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San Francisco School, Paraguay

Model school in Paraguay

The Financially Sustainable School model was pioneered at the San Francisco School for Rural Entrepreneurs, a rural secondary school in Paraguay, close to the capital city of Asuncion. Its example has inspired many other schools around the world to take a new approach to education so that low-income students in their countries can get an affordable, high quality education that enables them to overcome poverty. 

Our school in Paraguay proves beyond all doubt that ‘Education That Pays For Itself’ is a practical model for the provision of high quality education in developing countries.

  • Generating over $300,000 in income through a range of sustainable income generation initiatives, it has been able to cover 100% of its operating costs including depreciation each year since 2007.
  • This school, which takes no government money, now needs to charge virtually no fees to provide a first class education to students from some of the poorest communities in the country.
  • Because the quality of its teaching is so high, within 2 months of graduation almost every one of its students - the children of poor farming families - were either in good jobs, including with some of the country’s leading agri-businesses; at university; or successfully running their own businesses.

A Little History

The San Francisco High School was not always like this however...

  • At the end of 2002, the San Francisco School—like so many other agricultural schools in developing countries - was a school in crisis:
  • It depended heavily on government subsidies, which had been cut back sharply during the previous years.
  • Most of the school’s funds were used to pay teachers´ salaries, and those were often paid late.
  • There was little money left over to buy the tools, equipment and supplies needed to keep the school farm in operation.
  • School facilities fell into disrepair, and without basic farm implements and supplies, students had little opportunity to practice basic agricultural skills.
  • After completing the three-year high school program and obtaining their high school diplomas, most students found that their economic prospects were not much better than before they had started. Enrolment declined.
  • With fewer students, the school received even less government support. The school’s deficit soared. The religious order which owned and managed the San Francisco Agricultural School and could no longer afford this drain on its resources considered closing down the school.

Instead, it decided to transfer the school to the Fundación Paraguaya.


A New Approach Is Born

The Fundación Paraguaya is a non-profit social enterprise which develops innovative solutions to poverty and unemployment in Paraguay and pro-actively disseminates them worldwide.

When approached about taking over this bankrupt agricultural school, the Fundación Paraguaya saw a great opportunity: the chance to develop a new kind of school — one which would give poor rural youth the kind of education they needed to find good jobs, or be able to create their own jobs, and thereby overcome poverty.

Of course, this had also been the goal of the San Francisco School for many years. This was also the goal of many other agricultural schools which were in financial trouble and whose graduates also could not find jobs. It was obvious that some fundamental changes in agricultural education were needed.

When the Fundación Paraguaya took over the school at the end of 2002, its then nearly 20 years of experience in microfinance and nearly 10 years of providing business and financial education to children and youth led it to several conclusions:

  1. In order to serve its students, the school would have to offer a more relevant education—one that enable students to acquire the skills that employers were seeking in their employees, or to succeed as entrepreneurs in their own right.
  2. The school needed to be able to count on having a certain minimum level of funding in order to be able offer the high-quality educational program it intended to provide.
  3. This high-quality education nevertheless had to be affordable for low-income farming families.
  4. The Fundación concluded that in order to offer both quality and affordability, the San Francisco School would need to generate its own income. That way, it would no longer have to depend on dwindling subsidies or, in the absence of funds from other sources, charge high fees.

Impressive Results

To some, this seemed to be an impossible goal. Indeed, how could a school with classes to teach and a campus full of students to supervise possibly generate enough income to cover the full cost of its operations?

However, time would prove that this was not such an impossible goal after all. In 2007, five years after the Fundacion Paraguaya assumed responsibility for the school, the San Francisco High School generated $300,000 in income - enough to cover all of its operating costs, including depreciation.

The solution they pioneered was based on establishing number of small-scale, on-campus enterprises, which would serve a dual purpose. On one hand, the on-campus enterprises sell products and services in the local market, generating income to pay the school’s expenses and ensuring the school’s long-term financial sustainability.

At the same time, these small enterprises offer students the opportunity to learn technical and business skills in a hands-on way. This “learn by doing and earning” approach to education means that students graduate with both the technical skills and the business experience they need in order to succeed in responsible jobs in the formal agricultural sector or as self-employed entrepreneurs.

Thanks to these innovations, low-income youth have been getting an affordable, high quality secondary education at the San Francisco Agricultural School since 2003. The proof of this is that within four months of graduation, 100 percent of each graduating class find good jobs, create their own small enterprises or continue their studies at university.

At the same time, school fees are very low. Students are charged the equivalent of about $10 per month, and students can pay half of this amount by doing farm chores one weekend per month. This means that poor youth can go to this school at virtually no cost to themselves or their families.

The achievements at the San Francisco Agricultural School are remarkable, but not unique. An increasing number of schools-- from Nicaragua to Uganda—are establishing financially self-sufficient schools in order to provide low-income youth with an affordable, high quality education that enables them to overcome poverty.

Your school could be one of them too. There is nothing that the Fundacion Paraguaya and the San Francisco School did that you and your school or your organization can’t do as well!

To find out more about replication opportunities and becoming a Teach A Man To Fish School Partner write to partnership@teachamantofish.org.uk


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