When a School Is Not Enough

The achievement gap between rich and poor is a complex and global challenge. Schooling alone is not meeting the needs of the poorest children. Innovative public-private partnerships for education could be part of the solution.

South Africa’s schools face considerable challenges. The national average of 27 percent functional illiteracy masks significant and entrenched wealth and race-linked inequalities in what is effectively a bifurcated education system. A minority of students (around 25 percent) attend decent schools and perform acceptably on international assessments, while the majority (around 75 percent) perform extremely poorly on the same tests. Unpacking that 27 percent national average shows that almost 60 percent of students in the poorest economic quartile are functionally illiterate, compared with just 4 percent of the richest quartile.

Such entrenched inequality is not a challenge faced only by countries in the South. The UK, for instance, demonstrates that some of the most unequal educational outcomes are among Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. Eleven-year-old pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM), an imperfect but revealing indicator of poverty, are almost twice as likely not to achieve basic standards in literacy and numeracy as their peers who do not qualify for FSM. And in 2010, only 21 percent of the poorest economic quintile gained five good GCSEs (England’s national exams for 16 year olds), compared with 75 percent of the richest quintile—an astonishing gap of 54 percentage points.

There is no single solution to a challenge this complex in either South Africa or England. What is clear, though, is that traditional education systems in most societies are failing the poorest children. Indeed research has often shown that children from poorer backgrounds perform worse than their wealthier peers whichever school they are in. In previous articles for the Stanford Social Innovation Review, we have examined innovative approaches to improving learning in India and Uganda using charter-school-style, public-private partnerships. There is no question that schools are and always will be the most important and most impactful place of learning. But they are not the only place. Evidence-based pupil-level interventions, targeted specifically at children from deprived families, are urgently needed.

Evidence-based pupil-level interventions, targeted specifically at children from deprived families, are urgently needed.

One promising approach, which has shown impact on learning outcomes as well as potential to scale, is homework clubs and mentored tuition. IkamvaYouth, a nonprofit in South Africa, has quietly and tenaciously built up a ten-year track record of doing just that for students from deprived township communities. Volunteer mentors—university students or graduates—hailing from similarly disadvantaged backgrounds work with students and facilitate “last-mile” access to open-education resources like Khan Academy.

At one of its nine learning centres in Khayelitsha, near Cape Town, a public library houses 160 children who attend four Ikamva sessions each week. Students are not screened for ability, but they must adhere to a minimum 75 percent attendance. The center manager, Zukile Keswa, is a passionate and impressive demonstration of the organisation’s mission to put children’s futures in their own hands. Joining Ikamva at the start of grade 11, Zukile was struggling at school, and his results were poor. Two years later he matriculated top of his class. As he studied for his university degree, he tutored and volunteered at Ikamva and, after graduating, returned to run the centre in Khayelitsha. Ikamva changed the course of his life. Zukile could have followed many of his former classmates into a life of crime and violence. But with Ikamva’s help, he put his future in his own hands and is now proud to be helping the next generation achieve its potential too.

Zukile is not a one-off success story; Ikamva’s results are consistently impressive. In 2012, 94 percent of Ikamva students passed the matric (South Africa’s school-leaver certificate), compared with a national average of 74 percent and township averages of around 53 percent. Also, 96 percent of its graduates are in tertiary education or employment, meaning that at 4 percent, the proportion of Ikamva graduates who are “not in education, employment, or training” is an order of magnitude better than the national average of 48 percent for 18-24 year olds.

Ikamva’s model is by no means without challenges. The size of the problem is such that systemic change is still someway off. To scale and make a system-level impact, its sustainability will eventually need to be underpinned by non-philanthropic capital. And its matric results may be subject to motivation—or attrition—bias due to the 75 percent attendance rate requirement (it is planning a randomized control trial to analyze the impact more rigorously). But the data is nonetheless encouraging; Ikamva’s after-school model is doing something right, and that something could make a significant contribution to closing the achievement gap in South Africa and elsewhere.

Elsewhere could include England, where a new policy provides exactly the kind of sustainable revenue that organisations like Ikamva need. The Pupil Premium, an extra annual subsidy of £623 (about $1,007) per child, channeled to schools according to number of pupils on free school meals, was introduced in 2011 as a direct mechanism to address the achievement deficit. Typically it is spent on extra teachers, teaching assistants and support workers, educational visits, and residential trips. This new funding stream, which provides about 10 percent on top of the full annual pupil subsidy, should be a driver of increased attainment for poorer children. Yet only one in ten school leaders feel that the Pupil Premium has significantly changed the way that they support children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Private tuition, previously reserved for the rich or more privileged, could now be within reach of even the poorest children.

Recent research from the Sutton Trust highlights one area where schools may choose to deploy the Pupil Premium in the future. Private tuition, previously reserved for the rich or more privileged, could now be within reach of even the poorest children. The research showed that six to twelve weeks of extra tuition typically generates five months of additional pupil progress. Moreover, and with affordable innovation in mind, undergraduate students can be more effective (and cheaper) tutors than teachers, reflecting Ikamva’s own mentoring model. And Ikamva would agree with the finding that small group tuition can be just as academically effective as one-to-one tuition. Organizations such as Explore Learning—which charges parents in the range of £120 (about $194) a month for membership—are already serving lower-middle income families with their after-school and weekend group tuition services, staffed primarily by university undergraduates. With the Pupil Premium set to increase to £900 (about $1,455) per pupil in 2014, the way could be paved for this market to grow and new entrants to emerge who can make high-quality group tuition accessible to even the poorest children.

This evidence from the Sutton Trust and Ikamva provides an early but compelling example of a model that could help close the achievement gap. It illustrates the power and transferability of solutions that capture the energy and insights of entrepreneurs from across the globe. A South African public-private partnership, similar to the Pupil Premium, could help scale Ikamva’s work to reach many more thousands of children. And closer to home, an English version of Ikamva, underpinned by principles of high aspirations and self-responsibility, could help close the chasm in achievement and give children from poor families a fairer start in life.

Nothing has a greater impact on a child’s learning than an excellent school with excellent teaching. But the urgency to address rising educational inequalities in an era of fiscal austerity requires additional and affordable interventions that target the poorest children. Harnessing success stories, and scaling them within frameworks of innovative public private partnerships, could be one interesting strategy that benefits students across the globe. As class after class of poorer children fail to achieve their full potential, now is the time to look beyond national borders for innovative, affordable, and impactful solutions.

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  • Wendy Lloyd's avatar

    BY Wendy Lloyd

    ON October 31, 2013 12:21 PM

    After school clubs can be tremendously helpful for children who do not have supportive home environments conducive to a good education. Ikamvayouth is not the only organisation doing good work in this area but it is good to see a southern group profiled in this way. Whether government should fund them or not is debatable - certainly much stronger evidence should be sought to demonstrate what impact can be attributed to them.

  • C Bertrand's avatar

    BY C Bertrand

    ON October 31, 2013 01:02 PM

    While the models you discuss in South Africa and UK both look promising, be aware that most (at least most well through through) interventions will have an effect on learning - particularly when the system is as fragile as the one you describe in South Africa. It is important that interventions are evaluated for impact and cost-effectiveness, so that policy makers then have a clear menu of options from which to prioritise - if public funding is the ultimate aim as you suggest. I do agree that governments should be approaching public private partnerships with a wider outlook than just funding of schools - but as the previous commentator rightly says the need for string rigorous evidence is even more important.

    Education in the UK is increasingly evidence based (and I am aware of the work that ARK is doing in various different programmes here) - this is very positive progress. So I am pleased to read that Ikamva intends to validate their promising early data with better evidence.

    A good piece -  I particularly like the south-north angle in your writing. That is rare!

  • A really thought-provoking article, raising some very interesting points. Like the previous comment, I liked the North-South angle. With students in England performing relatively poorly in recent OECD test comparisons, the need for greater pupil engagement is clear. This is especially true when the attainment gap between richer and poorer students is so apparent in so many countries. As a school leader in the UK, I fully agree with the writers that an excellent school with excellent teaching will always be the bedrock of a child’s education, however if tutoring/mentoring can be made available through funding such as the Pupil Premium then it could certainly help bridge the gap. Soon schools in England will have to directly account for what they are spending their PP money on and how they’re using it to make a difference; it will be interesting to see what comes out of that kind of analysis.

  • Thomas Nlumbani's avatar

    BY Thomas Nlumbani

    ON November 1, 2013 02:54 AM

    As a South African teacher I feel compelled to comment. I worked in a primary school in Alexandra (Johannesburg) for five years. I taught children who would leave school at lunchtime and go home to find intoxicated father, abused mothers, no food in the home. In a situation this desperate there is only so much a school can do. I am ashamed that this situation was only made worse by the behavior of many of my professional colleagues who took home the salary but felt no obligation to teach.

    When I moved to London three years ago I expected to find something very different. I teach in a primary school where more than 50% children are on free school meals (the indicator of relative poverty referred to in the article). I am teaching children who also come from homes with alcoholic and unemployed parents. These are often single parent families where there is no interest or investment in the education of the child. In London (unlike Johannesburg) the rich and poor live side by side and I am astounded on a daily basis by the level of inequality I see here - perhaps because it feels more visible than at home where it is easy (as a middle class citizen) to avoid the poverty.

    I agree with the sentiment in this article. A school is not enough. When my children leave my classroom each afternoon there is so much more I wish I could do. I had not previously come across Explore Learning mentioned in this article but I know that very few (if any) of the children I teach would be able to afford those fees. If the pupil premium could help reduce costs that would be a valuable initiative. My understanding is that the pupil premium needs to be deployed far more effectively so it actually makes a difference for the children it is intended to help.

    I commend Ikamva for their good work. Thank you to the Stamford Social Innovation for drawing attention to this important issue and allowing for the comments of those with interest. Thank you to Mr Bewtra and Miss Hares, the authors.

  • Very interesting article.

    How do the authors think successful programmes such as Ikamva can be rolled out on a wider scale, and do they think these programmes need to be led by the third sector, or can central government lead the way?

    It seems as though separating extra-curricular tuition from the main school system would be beneficial. For the underachieving or disadvantaged kids in question, the prospect of further tuition associated with their regular school would surely seem far less attractive than a separate programmes, more tailored to their individual situations.

    I look forward to hearing more from the authors.

  • Paul Atherton's avatar

    BY Paul Atherton

    ON November 1, 2013 04:41 AM

    Nice article. Stepping back, seems similar to arguments by Lant Pritchett and emerging from RCT’s – best interventions tailor the learning to the children (note, this differs from unicef ‘child-centric’ learning model) and give more individualised attention at a pace child can follow. This is worlds away from the massive de facto class sizes we see inthe poorest countries.

    Private tuition is massive in developing countries, but usually excludes the poorest I’ve been quite shocked at the scale of it in both Africa and South Asia. Having models of additional, bespoke tutoring (in or out of school) to cover the excluded is great – but I worry about the supply of the tutors in poorer, rural areas, especially when we move away from the most basic skills. I know Pratham in India use local women with secondary education, which seemed to work (and Jishnu Das argues this is behind the low-cost private model in Pakistan). But these are for the most basic skills, not the higher-level skills we’d wish to impart.

    There is some interesting work trying a similar model in Ghana, which is managed by IPA - this is based on the great results when run externally, but very low implementation rates when put internal to the system. I think (don’t quote me on this!) half of tutors didn’t turn up, and, where they trained existing teachers only 10% implemented the program. This seems key to me - while external programmes can undoubtably improve low-levels of learning in a controlled setting, taking this to scale requires embedding within a system - which is where the public/private (or public-NGO) comes in.

    An interesting article.

  • This is another example of the private sector attempting to take over what should be a public good. If public education systems are not performing they should be strengthened not sidelined. It is utterly depressing to see yet another private foundation look to create parallel systems that will increase inequity and inequality.

    Parents who can afford private tuition of course can choose to pay for it - but this does not mean that public money should be used to help them further.

    Public schools do a good job.  I am sick and tired of seeing state money siphoned off to subsidise non state education.

  • Intrinsically, I am convinced a school should be enough. If you look at the great public education systems in the world, their schools do deliver for every child. I am referring to Finland, Singapore. Education is a national priority, to be a teacher is an honor and a competitively fought for privilege. This should be the priority - building a fair, equitable, free and non-selective high performing state system

    Then realism kicks in. The authors graciously describe some of the failings of a high-income “developed” country system. The inequality data they cite is nothing less than heart breaking. But the UK is a pinnacle of equality compared with what I have seen in the United States in recent years. Pockets of intense deprivation are linked directly to educational underachievement. Yet as a nation we preach our success to the world. My organization is working very hard to address this.

    From my limited knowledge of education in South Africa these challenges are only more intense. The educational achievement gap has been proved to exist from when a child is 18 months old. A school cannot correct a gap this deep. Indeed there is urgency to address this gap, with targeted initiatives tailored to those unfortunate children.

    This truly is a global problem and no diverse nation has found the answers. So kudos to the authors for drawing on an interesting example from Africa that the world can learn from. But I express a word of warning here: the example you cite certainly holds promise. You rightly point out that a full evaluation is the next step. Beware the advocate who promotes state funding of an initiative without this evaluation. State funding is precious and precarious. It must be used wisely and generating and deploying that wisdom is a responsibility for us all.

  • R M Mendez's avatar

    BY R M Mendez

    ON November 1, 2013 02:28 PM

    This is nonsense. These so called education reformers should leave the real educators to the real business of running our proper schools. Criticising schools and teachers is easy. What is harder is to have the courage to get to work and do something about it.

  • G Jurgenson's avatar

    BY G Jurgenson

    ON November 2, 2013 07:52 AM

    Judging by the discussion on my twitter feed this is an important and timely subject. It is time that we put the interest of the child first - children learning needs to be what drives this discussion. Let’s forget ideology and focus on that.

    As an aside, the company I used to work for received investment from Omiydra Network. I found them to be a thoughtful and smart funder.

  • Freda Wignall's avatar

    BY Freda Wignall

    ON November 2, 2013 07:55 AM

    A very interesting article.

    My own experience is in Zimbabwe.  The state education there is not free so the very poorest children suffer the most particularly the girls who are the first to be taken out of school due to lack of money or to help with the harvest or with sick relatives. These children really only thrive if their school fees are paid for by a not for profit organisation and who also get additional help with Homework Clubs and additional tuition.

  • Peter Mukami's avatar

    BY Peter Mukami

    ON November 2, 2013 10:21 AM

    God bless you Zukele Keswa. You are doing a beautiful thing

  • Alexis Akwagyiram's avatar

    BY Alexis Akwagyiram

    ON November 2, 2013 06:09 PM

    This is a fascinating article that explores a range of complex challenges and offers innovative ways to overcome them. This is a must read on an important subject that affects future generations around the world.

    Huge thanks to the Susannah Hares and Vineet Bewtra for producing such an accessible, thought-provoking article.

  • There are two important threads in this article which have been picked up by commentators. The first is whether indeed a school is enough - while these deep entrenched inequalities remain between rich and poor, the answer must be “no”. Thank-you to the authors for showing that this is indeed a global problem and not one limited to poor countries. Poor children start school behind their wealthier peers and that gap increases every year. To not act is to fail them.

    The second thread is whether government should pay for these extra interventions. Given the above, the answer must surely be “yes”. To say no would be to accept inequality. But I agree wholeheartedly with those commentators who have stressed the need for evidence-based intervention. Education as a field is behind health. Readers may be interested in this effort by Ben Goldacer to correct that.

  • Michael C's avatar

    BY Michael C

    ON November 4, 2013 12:21 PM

    In my experience, the best programmes work with the school to improve outcomes for students - complementing and extending what goes on in the classroom.

    In England, I have been particularly impressed by the work of IntoUniversity - and The Access Project - I also like the idea of using retired teachers to support pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds which SpireHub have just stated -

  • Shweta Patel's avatar

    BY Shweta Patel

    ON November 5, 2013 01:15 AM

    The problem with many of these after school programs is that that they cater for the “gems” - the children from poor backgrounds showing great potential. The access project does this. Every child deserves to reach their potential.

  • Loretta Thomas's avatar

    BY Loretta Thomas

    ON November 5, 2013 11:38 PM

    A joy to read some good news in a time of pain in so many places.

  • Susannah Hares's avatar

    BY Susannah Hares

    ON November 7, 2013 11:03 AM

    Thank-you for your thoughtful comments.

    A few commentators have noted the need for rigorous evidence before a model like Ikamva’s is scaled, particularly with government funding. I wholeheartedly agree and am very encouraged that Ikamva is planning a randomised control trial to examine their impact in more detail.

    To respond to concerns related to the role of the private sector: let me emphasise that I do not see this model (nor other forms of PPP) as being a replacement for public education systems. The contrary - a true partnership between the public and private sector should encourage innovation, fresh thinking, but with regulation, commissioning and quality assurance resting firmly in the hands of the government.

    Shweta Patel makes the very good point that a good education system should cater for the needs of every child, and that we should help all children - able and less able - achieve their potential. IKamva does not select on ability; instead focusing on helping each and every child put their future in their own hands. Many programmes - in the UK and elsewhere - do focus on finding and helping the “poor but brilliant”. I admire Ikamva’s belief in the potential of every child (which resonates with ARK’s own approach - our schools do not select on ability).

    Finally: I agree with G Jurgenson - that the interests of the child should be at the heart of education policy and practice. And Peter Mukami is correct - Zukile Keswa is doing a wonderful thing!

  • A.Jagadeesh's avatar

    BY A.Jagadeesh

    ON November 8, 2013 02:13 PM

    Excellent piece on School education Public Vs Private. In India the corporate school concept has caught up even in villages. Gone are the days when parents prefer to send their children to public schools because the fee will be less. The craze for corporate schools is so much people reserve the seat the moment a child is born !
    When India adopted her present constitution, it was laid down in its Article 45 that “the state shall endeavor to provide, within a period of ten years, from the commencement of this constitution, for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years.”

    The Concept of Mahatma Gandhi’s Basic Education is still relevant in India. He strongly advocated Craft work during school education.
    When you are engaged in a craft-work, you are related to nature on the one hand, because, you get the required raw material from nature, and you are also related to your community because the finished product is to serve human beings. The craftsman is the meeting place of nature and man. This experience is very significant from the educational point of view.  This creates a very valuable triangular concord between the individual, the society, and the natural surroundings.

    Secondly, in productive craft-work, or industry, the class fellows of a school have to do cooperative work instead of being engaged only in rivalry and competition. This is very significant from the educational point view, because social solidarity of a nation can be promoted and nourished only through a “cooperative” (and not “competitive”) education.

    Thirdly, when one is engaged in some craft-work or some industry, one faces many difficulties and problems, which can be solved only with the help of literacy or mathematics or physics or chemistry. Thus, students who are engaged in craft-work, or industry, become curious and interested learners, which is very helpful in their educative process. All abstract knowledge is born of concrete work experience. Thus, concrete productive craft-work or industry is not an obstacle in the search for abstract knowledge. In fact, concrete work and abstract knowledge are friendly and helpful to each other. Thus, practical craft-work, in a school, is not an obstacle in the path of pure knowledge, but it is promoter of pure and abstract knowledge. Craft-work makes the educative process quite easy and quite simple.

    Moreover, a child under fourteen year’s of age, is naturally or psychologically interested in craft-work engagement. Craft is the center of his age-interests. Thus, he enjoys the educative process centered around craft-work. He faces no boredom in a school which provides him with craft-work.

    Then, craft-work in schools was friendly to the Gandhian concept of decentralized and self sufficient village life. According to Gandhiji, freedom of human beings does not lie in just the freedom from foreign political rule. According to Gandhiji, freedom of human beings lies in freedom from all types of exploitation and all types of dependence on others. According to Gandhiji, over dependence on the state machinery or on the government denotes lack of real freedom. According to Gandhiji, small and decentralized communities or villages should establish their own local self-discipline so that even the courts established by a government are seldom approached for justice and justice may be available from the local village councils or honorable aged persons. Today’s political freedom, specially, under democratic rule, is making the people more and more dependent on the government in all respects and the democratic government also extends more and more allurements to the people to seek popular support of votes. According to Gandhiji, this over-dependence, even on a democratic national government, was a form of slavery in disguise. He did agree that the State could not be abolished totally. But, he believed that the tasks and responsibilities of the State should be reduced to the minimum. According to Gandhiji, spread of education should result in the shrinking of the State. Education that expands the State’s responsibilities and state’s machinery is no education.
    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

  • With all their platitudes, Susanna Hares and Vineet Bewtra have failed to provide a justification for the privatisation of education. I am waiting for their answer.

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    ON November 9, 2013 07:26 AM

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  • Vineet Bewtra's avatar

    BY Vineet Bewtra

    ON November 11, 2013 02:22 AM

    Thank you to everyone for your kind and illuminating feedback.  I echo all the points Susannah makes in her comment on Nov 7th.

    Forgive me DA, it feels intrinsically rude to just address someone by their initials, but I have no other way.  It is clear that you care passionately about delivering quality education for disadvantaged groups.  At the risk of sounding platitudinous, that is to be applauded.  I believe we share the same sentiments.

    You express concern that we are arguing for the creation of parallel systems.  I’m not sure how providing after-school support to disadvantaged learners creates a parallel system.  It seems more like a complementary model, which allows such learners to focus in on topics they may be struggling with in school?

    You claim that we are asking for public money to further help parents who could afford to pay for private tuition.  Far from it.  The UK pupil premium goes to children who are on free school meals.  IkamvaYouth works in townships with children living in very disadvantaged conditions (independent surveys have shown almost a third live in households where there are more people than beds, almost a half can recall going to sleep hungry in their recent past).  These are the groups that we are arguing need to be provided with extra support.  These are not parents who can afford to pay for private tuition.  But these are the learners that get left behind by those who can afford extra support.  The provision of such targeted support would seem to exactly be something that will help reduce inequity and inequality?

    You argue that we are advocating for the privatisation of education.  ARK is a non-profit.  IkamvaYouth is a non-profit.  I’m not sure how arguing that governments should support the provision of effective after-school support to disadvantaged learners who cannot afford it constitutes the privatisation of education?

    Thank you to everyone, including you DA, for your constructive engagement.

  • Finally he speaks.

    Thank-you Vineet Bewtra for your comment. I am glad that at least one author saw fit to try to respond.  Unfortunately you (and Susanna) have missed the important point.

    Public schools need to be improved. This is the only viable long term strategy for an equitable education system. There is no valid argument to the contrary. All these so called philanthropists are making an already difficult task even more difficult by distractions, left, right and centre.

  • Javier Galvez's avatar

    BY Javier Galvez

    ON November 14, 2013 09:18 PM

    Absolutely… this is very nice and very important.

  • Javier Galvez's avatar

    BY Javier Galvez

    ON November 14, 2013 09:19 PM

    could be game changer

  • Springbok Sachs's avatar

    BY Springbok Sachs

    ON November 15, 2013 11:48 AM

    This article and those linked on PPPs elsewhere make fascinating reading. They remind me of the education systemic reform in Punjab Pakistan. My question to the authors is whether there are sufficient number of good implementing agencies to achieve impact at scale? I see very few. But nonetheless this is important work to be done. And the difference between a PPP and the “private for profit sector” is clear to me despite the comments of previous observers.

  • P Atkinson's avatar

    BY P Atkinson

    ON November 20, 2013 12:40 PM

    As a seasoned educator, cynical and world weary, my heart is warmed by this story. Kudos to the authors for considering what the UK can learn from our colleagues in Africa. Bravo to Ikamva Young People for their strength and their resilience. Those working in the UK know well the quite incredible school turn ar0unds that ARK has achieved. I had no knowledge of their interest and inclination to consider how they can support Africa to also give good schooling to poor children.

    What I have learned through hardship and inspiration from 30 years in education is that no single organisation has all the answers, the government or others. So I welcome the input from new and fresh organisations like the Omidyar Foundation - we need people like you because the problems we are facing, in London, in Hull and in South Africa, are so great and so complex the more brains and passion the better.

    Let us welcome this diversity, not react against it. Thank-you my friends.

  • Anupali Singh's avatar

    BY Anupali Singh

    ON November 26, 2013 08:15 AM

    Anyone can do good work with a few kids in a confined space. Ikamva Youth SA seems to be very small - are they really able to operate at scale?

  • M Al Chilabi's avatar

    BY M Al Chilabi

    ON November 30, 2013 05:48 AM

    I agree with some of the previous posters. Almost any intervention will show SOME effect (especially when dealing with low starting point). The question is whether this kind of intervention is better than others, cost, depth etc, and whether it can work at larger scale. This sounds promising though and I would certainly back the title of the article -for the poorest children a school is not enough.

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