What every school can learn from charities in Africa that will change their entire performance

A charity sets a goal to provide fresh, clean water to communities in Africa. How should it achieve this end? One way would be to send out thousands of bottles of water. The other would be to build wells in these communities and teach locals the skills to build more. We don’t even have to think about the options: we know that building wells is the right choice. This is because we understand the power of infrastructure and the right skills when it comes to something as life and death as water. The short-term option seems ludicrous by comparison.
Now contrast education. The goal is to help students achieve higher grades. The short-term option would be to buy new learning resources, classroom technology or hire support staff. The long-term option would be to invest in the school’s systems and infrastructure so that staff can complete their jobs to a higher standard and become more efficient. Like the bottled water example, the option of learning resources, technology and support staff requires a constant stream of money to ensure it continues to achieve the outcome. The second option requires greater investment in the short-term, but once established, will create a culture of excellence and cost less to maintain.

Without the right infrastructure, improving performance requires an ever growing stream of time and money to be poured in

Strangely, it is easier for most people to see the disparity between the two options in the charity analogy than in this second example. No charity in its right mind would send bottled water en masse rather than build a well! So, why is it harder to picture what long-term investment looks like for a school, and to justify choosing this over better-known methods?
The sad truth is that there is no clear picture for those within education of what it means to invest long term. All the most popular initiatives intended to boost attainment are focused on the here and now. Even if a school had the urge to buck this trend, how would it go about it?
The underlying principle that I follow in all of my work is that in order to improve your school, you will need to focus on investing in technology for the future and ignore the temptation of the quick fix. If you have the foresight to dedicate time and money into technology that will enable you to nurture a culture of efficiency and high standards, then this will reap far more than any number of gadgets or new learning resources ever could. The needs of your students and pressures on educators are constantly shifting, and the demands you’ll face next year will be different from those of today.

How do you sustain performance if you’re reliant on external funding that may be uncertain? You invest in infrastructure

If you’re not committing money to develop your school technologically, you will be left unprepared for the changes that are coming. The workload, stress levels and retention issues that schools face are equally a result of how under-developed schools are technologically as organisations as it is to do with external interference. It’s not easy to hear but schools are metaphorically relying on bottles of water instead of building wells.


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Jay Ashcroft

Entrepreneur. Author. Speaker. Cofounder of LearnMaker