Bridge International Academies, which is backed by Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, Microsoft Corp’s Bill Gates, the World Bank’s private-sector arm IFC and the UK’s DFID, is in advanced stages of scripting an India entry strategy.
Bridge, which also counts the UK-based education company Pearson PLC among its stakeholders, runs around 400 primary schools in Kenya and Uganda, where it charges about $6 — or under Rs 400 — on average from children every month.
Bridge’s low-cost but for-profit education model uses standardised buildings and scripted lessons that teachers deliver using hand-held tablets that are linked to a central system, something that saves on teacher training and monitoring.
While in Africa, an independent evaluation is underway to decide whether such regimented teaching is better than the alternative — underqualified teachers who teach in ill-equipped classrooms where absenteeism is rampant — India faces an almost similar challenge across much of its rural hinterland.
Bridge is looking to launch in India with the 2016-17 academic year as target, a Bridge International Academies spokesperson said in an email response to queries sent by The Indian Express. She confirmed that Bridge has hired “its first few initial team members under our country lead, and will continue to rapidly build our team over the next three months”.
Bridge, she said, has “looked to the needs of children in India, and believe that we can be a partner to parents and to local, state and national leaders in ensuring that all children in India receive the educational foundation they need to achieve their own dreams”. The African education experiment is not just restricted to Bridge Academies and Kenya. Omega Schools, a privately held chain of affordable, for-profit schools that also counts Pearson as among its stakeholders, has about 40 institutions operational in Ghana.
Much of this funding by Pearson comes from its £10-million fund that it has floated for investing in private schools in Africa and Asia aimed at providing affordable education for poor children. The first investment from this fund found its way into Omega schools, which was founded by Ken Donkoh, a Ghanaian entrepreneur, and James Tooley, a professor of education policy at Newcastle University.
Bridge’s growth target aims at reaching 10,000,000 children globally, of which most are not receiving the education they need to transcend the bound of poverty.
“In Kenya, Uganda, and Nigeria, there is no legal concern about how schools are financed, and the majority of schools are structured as for-profit entities. In India, schools are established as non-profit entities that purchase services, such as teacher training, technology, textbooks, in-service teacher professional development, financial management, and student material provision,” the spokesperson said.
On the criticism levelled in Kenya that Bridge International’s hand-held tablet teaching model and scripted instruction methodology is regimented and offers limits to classroom interactions, alongside concerns about many Bridge teachers in east Africa being uncertified, the spokesperson maintained that that the teacher guidelines at Bridge “aid, rather than limit, classroom interactions”. In India, Pearson is already involved in managing schools that they neither own or run. In these schools, Pearson’s school management system includes the hiring and training of teachers, decisions on the school lesson plan, planning the infrastructure for sports and even the transportation plan. It is managing 28 schools, with about 30,000 students, spread across the country across big cities such as Bangalore, Kolkata and Hyderabad to smaller cities such as Pune, Bhopal and Jaipur.