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Improvements Needed

Since 1995, the Phelex Foundation has established more than 30 projects in elementary and middle schools in helping rural children complete their basic schooling. We discovered some common problems in the process of project management. The followings are some of the areas that need improvements based on our experiences:

1. Regulated Accounting

The accountants for the schools are mostly teachers, who have no knowledge of professional accounting. Many schools do not know how to make a financial report, which in many cases cannot reflect the project reality. In order to solve the problem, the Phelex Foundation held a training workshop in August 2000. After that the Foundation staff went to different schools to demonstrate how to fill different forms and explain some of the questions the local schools had. It seems that the situation has improved but the problems still exist.

2. Effectiveness of Community Councils

Community Council is responsible for distribution of tuition assistance money. It makes sure the fairness and transparency of the distribution process. It also supervises school project and project accounting. Community Council plays an important role in assuring the success of each school project. However, some council systems are not working well. The reasons can be the following: 1) The school is not taking community council seriously, and it simply gets the council chairman's signature without going through council discussions; 2) Individual council members does not realize the importance of his/her responsibilities so they won't actively participate; and 3) In some areas, local officials are used to giving instructions without listening to different opinions.

3. Shortage of Workers

It is very common that a project is desperately in need of workers. Rural school has few teachers in the first place. They have to teach during the day and work on the project after school in their spare time. Some parents are afraid that this may affect the quality of teaching. In addition, teachers don't necessarily have the knowledge of running an agricultural project. When the project is not working well, there will be no hope for tuition assistance money.

4. Product Market

Usually schools do not have professionals to market its product, which could not compete in the market when the sales channels are limited. In Hubei Province, Yuan'an and Ma'ao Elementary Schools encountered the same problem of not being able to sell the tea that they grew. Dangyang Hope Elementary School could not sell all of the mushrooms they produced. As a result, the goal of raising tuition assistance money could not be achieved.

5. Product's Vulnerability

Because of the relative small production from the school run project, the product itself is often vulnerable to natural disasters such as drought, flood and frost. For example, in Shananxi, half of the date trees were lost to drought; while in Guangdong, the herbal plants were mostly damaged by frost.

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