Delivering quality in basic education remains a challenge for Peru. Innova Schools is tackling this through a fast growing programme that will, by 2020, cater for up to 70,000 students. This requires innovative approaches to building and equipping schools, training teachers and delivering game-changing education together with tight management to ensure a standard educational offer and economies of scale – essential to keeping fees affordable for middle-income families.

Although Peru is overcoming issues of access to education – elemen­tary now has 94% national cover­age and secondary 77% – problems with quality continue. In the Evaluación Censal de Estudiantes 2013, a nationwide assess­ment of second grade students, just 33% reached the expected level in reading com­prehension and only 17% in mathemat­ics. Furthermore, Peru’s results in SERCE¹ 2006 and PISA² 2009 evaluations are well below average; the PISA 2012 assessment placed Peru last amongst 65 participating coun­tries. Economic growth in Peru has enabled families to choose pri­vate rather than public schools in an attempt to provide a better educa­tion for their children. In Lima, for example, 43% of schools are currently private ones (Figure 1). Many low-cost private schools, however, strug­gle to achieve quality ed­ucational levels.

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It is against this back­ground that Innova Schools (IS) was estab­lished as a fully-fledged commercial company in 2010 with plans to build a nationwide network of 70 schools that will serve more than 70,000 stu­dents by 2020. Currently, 23 schools are operation­al, 18 in the peripheral areas of Lima and 4 in the provinces, with 13,200 students and 7,250 teachers. IS takes pupils from pre-school age – 3 years old – through to the end of the secondary cycle – 11th grade, when the stu­dents are around 17. Stu­dents typically come from families whose income is somewhere around USD 900 per month. IS’s vision is to offer quality education at a reasonable cost and improve the quality education available in Peru. The organiza­tion’s three-fold challenge is to maintain and improve its educational standards, scale up its affordable-schools approach, while providing its stakeholders with ac­ceptable returns on their investment.

Innova Schools’ educational innovation

IS is moving the focus from teacher-cen­tered education to student-centered learn­ing. This means focusing on the needs, abilities and interests of the students and placing the teachers as facilitators of learning. Based on principles of social con­structivism, this approach makes students active participants in their own education. Methods include engaging students in in­quiry, tasks that promote cognitive activ­ity or problems-solving activities that pro­mote debate and collaboration between peers. Approximately, 70% of students’ time involves group learning in which they work with each other, often in small groups, led by a teacher, to discover new concepts and develop high-order under­standing through projects and exercises. While group learning is key to helping stu­dents develop academic skills, it also sup­ports the development of collaboration, teamwork and leadership. Solo learning, which makes up around 30% of students’ time, involves independent, self-paced, student-led learning, often enabled by technology. Students construct their own goals, paths and work flows, with teach­ers providing targeted support as needed. Solo learning, a major differentiator for IS, encourages students to develop auton­omy, focus and responsibility for their own learning.

This blend of direct hands-on experience in the classroom with digital learning in which students use computer-based tools to discover and work through core aca­demic concepts is expensive and requires special teaching talent – both barriers to scale. Teachers need to have deep subject knowledge, good communication skills and confidence to build on the questions and discussions that take place in the class­room and allow students come up with their own, often different, ways of reason­ing. This demands effective teacher train­ing, a strong mentoring system through which teachers train other teachers, fewer students per class and significant invest­ment in technology – which plays a key role in IS’s methodology. Additionally, as part of their curriculum, all students en­gage in a two-week interdisciplinary ‘in­novation programme’ aimed at develop­ing creativity, autonomy, team work and citizenship. In these, students try to solve societal issues – in such areas as health, environment and relevant to their reality– though a progressive process of explora­tion, design, experimentation, and sharing ideas. In 2013, primary pupils were asked ‘how might we help students have health­ier diets’, while secondary-aged students tackled ‘how might we reduce traffic in our communities’. This activity aims to en­courage students to become leaders with values, and connect what they learn in the classroom to the real world.

Ensuring quality through standard-based operation

To ensure that teachers, principals and other main actors share the same ethos, curriculum, and work towards common goals and standards, IS has developed a standard model with efficient monitor­ing and communication sys­tems. First, a highly selective admission process is used to hire teachers with high poten­tial. They are selected through a battery of standard assess­ments that measure their in­telligence quotient (IQ), social and teach­ing skills, and subject knowledge. The assessments are rigourous; out of 10 ap­plicants who pass an initial screening and move on to the full assessment process, just two are hired.

To ensure that all teachers are well equipped to tackle the rigourous and unique cur­riculum, system-wide in-service training programmes for teachers, principals and academic coordinators are essential, par­ticularly as the majority of IS’s teachers are new to the profession – IS has found that novice teachers are more open and pre­disposed to its innovative methods. Each member of staff receives an initial 120 hours learning programme, followed by continuing in-service training. To further support its teachers, IS provides an online toolkit to help them build and plan their classes on a day-to-day basis. It contains a comprehensive set of quality lessons plans – authored and specific to IS – for each subject across every grade. The lesson plans, and their aggregation in one cen­tral resource, the Teacher Resource Center (TRC), allows IS to distribute quality teach­ing resources to every teacher, simplifying the process of creating common standards across its network.

A system for monitoring teacher perfor­mance has also been established. Mentors, who are highly experienced teachers from within and beyond IS, observe classes and provide precise feedback to teach­ers about their performance. They also collect and register teachers’ performance data, which allows the mentors to focus on low-performing teachers. This system is essential to assure permanent and signifi­cant improvement in teacher performance.

General oversight is carried out by re­gional directors, each of whom looks over 7–8 schools and works closely with school principals and their staff to assure and improve school functioning and manage­ment, as well as solving any problems that arise. Regional directors also play a role in identifying innovative practices and spreading them across the wider school network.

To complete this scheme, IS has established a department re­sponsible for monitoring quality across its network. This depart­ment is in charge of the internal school accreditation process as well as the network accreditation itself – making sure that IS is meeting national and international standards of quality ed­ucation. It implements regular self-assess­ment and external assessment as well as twice-yearly standardized tests, to meas­ure student achievement and verify that all are meeting IS learning standards. As­sessments also evaluate such skills as lead­ership, team collaboration and creativity that are at the core of IS’s methodology. Additionally, the department evaluates innovations across the network to ensure that they are having positive impact on student learning and achievement.

A solid business model

IS’s model requires significant invest­ment in technology and connectivity. Each school has 27 classrooms, two media labo­ratories, a science laboratory and needs, on average, 100 computers, 20 multime­dia projectors and a good internet con­nection. In 2013, the average school set-up

cost has been USD 4 million. Income comes from schools fees – an average of USD 110 per month – as well as en­trance fees, enrolment fees and fees for afterschool activities. To be sustainable, while keeping fees at affordable levels to reach the targeted middle-income house­holds, IS needs to maintain a low-cost model. That is achieved through operat­ing efficiencies and economies of scale. With 23 schools operating at the end of 2014, and a target of 38 schools by 2016, economies of scale are achieved at a vari­ety of levels. For example, the network’s size allows IS to obtain up to 40% discount when purchasing goods and services, in­cluding land, construction and furniture costs, compared to its smaller, single-school competitors. Schools become prof­itable from the third year, allowing new start-up losses to be covered by mature projects. Because of its teacher-develop­ment systems, IS is also able to recruit teachers at reasonable rates, ranging from USD 500–670 a month, slightly above equivalent pay in the public sector. This is supplemented by performance bonuses of up to one month’s salary and, as required by Peruvian law, two additional month’s salary. Teachers also benefit from an ap­pealing compensation package.

IS’s business plan calls for total investment of USD 300 million. Construction and ex­pansion up to 70 schools by 2020 will be based on equity contributions for the start-up period – up to 2013 – and, from 2014, on long-term multilateral financing together with cash flows generated by ma­ture projects. It is not easy to access long-term finance, largely because commercial banks neither consider education a poten­tially profitable business nor recognize the assets it can offer as a guarantee. Thus, IS mostly seeks long-term financial resources from such multilateral banks as the Inter- American Development Bank (IDB), the International Finance Corporation (IFC) or the Corporación Andina de Fomento (CAF), and local or bilateral development finance institutions. IDB has recently granted Co­legios Peruanos Sociedad Anónima (CPSA), IS’s business entity, a loan of USD 15 mil­lion to finance the expansion of the school network. Although IS‘s current develop­ment phase requires significant capital and operating investment, CPSA expects to move into operating profit in 2016 by when 38 schools will be open.

Challenges ahead

IS’s model is based on providing an afford­able but excellent education, and scaling up its activities across Peru. This is chal­lenging in a country where the average gross domestic product (GDP) per person is just USD 10,240 a year and middle-class household incomes are limited. Therefore, IS needs to stay focused when implement­ing innovation, controls its costs and meets its targets.

The rising cost of land is a se­rious issue, and a constraint, given the company’s plans to open 48 more schools in just seven years. While it might be possible to develop an asset-light mod­el, purchasing land and building 70 schools by 2020 are non-negotiable goals. As a re­sult, IS is exploring several avenues includ­ing the public sector providing land and/or financing the construction of schools.

Recruiting staff, teachers, principals and academic coordinators of the required quality is also an issue. Peru has few ed­ucational professionals, and, in general, education is not seen as an attractive ca­reer by young people. In order to overcome these recruitment problems, IS has started to develop some strategic agreements with schools of education in Peru. This, how­ever, is a long-term solution and the good outcomes will not be seen for the five years it takes these colleges to train teachers.

Expensive and low level of internet broad­band penetration in Peru – around 4% versus an average of 47% for Latin Amer­ica and 52% worldwide – is another con­straint. All IS’s platforms are web-based – to enable students to use them at home – and the low bandwidth, especially in the provinces, is affecting the proper imple­mentation of IS’s education model. An­other challenge of having such an extend­ed network is the distance between each school and the time it takes to travel from one to another. It limits and shapes the way IS organizes meetings, trains teachers and handles monitoring and other logisti­cal systems.

Finally, IS has to work to overcome pa­rental beliefs such as the more homework students have, the smarter they become, or that books filled with exercises are the best evidence of educational quality. To overcome these misconceptions IS is mak­ing strenuous efforts to communicate bet­ter and more frequently, demonstrating what quality education looks like. Results are key, and the national assessments of mathematics and reading comprehen­sion are providing proof of IS’s quality. Progress is encouraging. Parents’ general satisfaction collected through survey data in 2012 was 72%, this number increased in the 2013 to 80%; students’ satisfaction is 71%, and teachers’ general satisfaction is around 80%.

The developing success of IS approach is reflected not just by parents’, students’ and teachers’ satisfaction; improving, ex­ternally validated academic achievement is vital, too. In the Evaluación Censal de Estu­diantes 2013, 33% of second grade students reached a satisfactory level in reading com­prehension is , 47% in all private schools, but in excess of 80% in IS schools (Figure 2). Cor­responding results for mathematics were a national mean of 17%, 20% for private schools, but more than 61% in IS partici­pating schools.

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Footnotes:

¹ In late 2002, member countries of UNESCO’s Latin American Laboratory for Assessment of the Quality of Education (LLECE) launched the Second Regional Comparative and Explanatory Study (SERCE) which, drawing on the experience in a first such study (PERCE, 1998), expanded the analysis to include a higher number of countries, grades and areas in its evaluations.
² The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a triennial international survey which aims to evaluate education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students. To date, students representing more than 70 economies have participated in the assessment.

 

References / Ministry of Education (Peru), 2013. Census-based student assessment 2013. Available online: http://umc.minedu.gob.pe/?p=1766 // Ministry of Education (Peru), 2013. Education school census 2013. Statistics. Available online: http://escale.minedu.gob.pe/inicio