BeBetter Education is a registered non-governmental organization that provides financial education to children and young adults in China. In preparation for our meeting, we read BeBetter’s annual report. Throughout the report, I noticed language that echoed what I am used to reading from American organizations aligned with the “educational reform” movement. For example, the curriculum encourages students to direct their own learning rather than utilizing a traditional teacher-centric learning model. The curriculum emphasizes activities like games and student-written plays and hosts a competition for the best play each year. Another similarity is BeBetter’s promotion of entrepreneurship by encouraging students to create original handmade goods to sell. Given these parallels, I was not surprised when, at the beginning of the meeting, their director explained that BeBetter uses an international curriculum that has been adapted for the Chinese context.
BeBetter has worked in China for approximately ten years and has increased the scope of their work substantially over that time. Today, BeBetter works in schools in 9 cities across China. When BeBetter started, their operating model was to have BeBetter staff attend intensive training on a complex curriculum and then directly teach the lessons to students. Although BeBetter found this model to be effective, it limited the number of students that could be reached each year. In order to increase their impact, in 2013 BeBetter greatly simplified the curriculum and adopted a train-the-trainer model in which several teachers within a school are trained on the simpler curriculum and those teachers subsequently train the rest of the school staff on the curriculum. Through this change in their delivery model, BeBetter has been able to reach more students in a single year than in the five previous years combined. BeBetter’s decision to adopt a train-the-trainer model led me to wonder if that had effected the efficacy of their program. Had they noticed that an erosion in program quality or fidelity to their model as they significantly increased their scale? BeBetter representatives said no, they felt that simplifying their curriculum had actually made it easier for teachers to deliver it and that they are continuously evaluating their program both for internal information as well as at the request of government partners and corporate funders. I found the story of BeBetter’s expansion to be very interesting, particularly the ability of a simple curriculum to have large effects on student attitudes and habits. Although it is clear that BeBetter is doing important work, I would have liked to learn more about their evaluation process as well as internal goals surrounding the program’s impact. BeBetter’s director told us that about 40% of students who go through the program report changes in both attitudes and habits toward financial responsibility and time management. I wonder if BeBetter sees that as effective, or, if not, what their goals are for the future, and how they will change their delivery model to get there. I really enjoyed the opportunity to see BeBetter’s facility and meet with their executive director and staff. Scaling non-profit organizations is a substantial topic in the Ford School’s public management course, and it was a great learning experience to hear the story of an organization’s experience with this process.
— Catherine Derbes