You could hear a pin drop in Kim’s fifth-grade classroom as her students signed their names in careful cursive onto their loan repayment contracts. They were getting ready to borrow $10 for each table group to start a small business and had just calculated that they would need to pay back this loan with 10% interest ($11 total). Their silence reflected awareness of the responsibility of taking out a loan as well as their apprehension about repayment.
Kim’s class began the One Hen Academy curriculum with an introduction to microfinance by reading One Hen: How one small loan made a big difference by Katie Smith-Milway. In this book, the main character, Kojo, uses a small loan to purchase a hen and then sells the eggs his hen lays and uses that money to buy more hens. Slowly, over many years, Kojo uses his hens and a bank loan to build a prosperous chicken farm. In addition to providing eggs to his community, Kojo also provides employment opportunities and loans money to villagers who wanted to start their own businesses.
The book is based on a true story and many of Kim’s students were inspired by what Kojo accomplished with such a small loan. Reading One Hen helped to introduce complex economics topics and gave students an example of an entrepreneur that did great things with very little.
One student, CeCe, was particularly inspired by videos about Mohammed Yunus and the part of the One Hen story where a big bank will not give Kojo a loan and he had to go to other banks before he found one that would lend him money.
“Getting a loan [is] really important for a business for starting it. And some banks say no because they’re not sure if you can pay it back. Other banks help people in the community. They’re helping the world to make it a better place.”
In project-based learning, authenticity is important. Having the Mega Minds business team actually take out a loan of $10 that they were responsible for paying back allowed them to experience the real-life financial responsibility.
“It felt great when we got our loan,” said Gaby, “I thought in my head we were ready and I knew we would not give up the first time.”
Other students had anxiety about borrowing money, and the experience opened their eyes to the risks involved in starting a business. Alaina reflected:
“[Before the One Hen program], I knew what the word ‘loan’ meant but … I didn’t think you had to pay it back. I thought it was going to be bad because I didn’t think we were going to make a lot of money to pay it back and I thought if we paid it back we wouldn’t have any more money.”
One goal of the One Hen project was to show students that borrowing money doesn’t have to be scary. The students began to see that getting a loan is a necessary step for entrepreneurs to start businesses. The One Hen storybook and lessons in the One Hen Academy curriculum showed the students that borrowing and lending money helps to grow economies and decrease poverty in nations like Ghana and Bangladesh by empowering entrepreneurs.
To determine just how much Kim’s class was learning, I gave all of the students pre- and post-assessments. On these assessments, students were asked to define loan and list the steps involved with starting a business. Mario’s definition of a loan on his pre-assessment was very simple:
“[A loan is] when you borrow something, mostly money.”
Although this definition was correct, on his post-assessment, Mario was able to give a much more detailed definition:
“A loan is when you go to a bank and ask for money that you can soon pay back.”
His post-assessment definition mentioned banks, lending, and loan repayment.
Reading about Kojo and learning about microfinance was just the first step in starting our own businesses. The Mega Minds had many more decisions to make, including what social need they wanted to address with their businesses, and what products to make to achieve that goal. And each group had $10 burning a hole in their pockets!
This is Part 2 of a blog series that describes the adventures Dr. Whitlock had working with a group of middle-school students in a One Hen program. Dr. Whitlock’s used her class observations, interactions and research to inform her PhD dissertation, One Hen: Teaching elementary-level economics for civic engagement. Click here to read the Part 1 of Dr. Whitlock’s blog series.