By Katie Trimm
Last year, Mark Zuckerberg announced a $10 million investment in Bridge International Academies, a startup based in Nairobi, Kenya that takes a for-profit approach to schooling in Africa. Lauding the company’s “really impressive model,” Zuckerberg is one of many famous investors supporting the company that charges about $6 a month per student for school and whose motto reads “Knowledge for all.”
Central to the Bridge model is standardization. Teachers across Bridge’s 400 schools read identical lessons from tablets or smartphones and send data to “Master Teachers” who develop curricula. According to the Bridge website, a for-profit approach allows Bridge to provide quality education to children in families who would be unable to afford an education otherwise. In nations like Kenya, low teacher turnout rates and the ubiquity of bribes in public education make companies like Bridge an appealing option. A partner of the World Bank promised the company a $10 million investment in 2014. World Bank President Jim Yong Kim praised the company for its students’ impressive reading level in a speech in Washington, DC last year.
However, critics of the Bridge method question the whether it denies primary students the right to free education. The Right to Education Project, founded by the former UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education, released a report condemning for-profit education last October, stating that privatized education in Kenya creates “a two-tier, segregated education system” that relegates poorer children to low-quality public schools. The report notes the rise of privatized schools correlated with a decrease in public school funding in low-income areas in Kenya.
While investors like Zuckerberg may be decided on the matter, as Bridge International Academies plans to expand to reach 10,000,000 children by 2025, the impact of this approach on unreached children seeking an education remains uncertain.
Katie Trimm is a sophomore in Berkeley College. She can be contacted at email@example.com.