From James Riggs, Founder and CEO

In 2014 I began working on a solution to the problem of educational delivery in rural communities. After many years of working in community development all over the world, the key elements I sought to combine were:

– An education that was contextually specific to rural life

– Sustainability; both financially and ecologically

– Providing opportunity for people to help themselves

– A project should be managed and run entirely by local people and partners.

The idea was to show that, despite many great achievements and good intentions, the traditional model of aid delivery in rural communities is outdated. To demonstrate an overhaul is needed to provide education to the hundreds of millions of children world-wide who need it.

Now, in 2016, that dream has become a reality. As we stand, having just welcomed our second year students into our pilot school in Ghana, we are quickly proving the validity of the model. It has not been easy, perfect, or without challenges, but it is working.

By the end of 2017 we hope to have demonstrated that a school with 400 students, half of whom are on full scholarships, in a rural community can be fully self-sufficient. At this point, we intend to expand, building more schools in Ghana and beyond. James Riggs, CEO (November 2016) The first two years of a revolutionary new approach to the delivery of Secondary Education in Ghana

Our Approach

Problem: Huge strides have been made globally in attainment levels of basic education. However, junior is where 'free schooling' usually ends. Ghana is similar to many developing countries, and beyond junior level, education is expensive, and out of the financial reach of many families. As a result, almost sixty percent of children will not gain any secondary level qualifications, with drastic effects on earning potential, aspirations, health and even life expectancy.

Provision and Economic self-sufficiency: Typically there have been two approaches to providing large scale formal education – free schools paid for by donations, or private schools paid for by school fees. The problem with the former is that they are financially vulnerable, and dependent on continued donor support. Whilst the latter does little to ensure that those who cannot afford an education, and whom also most need it, will attend school.

Our approach is very simple – it combines both these approaches. Half of our students pay a moderate school fee of roughly £60 a term, which covers that cost of being able to offer full scholarships to the other half, from the most impoverished rural communities. Crucially, all of our staff are from the local area.

Solution; context of rural life: Further, educational projects and educational attainment often pays very little attention to the realities of rural life. In these farming communities, education and agriculture should go hand in hand. However they seldom do. Our pilot project combines a formal secondary school with a 25 acre Organic farm. Not only does the farm provide an excellent source of nutritious food for the students, but also acts as a centre to run training programs in sustainable, organic farming and entrepreneurship – hugely relevant skills in the community.

Progress so far:  We wouldn't ever pretend that everything runs like clockwork. However, despite set backs (all of which we learn from) we are still on course to be 100% self-sufficient by next year, proving the validity and scalability of our model.

Year one: In September 2015, we recruited our first 120 students. Overall we were able to raise roughly half of our total running costs – a great achievement in just our first year. Alongside this, we opened the first five acres of the Organic Farm, planting basic crops and rearing chickens, to provide maize, vegetables and eggs for the school feeding program. By the end of the first academic year, the farm provided almost 40% of the food eaten at the school.

Year Two: Unseasonable weather, as well Farm Manager, Joyce AME Finance Manager & Director as a huge fall in the value of sterling against the Ghana Cedi after Brexit had large impacts on the start of our second academic year in September 2016. The upshot is that we are essentially two months behind schedule. Unfortunately the time taken to finish our second building block, as well as the delay to installing a solar micro-grid have hampered our second year student recruitment. Despite that, we are making up for lost time, and aim to have a further 120 new students in attendance by January 2017 and each day we continue to increase our student numbers.

The move towards financial self-sufficiency: The success of our model, and in proving its scalability, lies chiefly in it being able to pay for itself. As mentioned above, with 120 students in year 1, we were able to generate approximately 50% of our required running costs. Below is a very rough estimate of our expected costs vs income over this year, and next, outlining how we intend to develop towards being 100% financially self sufficient.

Of course there is still an incredible amount of work to do in order to reach this point, and there will be many more hurdles to overcome. Chief amongst them is our need to bring in the necessary funding to help us reach the point of self-sufficiency. We are extremely fortunate to have a number of wonderful partners, all of whom share our vision of an alternative, more efficient, way to manage a project such as this. All of them are committed to the idea that development work really can fund itself. Many of these partners, we know, will be with us for the long-term and will grow with us. However, we still need to develop long term partnerships with like minded people and organisations.

School-to-school partnerships: One of the key areas we are looking to develop is interschool partnerships. It is a core believe of Alma Mater Education that schools closer to home can truly benefit from partnering with our school in Ghana. From our experience, students here are greatly interested and invested in young people of their own age, when given the opportunity and if the information is framed correctly.

We are developing partnerships with schools in London at the moment, and one of the key provisions we aim to make is to regularly attend these schools, to keep the student and staff updated on our work. We are extremely fortunate therefore to have the successful young Hollywood actor, Will Poulter, as our first Patron. Will has starred in films such as the Chronicles of Narnia, Maze Runner and The Revenant. He is also very happy to attend our partner schools and deliver our message to young people, amongst whom he is very well known.

In the future we hope to be able to offer exchange trips to West Africa, with students staying on site, at specially built eco-lodges within the farm.

Contact Alma Mater Education: If you would like to get involved with us, or for more information about Alma Mater Education, we would be delighted to hear from you.

James Riggs (CEO of Alma Mater Education)

3 Lanfrey Place, London W14 9PY

james@almamatereducation.com

(+44) 7766 733008

Onwards and Upwards

It is hard to believe quite how far we have come in such a short period of time. Midway through only our second term, and it feels like the school has been part of the community for six years, rather than six months. Staff and students alike continue to progress and impress in equal measures. Rejoice, our wonderfully talented headmistress, has created a really tight-knit group amongst the staff. Of course this is a very difficult task when creating a new structure, with new procedures and methods of teaching, accountability and, crucially, student discipline. However Rejoice has expertly negotiated these potential pitfalls, and has insured that all of the teachers have bought into our concept of 'a student focused education.' Already this is paying dividends. Our end of first term exams have seen a small, but noticeable, increase in grades. This is especially prominent amongst the lowest performing students, who have formed our 'purple group', receiving extra support in basic numeracy and literacy - which is a problem with many students from the rural areas.

PHASE 2 CONSTRUCTION

There is no time to rest though, and we are just starting now on the construction of Phase 2 of the school building. Our new building will be two storeys high, and consist of eight more classrooms, and a science lab. Astonishingly, this will push our capacity up to over 400 students for the next intake this September. The clearing of the land has just begun, and we have to start quickly to get ahead of the game before the rainy season starts in late March. We believe that sport is very important and can be a great source of both enjoyment and learning for young people. Phase 2 also sees us expanding our sports field, with a full size football pitch, and two volley ball courts.

THE ORGANIC FARM AND AGRICULTURAL TRAINING CENTRE

We have also just started clearing the bottom of the site for the Organic Farm. The farm forms a key component of what we are trying to do in Wioso, bridging the gap between agriculture and formal education in rural farming communities. Our Project Manager, George Ansah, has a wealth of experience in organics and agricultural training and has a vision to turn our farm into a centre of excellence within the region.

The farm this year will aim to provide the bulk of the food for the feeding program, ensuring healthy and nutritious organic food for our students. Already we have been rearing chickens and harvesting eggs, which are used each week to feed the students. The natural mixture of local Moringa leaves and natural feed is working extremely well, as you can see in the photos the richer colour of the yolk of our eggs against a locally available one. It is these skills and expertise that the Agricultural Training Centre will promote throughout the community, with our adult training classes. Our partner, the Kumasi Institute of Tropical Agriculture has over twenty years of experience in locally available solutions to organic farming, and we are very grateful for their continued support.

RENEWABLE ENERGY

From the outset, we decided to focus on using renewable energy at both the school and the farm. Currently all of our water needs are covered by a deep bore hole, and we have just received word that a Ghanaian solar energy company are constructing our micro grid as part of their CSR program (full announcement of that will be in our next newsletter). This is extremely exciting, and secures long-term, clean energy for the school and the farm. Funding target for this year All of the work we are doing is only made possible by the generous donations of many contributors. To each and every one of you a huge thank-you, as quite simply this school would not exist without your support. This year, our funding target is approximately £110k. This will allow us to finish all capital investment for the year, increasing our capacity to over 400, finishing the sports fields, and building a farm to feed the students and serve the local community. We hope you agree with us when we say that represents pretty good value for money! Sponsorship opportunities include; naming of the phase 2 block, the classrooms, the science lab, the sports facilities , the farm, students and teachers.

CONTACT

Once again a huge thank you to everyone who has been involved with us over the past 18 months, and I very much look forward to keeping you updated on our 2016 progress. For any queries, please contact me here:

James Riggs (CEO of Alma Mater Education) 3 Lanfrey Place

james@almamatereducation.com London

(+44) 7766 733008 W14 9PY

Donations: Can be received via bank transfer, as follows, or via post to the address above.

Bank: HSBC

Account no: 62155907

Sort code: 400409

IBAN: gb15midl40040962155907