McDonald’s and other fast food chains prescribe to franchise owners exactly how to cook the meat and set up the menu. Now a Silicon Valley entrepreneur is looking to make the same model work in a very different setting: schools in the developing world.
Bridge International Academies has set up hundreds of “schools in a box” in Kenya, providing basic, dependable schooling where local institutions have failed. By 2015, it wants to enroll half a million students in 30 countries; by 2025, perhaps 10 million students.
Dayo Olopade explains the model in Wired. Bridge charges $5 a month for a highly structured experience, where teachers follow a minutely prescribed curriculum and the emphasis is on results and accountability. “We’ve systematized every aspect of how you run a school,” says founder Jay Kimmelman. “How you manage it. How you interact with parents. How you teach. How you check on school managers, and how you support them.”
Bridge has a sophisticated system behind-the-scenes, Olopade writes. For example, it tracks how well students are learning, and if teachers turn up for class on time. But the learning itself is relatively low-tech. Many of the schools (there are 212 so far) are little more than plywood frames and corrugated roofs, and the blackboards are traditional. Bridge is not some give-every-child-a-laptop concept. “They can be sitting under a tree, so long as they’re getting educated–that’s what matters,” Kimmelman says.
Instead of fancy tools, Bridge offers a system built on easy replication: a template for setting up schools cheaply, enrolling children seamlessly, hiring instructors, creating a curriculum, and making sure children learn it.
It’s an idea with the backing of Bill Gates and Khosla Ventures, and it has already gotten the Harvard Business School case study treatment. But it’s not without its critics, as NPR notes. Some educators bristle at the by-rote teaching, and that Bridge is firmly a for-profit business.
In the last decade, several African nations have eliminated fees, hoping to drive up enrollment. But standards haven’t necessarily improved. Teachers remain “underpaid and undertrained” and dropout rates are often still high. In Ghana, 5.4 million students enroll in primary school, but only 730,000 make it to high school, for example.
Wired writes that Bridge offers something new and refreshing:
Bridge schools force an expanded vision of both schools and markets in Africa. And for parents and students in the least served parts of the world, this simple, scalable, and accountable model has proved itself worthy of its modest tuition.