Bridge International Academy is a for-profit chain of low-cost private schools which is proliferating like wildfire in Africa and Asia. Started in 2009 by an anthropology graduate student, there are now 400 Bridge Academies in Kenya, Uganda and Liberia. And more are opening in India. Their mission: to education 10 million of the "bottom billion"—children of families who live on less than $2 a day.
Backed by a consortium of high-profile investors—Bill Gates, education publishing behemoth Pearson, Mark Zuckerberg and Pierre Omidiyar—BIA founders projects the chain will be earning $500 million a year by 2025.
So what is the BIA model? Everything about the school is standardized so opening a new academy is a bit like opening a Starbucks. Enrollment, attendance, payment, grading is 100 percent automated— a system most large urban public school districts in the US would envy.
What happens inside the classroom would make most Western parents wary, though. The "instructors" are poorly educated villagers who are given six weeks of training on how to "teach" BIA's standardized and scripted curriculum. The exact same lessons and assignments are delivered, via tablet, at exactly the same pace to every classroom, in every school in every country in the chain every day. Classes are large—between 40 and 70 children in each one. Tuition is $6 a month, which is not a small amount of money by local standards. Instructors are paid about half of what state teachers make but about the same as what local private school teachers can earn.
Critics of BIA abound. They charge that BIA, which is being heavily promoted by the World Bank, is relieving governments of their commitment to expand free functional public school systems. They charge that BIA lacks transparency and is defying the basic regulations their host countries have for schools there.
In this project, journalist Peg Tyre examines BIA's promise to deliver quality education in low-cost private schools for the world's poorest children.