Despite the king’s ransom which is demanded by some schools in the country, most of these institutions are traditionally (and legally) regarded as non-profit organizations. The most prestigious and expensive of what we call private schools have historically been set up as vanity projects by some wealthy individuals or as vehicles for particular ideologies by some groups and organizations. In most of these cases, the monies which students are charged are put right back into these schools. It is only in the last few decades or so that schools have cropped up which keep as close, if not closer eyes on their bottom lines as they do their pass rates.
Like all business enterprises, these institutions are established to meet unaddressed and under-addressed needs in their target markets. A large portion of these schools evolved from crash (or extra lesson) programmes established by unemployed teachers or university graduates. These schools exploded during the early 2010s when stable currencies, rising standards of living and renewed confidence in formal employment coincided with the poor pass rates which were characteristic of that time. Because of these origins they tend to cater to either adult learners or students who have failed at their previous ordinary level exam sittings. If the jerkily rising pass rates since then are anything to go by (coupled with the sudden economic downturn over the last four years), then these schools’ primary market of underperforming students is set to dwindle.
In this piece, I am going to look into how the increasing academic fortunes of students enrolled in traditional schools could have an opposite effect on the financial fortunes of these fledgling institutions. These institutions will definitely need to improve their offers as they will need to compete head-on with traditional schools if they want to improve their chances of survival as we head into a new decade.
Offer more options and flexibility than traditional schools
There was a time when a child’s career decisions where only getting second-guessed by overbearing parents at home. Nowadays schools are interfering in their pupil’s subject choices to an extent which I frankly feel should be made illegal since these are the same subjects that help in determining that child’s future career path.
As parents, authorities and communities put more pressure on school heads to increase pass rates, they do so not by improving the quality of instruction and resources at their schools but rather by resorting to a variety of measures most of which largely do not take the students’ choices or interests into consideration. One of the oldest of these strategies is simply limiting admittance to the most capable students in the first place. This has the effect of further increasing the pass rate of the school in question which in turn creates even more demand for places. These for-profit colleges can increase their own enrolment by actually developing better learning environments and providing better resources to improve the quality of the education they offer instead of trying to coast on the children’s abilities.
In the same vein of trying to hack their way to better pass rates, an even larger number of schools respond to lower pass rates in a given subject by enforcing an artificially lower student-teacher ratio. This means completely prohibiting the majority of students from registering for or writing certain subjects. Subjects like the physical sciences are therefore virtually impossible to register for in a lot of schools. These for-profit colleges can cash in on this injustice by not only offering these subjects which are in high demand in the modern world but also limiting their interference in students’ academic choices to professional career guidance services.
(This market of disgruntled students is not even limited to the Ordinary level only, schools are now going so far as to change the A-level subject combinations of students who have already been offered and accepted places because of different combinations).
Focus on Science and Mathematics
While on average pass rates may be increasing, the demand for extra lessons in science, maths and English is unlikely to wane. Whereas students may cut their losses with the other subjects that they fail, these three are usually required by a lot of employers and even more tertiary institutions. By allocating more resources to these and developing reputations for higher pass rates in them, for-profit colleges can weather the lower intakes of students seeking redemption that would be the result of increasing national pass rates.
Increased A-level enrolments
Despite what various pieces of wisdom circulating on social media may try to convince us, education generally opens up more opportunities. Even though most employers demand five O-level passes by default, the ordinary level certificate is not very competitive in a country which has fuel attendants with degrees. Apparently even sixteen-year-olds know this as the numbers of students who enrol for advanced level places have been steadily increasing over the years. This means that we will also see more for-profit colleges offering A-level places instead of limiting themselves to O-levels.