Thursday, November 28, 2013

Education on $5 a Month

Need found. Filled. By self interested entrepreneurs (where most good things come from);
Most of the buildings in Machakos, the former capital of Kenya, are made of concrete, with neat fences, informal gardens, indoor plumbing, and electricity, however erratic. By contrast, the 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.
Using tried and true formulae;
Bridge’s CEO, a former Silicon Valley entrepreneur named Jay Kimmelman, compares his company to Starbucks and McDonald’s — organizations that offer a consistent experience no matter where in the world you encounter them.
 ....Tuition is just $5 per pupil per month. There are no student iPads, no science labs. Preschoolers work with clay or blocks; older children learn math with bottle caps and recycled egg crates. Often students write on Dickensian slate boards instead of paper. One of the teachers I met, “Ms. Elizabeth,” completed only high school, and the greatest technological firepower at her disposal was a decidedly analog yardstick. 
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. The schools themselves may be lo-fi, but Bridge’s back offices are very high tech. 
The organization is high tech, that is.
After graduating from Harvard in 1999 with a degree in computer science and electrical engineering, Kimmelman went to San Francisco and spent four years building Edusoft, a web-based student assessment platform that he sold to Houghton Mifflin for $20 million in 2003. Afterward, he and his girlfriend (now wife), Shannon May — another Harvard graduate, who was completing a PhD in anthropology from UC Berkeley — migrated to rural China, where they saw the punishing effects of poor primary education firsthand.
....She and Kimmelman found themselves strategizing about how to best help undereducated young people around the world. The winning idea — basic education as a business — sounds counterintuitive, but it was central to planning for the couple and their cofounder, Phil Frei. For parents hovering around $2 in income per day, a potentially transformative education for their kids was just one of many things they couldn’t afford. The demand, however, remains enormous — the global market for low-cost private education is $51 billion annually. To meet the demand, May says, “we drive the price point low enough so parents can become consumers.”
Keep the costs down, and the quality up.
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.” 
Take that, Lubienski and Lubienski.

[Noticed first by Cherokee Gothic]

1 comment:

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