Three Things That Help Schools Around the World to Thrive

As a parent, my deepest wish is that my children will have it better than I had. In the US, we call this the American Dream. But, as I’ve learned, there’s nothing uniquely American about it.

Over the past several years, I’ve been talking to parents in India, Mexico, South Africa, Chile and Israel – and I’ve learned two important things. One, all of these parents have the same hopes and dreams for their children that we in the US do. And two, these parents believe, correctly, that education will help their kids get where they want them to be.

Now more than ever, a quality education – especially a college degree – can help determine a child’s lot in life. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), people with bachelor’s degrees can expect to earn 50% more than those with high-school diplomas. And while a college degree might not be right for all children, the skills that can get you into college certainly are.

Wanting to give underserved students the sort of education that leads to better opportunities in life, Dave Levin and I founded the Knowledge Is Power Programme (KIPP) 20 years ago. We started in Houston, with a single class of fifth-graders, but the programme has since grown into a national network of 141 public schools serving more than 50,000 kids. Our alumni are graduating from college at four to five times the rate of their socio-economic peers. Recently Aaron Brenner and I founded The One World Network of Schools, to support educators around the world who are starting KIPP-inspired schools.

Our challenge is to figure out what sort of educational system will help students everywhere get into college. No one has cracked this nut yet. But through my work I’ve seen how we might be able to.

Take the 3-2-1 School in Mumbai’s Crawford Fish Market slums, for example. It’s a One World Network School founded by Gaurav Singh, an alumnus of Teach for India. Gaurav is passionate and dedicated, with a clear vision of where he wants his students to go. The school is bursting with great teachers who offer rigorous research-based instruction and create a culture of high expectations, with a strong focus on student independence and joy. As a result, the school is in great demand. Despite enrolling more than four times the number of students of other primary schools in the area, it still has students on its waiting list.

When I look at successful institutions like the 3-2-1 School, I see they have three factors in common. First, there is generous investment in talented teachers. Great teaching is the single most influential factor in a child’s education, and the best school programmes recognize that. They go out and win the marketing war to get the best teaching candidates into their classrooms, and then they develop the teachers’ skills and keep them in the classroom for the long term.

Secondly, the best school systems have a framework of bottom-up change. By this I mean letting solutions bubble up from within the educational community, instead of having one-size-fits-all policies imposed from above. This might mean nurturing charter schools or public-private partnerships, as in the case of Mumbai’s 3-2-1 School, and giving all public schools – traditional and charter – the freedom to innovate.

Finally, rather than treating college as separate from primary and secondary education, successful systems see them as different stops on the same journey. At the 3-2-1 School, students know from the day they walk through the door that they will be attending university, and their entire educational experience is structured to help them get there.

These three things are clear and proven to have an impact in communities around the world. They aren’t the whole solution, of course, but can help bring us closer to the day when all children, everywhere, will succeed in school and in life. :)

This is part of a series for the launch of the Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2014 Awardees.

Post originally appeared on the World Economic Forum’s blog, March 26 2014.

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