of the community, government power-brokers perpetuate the problem. Teachers are poorly equipped and undertrained and some teachers have gone months without pay because the local government has withheld or distorted aid funding. To counteract the steady regression of Needsville’s youth, they have poured enormous amounts of resources and new strategies into resolving the problem. They have filtered huge amounts of foreign aid to government-run schools. Yet, the increase in funding has simply expanded a broken system, rather than driving positive reform, though it is not from a lack of clever ideas.
“Laptops for all!” was lauded as a quick-fix, but the actual citizens of Needsville had no role in the development of the final product, and the program failed due to limited demand and poor design. A few Christian missionaries have set up quality private schools, but the reality is that donor funding limits them to reaching just a fraction of the students in the community, and there are no missionaries in many of the city’s neighborhoods. Sadly, the future is not bright for Needsville’s children. The numbers are clear. Despite all the increase in funding, the schools are failing and 30% of Needsville’s children are still not attending school.
In Assetsville, the future of the city is brighter than its present because of recent reforms. Across the city, parents, frustrated with the quality of their children’s education, decided to take action. Fed up with the quality and bureaucracy of their city’s schools, dozens of aspiring parents became the solution. They started private schools, many held in local church buildings, to provide their children with a higher level of education. Students at their schools consistently outperform their neighbors in Needsville and attendance rates are much higher. The local government even got into the act. Encouraged by the results, government leaders began providing private school vouchers to families and training to these teachers.

These schools are run by “edupreneurs” who charge a small monthly fee to the students, though close to 20% of the students in these schools, predominantly orphans, are exempt from fees. This arrangement adds accountability for the edupreneur, as parents now have a real voice in their children’s education. While providing a much-higher quality education for the poor, the school is also providing jobs for the edupreneurs and teachers, and in many cases, bringing the community back into the church building. Encouraged by the progress, a new organization was launched to support these edupreneurs through teacher training, small loans for facility improvements through microfinance organizations, and through curriculum support. The Christ-centered curriculum is designed with the edupreneurs and emphases entrepreneurialism, with a vision of shepherding and equipping the next generation of Assetsville’s leaders. Next month’s final installment will look at the guiding values and principles of this series.
*Thanks to Professor James Tooley, whose research I drew upon heavily for this article