Reviewing our Learning Centers

Each year we ask our learning centers to complete a comprehensive survey of their activities, challenges and plans for the coming year. We ask our Community Heroes (CHs) to review and report on everything from staffing, infrastructure, student demographics, teaching and learning approaches, accounting and finance, governance and course offerings. Doing this each year, gives us a clearer picture of the on-the-ground reality of the learning centers and helps us better plan for how to provide on-going support and up-skilling.

In total, we have setup learning centers in 28 locations so far. In the survey, you will see 20 respondents only. This is because our 5 micro learning centers are subsumed under one learning center umbrella called “Ang Tasom”. In addition, three Mongolian centers are currently inactive or in transition. Ulchit-Horoo learning center functions mostly in the summer months and on a part-time basis, Govi-Altai is currently in the process of revamping its BOOKBRIDGE library and programs, under new leadership and in a new building, and is currently seeking to recruit a new Community Hero. Bagaanur learning center has not been operational for several years and is in the process of being shut down.

So, let’s see what is happening in our learning centers!

What are our Community Heroes proud of?

Our CHs answered at length about what made them proud and they had a lot to be proud of! One main recurring answer: my students. CHs were proud of their students winning English Olympics, passing their exams, improving their speaking and becoming more confident and being successful in finding jobs or going onto university.

CHs were also very proud of their facilities and their reputation in the community. Many mentioned how well respected and regarded their learning centers were in the community and how much trust and respect they had won with all of their efforts.

Others answered they were proud of their relationships with community partners, parents and building up their teacher’s capacities. Many Mongolian CHs mentioned how proud they were to support and participate in the English Camp and English Festival.

For a full reading of the CH answer, please download this PDF

What challenges do our Community Heroes face?

Naturally, as independent entrepreneurs, our CH face many challenges in operating their learning centers. One of the recurring challenges is that of reaching and maintaining sustainability or profitability. Around some learning centers there are many competitors, making it difficult to attract new students or keep current ones.

Several CHs also play multiple roles in their centers: that of Head of Learning Center, teacher, accountant, sales, marketing, reporting and even cleaning. Some face or fear burn out as they carry most of the burden to keep the learning center going and attempt to repay a significant loan.

CHs also mentioned other challenges such as finding qualified, quality teachers or keeping them, transportation for students and pressures from public school teachers on students to not attend learning center class but their own private offerings instead.

Staffing

Our learning centers have between 1 and 10 staff members, for a total of 77 staff members across all learning centers. Some of these staff members are part-time or on contract. The total of Full Time Equivalent (FTE) employees is 40. Several staff members have been working at our learning centers for over 5 years.

The teaching qualifications of the staff at our learning centers vary, with a small portion having some form of local or other teaching certificate or license. From the responses we can see that many teachers are not formally trained and only three have taken some form of TESOL training, most having only attended short courses on various topics:

Teaching qualification of learning center staff

CHs indicate they provide training on various important topics, however, as many are also not fully qualified with local level teaching licenses, the quality of the training they give to their teachers is uncertain. This is a clear indication that continued and on-going tailored training by education and curriculum professionals is required as well as encouraging more CHs and/or their staff to complete an online TESOL course if we are to continue to improve teaching quality at our learning centers:

Teacher training background

Nearly half of LCs offer health insurance to their staff and most of these are in Mongolia. In most learning centers, most staff have working contracts or work as freelancers. Just over 50% of learning centers have an HR policy and manual for their teachers and staff. All but two CHs are interested in receiving more training for themselves of their teachers in the area of TESOL or English language development.

Communication

Our CHs are very actively connected to one another, the Country Team and the Global Support Teams. Most CHs communicate with their Country team and other learning centers at least once a month. The most popular methods of communication are through Facebook, email and old-style telephone. More than 50% of CHs state they communicate with the Global Support Team at least once a quarter or monthly. The CHs also gave great feedback on how various levels of the BOOKBRIDGE can better support them and we will follow on these suggestions.

Most CHs keep in contact with the CAP team involved in their set up (in the case of social business learning centers). Most are in touch with their teams at least once every three months.

Are our Learning Centers operating as social business?

We asked our CHs what best describes their learning centers, a social business, a training center, an English school or an NGO. The majority (11 out of 20) feel their learning center is a training center or an English school. 35% or 7 CHs of the 20 describe their center as a social business. Of those who selected social enterprise, stated the main reason for this was that they supplement paid courses with free activities open to the community, which is perhaps better described a business engaging in CSR activities to give back to the community. A social enterprise, on the other hand, is focused on bring about social change and works towards that as its main focus.

Number of learning centers operating as social business
Number of learning centers operating as social business

As a result of this insight, we will be working with CHs to build their understanding of social entrepreneurship through facilitated online courses and workshops at All Staff Trainings as well as to keep an open dialogue on how to move our learning centers towards solving broad social issues in their communities, beyond teaching English.

Legal status and Governance

Our learning centers are registered under various types of NGOs, businesses or associations, both formal and non-formal. The reason for this is that the local context varies from each country and so does the structure and size of each learning center. All but 2 centers are registered in some form.

Registration status

In terms of governance, 13 out of the 20 learning centers stated that they had a board of directors with anywhere from 1 to 10 board members. The average number of board members at each learning center is 4. Meetings take place regularly at centers although only 32% keep written minutes of their meetings. BOOKBRIDGE can work more closely with learning centers to understand better about board governance challenges and how to support learning centers to work effectively with their boards.

Demographics and support to marginalized students

Gender balance at our learning centers tilts more in favour of female students, with most centers in Mongolia reporting a 70%/30% female/male ratio. At other learning centers in Sri Lanka and Cambodia, the ratio is closer to even, but with a slight tendency for more female students.

Our learning centers teaches students of all ages from preschool programs targeting 3-year olds to adults. The majority report students in the 11-15 age bracket, with students aged 6-10 and 16-18 making up the second largest groups.

Age of students

42% of our learning centers report that less than 10% of their students come from very or extremely marginalized backgrounds. This indicates that the majority of the students at BOOKBRIDGE learning centers come from low-middle or higher income brackets as they can afford the course fees. 13 centers provide scholarships, stipends or other support for extremely poor students. They provide support, discounts or free classes for between 1 to 10 students, for a total of 81 students across our learning centers being supported to study. In the coming year, Friends of BOOKBRIDGE are trailing a Scholarship Program which will increase the number of students which learning centers can directly support through course fee sponsorships.

One area in which there is a clear weakness is in reaching out to students with disabilities. Doing this is important for quality as an inclusive and diverse student population opens the world to students, supports development of empathy and helps them to understand that diversity is a benefit for all. Only three learning centers reported having any students with disabilities for a total of 7 students across all BOOKBRIDGE learning centers.

Course Offerings

All of our learning centers focus on providing general English course with a handful providing exam preparation, especially in Mongolia where the focus on passing the University Entrance Exam is very strong for parents and students. 13 learning centers offer courses other than English as follows:

  • Mongolian script, Chess, Guitar, life skills, Math, Mongolian
  • World news, mathematics, life skills etc.
  • Life skills and free speaking course
  • Internet, Children class only
  • Chinese and hobby club
  • Chinese, Khmer and Italian
  • Khmer literacy for slow students in primary school
  • Teaching methodology
  • Preparation for the future career
  • Something related health such as well-being and yoga, other language courses
  • Japanese, Korean, IT, Life Skills
  • Find yourself, Journalism and photography
  • Mushroom Cultivation, Hospitality management, Business management, Finance and Accounting

In 2018, learning centers are interested in offering a variety of course such as IELTS, TOEFL, life skills, chess, Chinese, vegetable growing, online courses for adults, tourism and public speaking. We also asked CHs whether they teach any life skills at the learning centers and 10 centers they taught some life skills, but mostly informally. Some of the answers included:

  • Yes, I do. Especially how to recycle plastic waste with the purpose to reduce plastic littering in my country.
  • I offer communication skills, problem and solutions skills and learning skills etc.
  • How to make good friend and bad friend, how to provide own or friends from bad things, how to make decorations by felt material
  • I create a lot of things with my students, play many kinds of games and communicate with them personally like friend. One of my students told me that “You are not only an English teacher. You teach everything for us”. I liked these words and felt very happy.
  • Yes, but not really formal. We give them more than English by let them know and exercise how to be independent in the community, how to communicate with people and how to work with people.
  • Hygiene, cooking, healthy living, sports and volunteering. These are the skills everyone must have, so they will be added to our course in English.
  • No, we don’t have a specific topic for that, we just keep telling them about self-responsible and goals setting beside teaching English.
  • Decision making, planning, time management and leadership courses are very mandatory for youth. Also, parents are really interested to have them mentored.

Finally, some learning centers provide some form of mentoring as described below:

  • Yes, I do. For instance, before they graduate high school, I always have some meetings to illustrate what they have to do next, such as: choosing university course or which university which convenient for them and what job or how they do to help themselves, families and societies.
  • Yes, I offer the one on one consulting with some students who reported from his/her parents in regards personal behavior and learning.
  • Yes, this is the main work of mine for counselling the students, some has problem of studying or having relationship with girl or boys some students was looked down on in the school – long conversation choosing of major those who are graduating the high schools
  • Yes, we include it in the English session.
  • Yes, I am. I want girls to be strong enough for their current and future life. And they need to be more self-confidence. I will do something cool next year.
  • I am not skillful with that, I just used to share them with career experiences. that is very great if there is a person who could offer them about job or career counselling.
  • Find yourself – career guidance and motivation & goal setting

Finance and Accounting

15 out of the 20 CHs who completed the survey stated they are in charge of the finance and accounting at their learning center with 2 using an accountant and 3 using another option. Revenues and expenses are recorded in a variety of ways as indicated below.

Record of revenues and expenses
Record of revenues and expenses

As we can see, most use some form of computerized accounting system either through Excel or an accounting software. 18 out of 20 learning centers keep all receipts for expenses. The two who do not, work in government-based learning centers in Mongolia which operate differently than our social business model learning centers. 14 out of 20 learning centers have bank accounts.

9 CHs would like to improve their finance systems in the coming year and 9 CHs are interested in hosting a volunteer to help them to do this.

Most learning centers have someone from outside check their financials:

Who is checking the financials?
Who is checking the financials?

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