zaya schools map

Zaya Schools

Founded by: Neil D'Souza in 2012 (status change to private company in 2013) Location: Mumbai, India

Company Description:

Providing a full school operating system for low cost private schools in India. Zaya offers, Personalized learning content, teacher training, curriculum design and support services to schools to implement a blended model for Math, Science and English.

Number of students this year: 60,000


  • 2,000 teachers trained
  • 1.8 million hours of online learning courses delivered
  • Gray Matter India (GMI) study found Zaya students are approaching grade level 1.5x faster than their peers
  • 90% of schools report increase in student engagement and outcomes

What’s to come in 2017

  • Increase distribution and reach of English Duniya, Zaya's English language learning app, both inside and outside of schools
spark schools map

Spark Schools

Founded by: Stacey Brewer and Ryan Harrison in 2013 Location: South Africa

Network of primary schools that use a blended learning model with adaptive technology and personalized learning, combined with high-quality teachers.

Number of students this year: 2,039


  • Grade-3 students scored average of 71% on literacy, outperforming most high-fee private schools.
  • More than 90% of students in youngest grade are on track to reach 1.5 years of learnings in math and literacy in the first year.

What’s to come in 2017

  • Completion of a 3rd party evaluation of SPARK students’ performance on an international exam, compared to peers.
omega schools map

Omega Schools

Location: Ghana

Network of private schools that offer an affordable education through an innovative “pay-as-you-learn” model - with specialized curriculum, assessment, technology and management modules.

Number of students this year: 15,532

What’s to come in 2017

  • Omega Schools will refine its newly debuted reading enrichment program.
apec schools map

Apec Schools

Location: Manila, Philippines

Chain of affordable secondary schools that uses an innovative curriculum and immersive English-language environment to help students build life skills and become more employable.

apec schools map


Founded by: Akshay Saxena & Krishna Ramkumar Location: India

Science and math education company that supports low-income high-school students, with a focus on college entrance exams

Number of students this year: 2,570


  • 113 Avanti students received admission into top engineering colleges in India in 2016
  • 1 out of 3 students (35%) cleared the JEE Mains, the most widespread engineering entrance exam with a national pass rate of ~10%
  • Launched a Youtube channel that has received over 600,000 views

What’s to come in 2017

  • All Avanti centers (58+) will become fully technology-enabled, with an app available to students at home and live testing on tablets with analysis in the classroom
experifun map


Founded by: Rakesh Kumar, Vivek Pandey in 2013 Location: Mumbai & New Delhi, India

Low-cost, interactive classroom kits to make science more fun and engaging

Growth Rate: From FY13 to FY15, revenues are on track for 300% compound annual growth rate and schools served have increased from 19 to 150+.

Number of students this year: ~20,000 students in Experifun-served schools


  • In a 2015, 95% of teachers surveyed reported using the Experifun’s “inClass” kits to supplement their instruction.
  • 80% of teachers who use the product reported being happy using it in the classroom; many observing that students pay more attention in science class when the kits are being used.

What’s to come in 2016

  • Next school year, Experifun plans to conduct third-party assessments in schools to measure the impact of the “inClass” kits on learner interest in science and understanding of core science concepts. They will continue to track their learner demographics to ensure their products are being used in the affordable school segment.
sudiksha map


Founded by: Naveen Kumar in 2011 Location: Hyderabad, India

Network of low-fee preschools across India, which help nurtures curiosity and builds confidence in young children

Growth Rate: FY13 to FY14, revenues grew 96% and are on track to grow again; students served has more than doubled.

Number of students this year: 796


  • Internal assessments show 82% of upper-kindergarten students achieved an “Outstanding” grade across language, numerical, and social skills. As students spend more time in Sudiksha schools, average class performance increases linearly (i.e, average performance increases from nursery to lower-kindergarten to upper-kindergarten).

What’s to come in 2016

  • Next school year, Sudiksha plans to conduct more robust external assessments of student performance within their schools and will evaluate whether Sudiksha graduates perform better than other students when starting formal schooling. They will also expand their centers and franchises into new cities.
lekki map


Founded by: Bunmi Oyinsan in 2014 Location: Lagos, Nigeria

Chain of private schools that provides quality, low-cost education for students from economically disadvantaged families across Nigeria

Growth Rate: N/A (first year in operation)

karadi map

Karadi Path

Founded by: CP Viswanath in 2011 Location: India

Education company that provides schools with a proprietary curriculum including multi-media materials and training, designed to accelerate the acquisition of English-language skills.

Number of students this year: 250,000 students


  • Karadi Path classes were found to be significantly more productive than traditional English classes in improving listening, reading, and speaking. An impact assessment covering over 800 students showed that Karadi Path users demonstrated twice as much improvement than non-users with just 20% extra instructional time.

What’s to come in 2017

  • Karadi Path will launch a direct-to-consumer product that will allow students to experience the immersive, interactive Karadi Path methodology outside the classroom
  • Karadi Path will launch both a third-party efficacy study in a subset of Karadi Path classes to determine the efficacy as well as a set of assessments to demonstrate to teachers and principals students learning paths
Bridge Academies map

Bridge Academies

Founded by: Jay Kimmelman, in 2008 Location: Nairobi, Kenya (headquarters)

Network of low-cost private schools across Kenya and Uganda, which leverages technology (eg, smartphones and tablets), as well as an innovative teacher training modules


  • Bridge pupils outperform their peers in neighbourhood schools. The difference in tests scores translate into over 250 additional days of learning.

PALF Annual Letter and Update 2016

Intro Letters

PALF Annual Letter and Update 2016

PALF has been investing now for almost five years. Each year we pull back another layer of complexity in our markets and leap forward. This past year was no different. In 2016, our markets continued to grow rapidly and, with them, our portfolio companies have also significantly expanded. We are impacting more learners at a deeper level than ever before.

Let me share one story with you that illustrates the depth and growth of our portfolio in 2016. In September I visited SPARK Schools, our portfolio company who recently closed a a $9M series B. Oliver, SPARK’s Blended Learning Lead, gave me a tour of one of SPARK’s new school buildings located in Midrand, just outside of Johannesburg. The school had been converted from a seedy night club into a brightly decorated, vibrant campus. We visited the learning lab – the computer lab where SPARK scholars spend 25% of the school day. There, Oliver introduced me to the Blended Learning Facilitator, Lucky. Last year, Lucky was a SPARK groundskeeper responsible for maintaining the school’s facilities; he was reliable, sharp and willing to learn. So, SPARK promoted him to assistant lab facilitator, and he completed training to prepare him for the new role. This wasn’t unique at SPARK – many people across the organization have been trained and promoted. No one has fixed skills and capabilities. Today, Lucky is able to dedicate his passion toward ensuring that students are able to seamlessly engage with their online materials, which is a critical part of their learning. For any education company to be truly great, the culture of learning has to be deeply embedded into the DNA of the company – everyone has to be learning constantly. One of the greatest signs of a learning organization with a dynamic culture is when board members are taken around the company by a competent and trusted team member with no oversight from senior management.

Students at SPARK Midrand gathering before school begins

This story is not the exception across our portfolio companies – it’s a reflection of our carefully selected entrepreneurs who are driven by the belief in the transformative power of learning and financial returns that come from scaling.

Our portfolio companies drove our success in 2016:

  • Reached over 450,000 learners in 7 countries
  • Demonstrated efficacy through third party executed assessments
  • Average revenue growth of 140% in US$ across the portfolio
  • Partnered with government education systems in Liberia, South Africa, India, and the Philippines
  • Secured follow on investments for further growth – SPARK, APEC, Avanti, and Sudiksha
  • Expanded to Indonesia with our investment in HarukaEdu
  • Recognized internationally including in Unreasonable’s Project Literacy and in The Economist

Our talented team has supported our portfolio and the sector in 2016:

  • Deepened our measurement of learning outcomes and improved reporting
  • Co-hosted the first Global Schools Forum – with participation of over 30 organizations
  • Expanded to new sectors, business models and geography by closing our investment in HarukaEdu – the online courseware company that helps universities in Indonesia deliver high quality courses flexibly and at an affordable price
  • Held a summit in Bangkok where we hosted over 20 companies
  • Hosted 10 fellows who drove improvements across our portfolio – including helping to launch an English enrichment program at Omega Schools
  • Published over 10+ blogs and knowledge pieces including a guide to affordable private schools for entrepreneurs and investors, examples of how to use teaching resources more effectively, and the investment opportunities currently available in higher education
  • Contributed to global education investing gatherings including Lemann Foundation’s Start-Ed in Brazil, Education Innovation Conference in Kenya, IFC Education in Hong Kong, Harvard Business School in Boston, IPADE in Mexico, Kaizen Education Symposium in Dubai, Edtech Asia in Bangkok, Edtech X Asia in Singapore, SXSWedu in Austin among others

Our 2017 big trends

It is clear, now more than ever, that emerging market education is on the verge of transformation. We see several trends for the next year:

  1. Governments will seek to establish more public private partnership models with school chains and school management organizations like we’ve seen in Liberia, Pakistan, and the Philippines. Students in the Philippines are now attending 11th and 12th grade for the first time. Expanding school for an additional two years has created an educational gap that is being filled by quality affordable private schools; this is only possible due to the partnership with the government to provide students with vouchers to attend the school most appropriate for their situation. Liberia is seeing a similar symbiotic relation between private school operators and governments with the expansion of affordable private schools to fill the tremendous education shortages caused by insufficient public education. These stories are becoming more familiar all around the world as governments begin to experiment with choice and competition models – they are seeking higher learning outcomes for a more affordable cost.
  2. Demand for quality online higher education will surge and providers who can deliver programs with strong qualifications and a trusted brand will flourish. Across emerging markets young people realize that they need more qualifications and credentials to be successful in the job market. They seek university degrees but are often met with short supply, due to the limited number and incredibly high prices of brick-and-mortar universities.
  3. English is seen as the key to the global middle class, so schools, higher education options, and standalone products that can demonstrate an ability to rapidly improve students’ English skills are highly prized. English as the medium of teaching is cited as the number one attraction factor for APEC schools. On the other side of the spectrum, Karadi Path’s English language learning pedagogy doesn't just resonate with the hundreds of thousands of students using it, but also with teachers who are interested in speaking English better themselves.
  4. Technology will drive cost efficiency and enable strong learning models. It is not an end in itself. As we’ve seen with HarukaEdu in Indonesia, using internet enabled courses of existing respected university programs has extended reach and scale of a course without compromising quality.

These are just a few of the macro trends that we see across emerging market education systems. Systems are ripe for change in 2017 and will be led by consumer demand and government openness to innovative solutions.

Our 2017 priorities. We are excited for another year to build and strengthen our portfolio. We are nothing without our entrepreneurs and strong management teams. Our priority is first and foremost to them.

  • Support our portfolio companies to flourish by building deep trust-based relationships with our entrepreneurs
  • Diversify our investments in asset light business models – increasingly technology enabled solutions and those that capitalize on the big trends we’ve identified
  • Further the conversations around efficacy – launch our efficacy website, publish a guide about how we measure efficacy and how it’s important to business growth and financial returns
  • Drive potential deals in our pipeline into executed deals
  • Strengthen our work with governments to show how our companies can help them jointly solve their challenges

A lot was accomplished in 2016 and we still have a long way to go in our relentless pursuit of growth and quality education. Thank you to our portfolio companies, co-investors, partners, parents and students. We look forward to learning and growing with you in a prosperous 2017!

Katelyn Donnelly

Managing Director

Pearson Affordable Learning Fund