Secret Sauce of Speed School: Self Help Groups

October 26, 2021

Most observers attribute the Speed School learners’ successful outcomes to a combination of the pedagogy used and the increased support by mothers due to the Self-Help Groups. Geneva Global, though, is convinced that it is less the methods used than the conditions created to use the methods consistently and well. In particular, there is nothing “secret” about the instructional methods, since these are well-known and widely promoted by most education systems. The truly “secret” ingredients of the Speed School sauce are (i) the instructional liberty that comes from using a condensed curriculum and (ii) the program’s holistic approach to training. Still, all four “ingredients” warrant mention. This article will discuss Self Help Groups in further detail.

The Self-Help Groups’ impact upon the program’s success traces to the combination of capacity, commitment, and confidence the component bestows upon the mothers and other guardians to send and keep their children in school. Geneva Global believes that virtually all parents worldwide care deeply about their children’s education and are willing to make whatever sacrifices they humanly can to ensure that their children receive the best and most appropriate education possible. The question they must ask, though, is “Which education will prepare my child best for the future s/he is most likely to have: a school education or the one s/he will receive at home and in the community?” Often faced with the likelihood that a child is destined to life in the village, parents will opt out of schooling.

The Speed School program steers the parents of out-of-school children back to the school option in three ways. The first two, discussed above, are to elevate the quality of teaching and learning and to make learning directly relevant to life in the local context. So, even if a child does not advance far in formal education and achieve a “modern” sector job, schooling will still have mattered. The third way is to secure the Speed School pupils’ parents’, and especially mothers’, ability to support their formal education in the future. Joining the mothers for each class into distinct Self-Help Groups, the program achieves this objective through the following strategies:

Functional and financial literacy—Mothers in Self-Help Groups learn to read with lessons that provide them knowledge and skills they can use directly to strengthen their lives and the lives of their families and communities. The functional dimension of their literacy training helps them analyze the challenges they confront in their daily lives and identify actions they can take and resources and actors they can mobilize to manage or eliminate these challenges. The lessons feature, but are not limited, to the obstacles they face in ensuring their children’s success and persistence in school. The financial literacy element hones the mothers’ ability to create, operate, and grow income-generating activities and to save and use any revenues to cover the various costs of their children’s schooling and to reinforce the overall welfare of their families.

Income-generation activities—In the original Speed School model, the program gave each Self-Help Group a capital injection of about US $500 to create or grow an income-generation activity that would generate revenue each mother could use to cover her Speed School child’s various education costs the following year and thereafter. The grant combined with training and guidance to help the groups choose a viable business or businesses (or other activities), plan the operation, acquire the necessary knowledge and material inputs, implement, and reach and sustain a satisfactory market. While continuing to train and advise SHGs, the program has moved away from funding the economic activities to, instead, linking the Self-Help Groups to permanent government-run or -supported micro-credit programs. Illustrative of the different activities undertaken are livestock rearing, petty trading, soap-making, dairy production, and gardening for market.

Savings groups. The Self-Help Groups operate simultaneously as savings groups. These function in one or more of three basic ways, for which the groups also receive training and guidance from the Speed School program. One, the groups may maintain a savings box (or sometimes a bank account) to which each mother is expected to contribute an agreed upon sum at a regular interval. This helps establish the discipline of savings. Two, each mother may take a turn in using the group’s collected savings of a month for a personal purpose. Three, the mothers may re-pay to the group the original capital injection amount received from the program, resulting in a revolving fund for future economic investments.

Center Management Committees—The functional literacy training aims also to equip and motivate the Speed School pupils’ mothers or other guardians to take a more proactive role in supporting the facilitator and the overall classroom. Each Self-Help Group designates a few members to constitute a Center Management Committee (CMC) to manage this function. Among the responsibilities of the CMC are tracking and ensuring the attendance of pupils (and the facilitator), securing and setting up a viable Speed School classroom, helping the facilitator create low-cost and no-cost learning materials, and providing or finding expertise to help link lessons to the local community.