A Response to Pritzker and DiBella by Alyssa Davis

Maximizing Philanthropy for the Masses

Karen Pritzker and her colleague Jeanette DiBella sat before our Global Forum class. They spoke about two schools on opposite sides of the world that use the same educational model. Providence St. Mel (PSM) is located in Chicago and Jay Pritzker Academy (JPA) is in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Pritzker is the co-founder—along with her husband Daniel—of JPA and DiBella is JPA’s Chief Educational Officer. JPA is modeled after PSM because 100% of the high school graduates from the Chicago school have gone on to 4-year colleges for the last 25 years. Both schools serve under-privileged students who do not have access to the top universities, though the Cambodian students’ needs are more basic than those of PSM students. JPA is fulfilling not only educational needs for the students, but also basic human needs. For example, JPA needs to feed their students every day and teach them basic hygiene. Though it is nice and probably necessary to feed and “prep” the students before class begins, it shouldn’t be JPA’s responsibility, but rather the responsibility of Cambodian parents or the Cambodian government.

Pritzker and DiBella talked about JPA as a form of international education, but I think that JPA is also an international development project. JPA presents itself as an international college prep school with the goal to “create JPA graduates that will attend prestigious colleges and universities in the United States and beyond.” Yet as soon as JPA was set up in the poor developing country of Cambodia, it also became a form of international development, whether or not that was the Pritzkers’ intention. The goals of international development are different from the goals of international education. International development projects should be run by locals (or eventually run by locals), benefit the host country’s development, and support local culture and ideas. In order to truly help Cambodia’s development, projects should not rely on never-ending international involvement or support.

While JPA’s goal addresses their idea of a successful international school, it does not address the goals of international development. JPA imparts a Western standard of going to colleges in developed countries as students’ primary goal and roadmap to a better future. There is no guarantee that students who graduate from JPA will necessarily go back to their home country after college to support Cambodia’s development. If students do go back to Cambodia post-graduation, then what they learned in Western colleges may not necessarily align with what is good for Cambodia. JPA has not yet graduated any students, but if and when they do, it will not necessarily prove that JPA is a good form of international development.

I noticed during the presentation that Pritzker is critical of similar development efforts to her own—or at least aware of the philanthropic “competition.” At one point, Pritzker muttered something about Bill Gates and his unsuccessful small-schools initiative. “Good schools, not necessarily small schools,” she said. I believe that JPA can become a good model for international development through international education. JPA can apply their culture of high accountability towards the long-term goal of making JPA a Cambodian-led school. If JPA can then scale its “development through education” model with the Cambodian government, it could benefit Cambodian students around the country instead of the selected few.