I wrote a series of posts last year about learning in Africa. I was curious how new technologies could transform a continent that isn’t encumbered by existing established public education. I therefore was pretty interested in this article about that exact topic.
[T]he local schoolhouse of Bridge International Academies is beyond basic: walls of corrugated tin, a plywood frame. There’s no electrical wiring in sight. A pair of latrines adjoin an open courtyard that doubles as a lunch and recreation area. A few young children loll on the patchy grass, engaged in unhurried conversation.
Yet this school is by no means a failure — in fact, it recently passed a 700-point inspection and is running exactly as planned. This is just one of 212 Bridge Academies that have opened in Kenya during the past four years. Bridge’s “schools in a box” spring up seemingly overnight: In January of 2013, the company launched 51 schools at once, while in September it opened another 78. Bridge now educates roughly 50,000 students in Kenya every day, and its global aspirations may transform the entire project of education for poor youth around the world.
So basically they are creating school franchises. There is a key twist though: the management of the school is actually remote.
The schools themselves may be lo-fi, but Bridge’s back offices are very high tech.
Before launch, Bridge invested $15 million in systems development, teacher training, and in-class materials, and built an operations template for every school. (Bill Gates is an investor in the company, as are Khosla Ventures and some other traditional venture capital firms.) All student testing and teacher evaluations would filter through Android-based software monitored by engineers and assessors at Bridge headquarters.
Bridge’s corporate system allows them to nearly eliminate overhead. The work typically done by secretaries, bursars, principals, and other administrators can be handled remotely, leaving only three nonteaching staff at each school. Parents can transfer fees directly from their mobile phones, an innovation that builds on Kenya’s particularly robust mobile money platforms. (Bridge parents on average make $1.23 per day, but 94 percent of them own mobile phones.) If a teacher fails to open or sync a digital lesson within 15 minutes of its scheduled start, someone from headquarters will take note and call the school to see what’s up. If a teacher is absent, Bridge keeps a paid pool of substitutes standing by. “Our commitment to our parents is that their children will be taught,” May says. “So we invest in, essentially, lots of plan Bs.”
Wait, this seems like a familiar idea… Take the administration of the school and the instructional design functions and split them off site to the US. To separate out what was organized on physical proximity lines and reorganize them by intellectual needs. Yes, you know I had to go there: this is a great example of Disaggregation!
Of course there is something I don’t like about it: every student is getting exactly the same curriculum. Still, it’s a foundation for early grades. Perhaps this model can be applied to more of a Montessori style school? I wrote one of my favorite blog posts last year called The Empty School which seems to apply to this too.
Even so, it’s a great way to reduce the cost of school and to provide it into an area that would have a great deal of trouble doing it themselves.