Education Powered by the CrowdOctober 19th, 2016 by Hammam Radwan
Education empowers people, but not everyone can afford one.
There are many who understand its true value, however.
And many who would be happy to help others get an education – if they knew how.
In this era of digital, Skolafund have come up with an answer. And it involves the crowd…
Education – A Human Right
Some might say education is a gift. The United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) call education a ‘fundamental human right’ – essential for the exercise of all other human rights; something to which every person from every walk of life should have access.
Which is why it’s quite astounding that over 83% of Americans say they cannot afford to go to college. The issue of affordable education isn’t isolated to America of course, the international child sponsorship NGO Humanium reported that about 759 million adults worldwide are illiterate. Closer to home in Southeast Asia, the problem is just as serious.
Let’s take a look at Malaysia. Getting an education here isn’t cheap. In fact, one study suggests that Malaysia is the fifth most expensive place in the world for tertiary education, with Malaysian parents spending 55% of their salaries to put their kids through college.
Whilst our fees are pretty competitive according to global standards, stagnating wage growth relative to rising inflation make it hard for middle-income earners.
Of course, there are scholarships, but placements are limited. What’s more, scholarships favour those who have had enough of a head start to ace their grades and get selected.
Often socioeconomic background and the home environment have an important impact on academic performances, which only serves to perpetuate a system of unequal advantages.
For most young adults, getting a tertiary education means taking out a loan to pay off tuition fees. Most of those loans come from government institutions, such as the National Higher Education Fund Corporation’s PTPTN loans.
But as recent news reports have pointed out, despite the loan’s small interest rates, debt repayments are a problem. Just RM8 billion of RM54.6 billion worth of loans to Malaysian students disbursed since 1997 having been paid back according to some reports.
Being saddled with debt once you graduate isn’t ideal. And let’s be honest, a tertiary education doesn’t necessarily mean graduates get to escape the middle-class conundrum of disparate wages and inflation.
Failing to keep up with loan repayments however, can have serious consequences.
Aside from showing up on your credit ratings – which may then make it harder to obtain a housing loan, once blacklisted students may have trouble renewing passports when they want to leave the country. They may even face legal action. As of February 2016, 115,279 PTPTN borrowers have received court summons relating to defaults on payment.
Huh, Crowdfunding Education?
Many students confronted with financial realities turn to part-time work in order to make up tuition fees and living and study expenses. The irony of course is that this isn’t always conducive to getting the most out of the education they are working so hard to fund. Tiredness, a lack of study time and the sacrifice of a balanced work-study-social life can take its toll.
Sometimes, students take to social media to ask for financial help. One student, Tengku Syamil, observed this happen at the International Islamic University Malaysia where he was studying. What surprised him was the outpouring of generosity that followed
And that gave him an idea. Because essentially, this showed him two things: education is a topic people care about, and the public is willing to crowdfund individuals who have a touching or convincing case to make.
He and a friend, Syakir Hashim who was studying at the National University of Singapore had a discussion.
They asked themselves, what if we came up with a platform to give these students a voice so they could reach out to supportive people?
A platform that would allow the community to come together and crowdfund scholarships for deserving students.
Crowdfunded scholarships. It could work, why not?
That was the idea behind Skolafund.com, a trusted party that connects students who need money to pursue or complete their higher education to people willing or happy to fund them.
Except instead of an informal, ad-hoc process vulnerable to abuse, they would create a digital platform and curate the process.
Only genuine cases – socioeconomic status and university or college placements would be cross-checked – should be allowed to list on the site and start campaigns asking the crowd to fund their educational needs.
And of course, a crowdfunding site dedicated to funding educations would increase the efficiency of those with an interest in supporting education – no more haphazard pleas or donations on social media.
Tengku Syamil and Syakir Hashim went ahead with their idea.
Skolafund is a donation-based crowdfunding platform that allows deserving students to initiate online campaigns to build up scholarship funds – from the crowd.
Anyone with a genuine financial need can create a campaign, and anyone can donate – small or big amounts; bringing the power and generosity of the crowd to the cause of education.
Part of the vision behind Skolafund is to make full use of online digital platforms in today’s hyper-connected society to fully leverage on social networks to source for scholarship funds.
Anyone can watch the video and personal introduction behind a scholarship campaign (uploaded by students that have been vetted by Skolafund to either in the midst of or who have genuinely applied for a college placement) to donate to someone’s scholarship campaign.
One of the things that make Skolafund unique is that they solve the issue of trust in online transactions. Instead of responding to a complete stranger on the internet who says they need money for their studies, donors have peace of mind when funding students through Skolafund.
Any money donated to a campaign is held in escrow, and only once the full tuition fee or funding request has been reached will anything be disbursed – paid by Skolafund directly to the education institution itself.
Philanthropists also have the option of setting up their own funds on the site, which makes it an easy solution to companies who are interested in getting involved in educational causes as part of their CSR, but who may lack the administrative know-how or resources to embark on such a project.
So far so good!
Today, there are some 35 students on Skolafund.
Rather than having a loan that will take years to pay off, some of these achieving students are learning how to sell themselves to the public, their friends, and their family.
Often, a small amount of money goes a long way. You don’t need to donate much to make a difference to someone’s life. If 30 people donate RM30 to a campaign, the resulting RM900 could be the difference between a student completing their last semester or not.
And that’s the beauty of crowdfunding. Anyone can show their support with modest amounts, whatever they can spare. Even just RM 10!
With affordability being the issue, and scholarships being far and few between, it seems unfair that the only way to make education accessible is to drown students in crippling debt even before they get a job.
So why not take the concept of scholarships and make them more accessible, through powering them through the crowd?
Education empowers, gives us the knowledge and context to better understand, navigate, participate and innovate in the world around us.
Crowdfunding education is a way for people to invest in communities. Us, responding to individuals stories and helping create a better-educated citizenry of the future.
And what’s great about Skolafund? You get to see what a difference your donation makes, via reports curated by the platform and delivered to you at the end of the semester, showing how the student performed on his exams.
Can crowdfunding make education more accessible?
It already is. Skolafund has achieved some amazing milestones to date; after almost a year in business, they have over RM 400,000 in pledges.
It’s very exciting to know that they have achieved these results, and as a member of the public, as a retail investor, an angel investor, or even an institutional investor, you now can be a part of Skolafund and their vision: to make education accessible for everyone!