Compassion’s Sponsorship Program helps children receive an education, but, as you read in our last article, Compassion centres aren’t schools. They complement formal education through curriculum that helps children grow up to be economically self-supporting. But Compassion also helps families pay for the enormous burden that formal education can be for a family in poverty.

Primary school

Compassion guarantees formal primary school education for all sponsored children, through at least the 6th grade. In many of the countries where Compassion serves, education is free. But the cost of school supplies, uniforms and fees puts education well out of the reach of families surviving on just a few dollars a day.

Many of the children sponsored through Compassion wouldn’t be in school if it weren’t for this support. In fact, this is one of the criteria our church partners look for when registering new children—they give priority to children who otherwise wouldn’t be in school. 

It’s hard to express how much this support means to families. Some parents, who have virtually nothing, will sell the few possessions they have to put one of their children in school. Many parents view education as insurance—if they can educate just one child, maybe that child can help lift them out of poverty.

Secondary school

Around the world, only 55 per cent of children attend secondary school, according to UNICEF. In some places, such as Africa, that number drops to less than 30 per cent. But nearly 98 per cent of the children in Compassion’s programs attend secondary school. That’s pretty amazing!

While Compassion guarantees formal primary school education for sponsored children, it doesn’t guarantee secondary school. There are a few reasons for this.

1. One is the reality of life in some of the poorest communities around the world. Sidney Musiyo, the Vice President of the Africa region for Compassion says, “The children we sponsor are the neediest in their communities. Some of them are slower learners for a number of reasons, such as the mother not eating enough while pregnant. To guarantee secondary school education wouldn’t be realistic because they don’t all make it to that level.”

According to Musiyo, in Kenya 600,000 students in grade 8 will take exams to determine who will go to secondary school. Only 300,000 will make it.

2. Another reason secondary school isn’t guaranteed is that it might not be the best option for all sponsored youth. Some youth have an interest in vocations like car repair that can best be learned through vocational training or apprenticeships. A mentor works through a life-planning tool with each student to set vocational goals and action steps to reach those goals.

How is secondary school paid for?

The costs of secondary school can vary greatly depending on the country and the type of school. Different types and levels of schools will have different fees, and the associated costs, such as books, will also vary greatly. (You might have read along with us about how the local context determines how our church partners use sponsorship funds.)

In some countries, sponsors’ dollars will go further toward education because other costs, such as food and medical care, are lower. In other countries with a higher cost of living or with fewer local resources available, funds for education won’t go as far.

In some cases, sponsorship is able to supplement secondary school fees and even some college education. When there aren’t enough funds for secondary school, some youth receive an annual grant to go toward secondary school expenses through interventions funded by donors. Often parents also help out with the cost of secondary school. Centre workers will also work to find local resources and scholarships to help youth attend secondary school.

What alternatives are there to secondary schools?

Centre workers ensure that youth who don’t progress to secondary school are receiving training in income-generating skills to become self-supporting. This might take the form of skills taught in the centre, such as baking, tailoring or computers. It might take the form of courses in vocational school based on the youth’s interests and skills. Or it might also take the form of an apprenticeship.

At the Compassion centre, youth also participate in curriculum that equips them to be self-supporting as adults. They learn skills such as money management, saving, starting a small business, and the skills needed to obtain and keep a job.

Whether youth take the course of formal education or vocational training, each is known and cared for by a centre worker who serves as a mentor. They advocate for the future of each youth and help them make choices and learn skills that will equip them to become responsible adults when they grow up.

Written by: Amber Van Schooneveld

Amber Van Schooneveld is the Managing Editor of Compassion International's blog.