One of Absolute Return for Kids’ (ARK) main targets has always been education in the UK; now, they are on the brink of a pioneering expansion into Africa.
An early sponsor of the government’s city academies scheme, the charity, founded by Arki Busson, has taken over a number of struggling schools in the UK and turned them into high-performing primary and secondary schools.
Eleven academies in London, Birmingham and Portsmouth teach 6,400 children and admit around 1,500 pupils every year. Their intervention in these once poorly performing schools is paying off: in GCSEs last year, 61 per cent of pupils achieved at least five A*-C grades, up from 19 per cent before ARK took over the schools. Now the charity is setting its sights further afield and looking to transfer the model to Uganda.
In Africa, two out of three children are denied the opportunity to attend secondary school because of the cost, or because there is too much demand for places. ARK, in association with PEAS (Promoting Equality in African Schools), is planning to open ten secondary schools in Uganda over the next three years, educating 21,500 pupils.
By means of this ambitious programme the charity hopes to harness the latent power of Africa, which is home to six of the world’s ten fastest-growing economies. As ARK CEO Nick Jenkins says: ‘With Africa’s economies growing at an unprecedented rate, the opportunities for its children are immense. We want more children to reap the benefits of this growth and realise their potential.’
In Uganda, ARK will concentrate especially on helping young women out of poverty and subjugation, a project in which the role of secondary education is vital. Ugandan girls with a secondary education are three times less likely to contract HIV, and children born to educated mothers are more than twice as likely to survive beyond the age of five.
But the absolute return ARK strives to achieve for disadvantaged children is not just won by a focus on education: health and child protection are also crucial. In both these areas, the charity is also doing pioneering work in some of the world’s most impoverished locations.
In January it launched the first diarrhoea programme in sub-Saharan Africa, in Zambia, which will ensure that 750,000 children are vaccinated against one of the most lethal causes of the disease: rotavirus. And it’s not stopping there: it’s training 560 front-line health workers at a facility in Zambia to work with local communities through theatre and peer-to-peer education, and the charity hopes to improve the welfare and prospects of children across the continent.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Support for ARK’s schools is always needed. Funds are welcome for both the UK and Ugandan schools, as are expertise and business acumen for the UK schools, whether in the form of sitting on governing boards or giving talks or seminars on business in the classroom.
Photograph courtesy PEAS