A Young Headteacher
« There are no public schools in Enterramento. And the few private ones that are here do not offer quality education. I had to be part of a solution »
Guinea Bissau, ranking among the poorest countries in the world, one of the struggles the country is going through is with its education sector. Even in the capital Bissau, there is a scarcity of schools.
In 2012, Jorge Zito, 26, decided to start an after-school program, where he could help students with their homework, and give them extra explanations about the courses they had had at school. “A short while after we started, parents were pretty happy with the job we were doing, and that is when I said, why not start a school?”
In 2015, funded by the European Union, ENGIM, an Italian organization, started a project of incubation program for business start ups, and Jorge’s school was selected among the best and was enrolled in the program. ENGIM helped him with funding that he later used to equip the school with furniture and office materials (a laptop and a printer). ENGIM also helped Jose to get his school business registered, something that is not common in Guinea Bissau. At the top of that, his business still benefits from a regular technical support and assistance (part of the incubation program)
Currently, the school hosts 238 children, and has a literacy program for 27 adults during evenings. The school fees here are between two and three thousand XOF per month, which makes it the cheapest school in the area, as others fall into five or six thousand.
A school that goes beyond lecturing
This school is not what an ideal one would look like. It is basically a big hall, divided into small rooms, and in each of them, about 40-50 children take classes for a half day. Rooms are not closed with doors (for light and aeration reasons), thus there is an interference with what is going on in every other room (since there is also no ceiling). Thus, I was pretty curious to know about the performance of the students in such conditions.
Jorge assured me that, despite the fact that the conditions at the school are not the best, they still do not take what they have for granted. With the school’s capacity to receive only a few students, some children are refused spots, which makes the few that are there very fortunate. Thus they make sure that they work hard, and parents are encouraged to get the children to revise their lessons every evening.
Keeping the kids in school
Cashew is the main economic crop of Guinea Bissau. During its harvest season, many children are obliged to go work with their parents in the fields, thus there is a very high school drop between March and June. As in other schools in Guinea Bissau, a half of students at Jorge’s school used to drop out during that period. And most of them were obliged to repeat the whole year.
They thus took an initiative to eradicate that problem out of their school. They started a campaign for parents against this practice, through school meetings and one-on-ones, and so far, the number of drop-outs has decreased from 50% to 5-10% at the school.
Jorge and the school
“Personally, founding the school has gained me recognition in my society, not because it’s my main goal, but because of the respect the community has for my work, which brings me joy.”
“Despite the fact that we don’t make a big profit, with small revenues I get from the school, I am able to cover my basic needs, without relying on my parents.”
Jorge looks like an ambitious young man, and I wanted to know his dream about his school. “By 2021, I have a goal for my school to be able to host a doubled number of students we have now. I recently was lucky to win another grant, and we are soon moving to a new building with bigger and more comfortable 5 rooms.” He told me
There are many campaigns that encourage young people to become entrepreneurs, to create jobs for themselves and for the community as well. But I think the first step to create business should be thinking about creating a solution. And through the solution, a business always comes out. The community needs social entrepreneurs like Jorge, young minds that see problems as opportunities to create durable solutions.