Bridge International Academies
|For-profit private company|
|Genre||Low-cost private schooling in the developing world|
|Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, India, Liberia|
Bridge International Academies is a large-scale network of low-cost private schools that was founded in Kenya in 2008 and works with governments and parents across Africa and Asia. They use a technology-enabled approach to provide nursery and primary education through their centralized model, allowing the social enterprise to scale quickly and reduce costs. Bridge operates over 500 nursery and primary schools.
Bridge currently educates over 100,000 children in Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, India and Liberia and has goals to educate 10,000,000 pupils across 12+ countries by 2025. The schools use technology to streamline school administration, deliver lesson plans to teachers, facilitate classroom management, and track teachers' progress and students' learning gains in real time. Bridge's goal is to move towards global education reform one child at a time. Bridge works in partnership with governments, communities, teachers and parents to disrupt the status quo of education and quality of life by hiring mainly from local communities.
Bridge International Academies was founded by friends Shannon May, Jay Kimmelman and Phil Frei, who met at Harvard University to solve for some of the most intractable problems in education and development, including: underprepared teachers, rampant teacher absenteeism, ill-equipped classrooms, and fraudulent administrative practices. The challenge was to find a way to offer a high-quality education free from these problems at a cost lower than most other private academies. The key was devising a business model based on scalability, and designing an innovative, technology-driven teaching method and system of administrative management.
Bridge’s headquarters opened in Nairobi, Kenya in 2008. The first academy launched in 2009 in Makuru kwa Njenga, an east-Nairobi slum that is home to over 100,000 people. From 2009 to 2015, Bridge expanded across Kenya, bringing its innovative approach to education to thousands more children every year. In 2015, the company became international, opening schools in Uganda and Nigeria. In 2016, Bridge opened in Andhra Pradesh, India, in a partnership with the Government of Andhra Pradesh to use disused school buildings to create Bridge schools. Additionally, Bridge partnered with the Government of Liberia to employ its proven teaching and management methods in free public primary and nursery schools.
In 2014, Kenya ordered many Bridge Academies closed for non-compliance but this order was dropped. In March, 2017, the High Court upheld this decision, keeping 10 of the 14 Bridge Academies in Kenya closed. In 2016, a Ugandan judge also ruled to close all Bridge Academies in Uganda but all academies remained open. Bridge International Academies was chosen as one of the first partners by the Liberia Ministry for Education’s Partnership school for Liberia (PSL) program, adding 25 academies to Bridge global count. The initiative is an innovative public / private partnership where education providers with proven track records in delivering high-quality education are united with public primary schools across Liberia. Bridge International Academies continues its growth India! Bridge opened 4 academies through a partnership with Andhra Pradesh, India, bringing the global count to 520.
Today, co-founders Shannon May and Jay Kimmelman are married and run Bridge together from the headquarters in Nairobi, where they live year-round with their children. In addition to the Nairobi headquarters, Bridge also has offices in Kampala, Lagos, Monrovia, Vijayawada, London, Boston, and Washington, DC.
In the United States, there have been articles about Bridge in a number of major media outlets, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal  and The Huffington Post. In the United Kingdom, the organization was in The Independent and The Economist. A number of ed-specific outlets such as EdTech Review and EdSurge, have also written about Bridge, which has also been covered in countries of operation.
Bridge believes high-quality education is every child’s birthright. When children are denied access to education, they are robbed of the chance to reach their innate potential. Bridge aims to help children everywhere reach their potential by making high-quality education accessible. The organisation's mission is global education reform which starts with one child and ends with children everywhere.
Bridge's approach uses a central team of education experts to prepare content and monitor student progress, allowing teachers to focus solely on student engagement. Bridge equips its teachers with a tablet onto which they download daily lesson plans and teacher guides. A team of pedagogical experts spends 10–15 hours designing each lesson, ensuring content is aligned with the national curriculum of the country of operation. The teachers guides set out the content and structure for each lesson, allowing our teachers to expend less energy on class preparation and more energy on engaging with each student. Teachers are trained to lead their classes in a way that encourages and allows students to actively participate, to ask questions and think critically about the material the teacher presents.
A typical lesson consists of three parts: first, a teacher demonstrates a concept or solves an equation; next, the teacher guides students through the solving of a similar problem; for the majority of the lessons, students then work independently, applying and practicing what they’ve learned. The teacher circulates around the classroom checking for understanding, assigning new questions for excelling children, and giving individual attention to struggling children. Bridge stresses the importance of creating a well-rounded education experience, so in addition to classroom lessons, the Bridge curriculum also includes extra-curricular activities such as sports, art, music, and debate. Lastly, Bridge schools are different from many competitor schools in that they prohibit their teachers from using corporal punishment.
Bridge is managed through a centralised system, lowering the administrative costs for operating individual schools. Each Bridge school has only one administrative staff member, known as an academy manager, who manages the school through a smartphone loaded with a custom-developed application that connects managers to a central cloud-based server.
The app tracks student admissions and billing in real-time and serves as a financial management tool for the overall academy, including fee payments, expense management, and payroll. By using a central team to manage the operations of all its schools, academy managers are able to focus on teacher support and parent engagement instead of administration. The rate of teacher absenteeism for Bridge schools is documented at less than 1%, whereas in Kenyan public schools according to World Bank research, absenteeism in the classroom is 47.3%.
Monitoring and evaluation
As a data driven organisation, Bridge uses technology and roving quality assurance teams to track learning outcomes. The teacher tablets monitor attendance, timing of lesson delivery, and pupil comprehension, which is uploaded daily onto the central server. The central academic team can then review outcomes to iterate lessons in real time, or identify needs for further teacher training. The academic team additionally identifies new methods or resources they believe can aid learning and gathers data on results. Bridge uses this unprecedented data on learning to not only improve its model, but also to contribute to wider pedagogy.
According to a report released by Bridge International in 2015, their pupils outperform their peers at neighboring schools. The so-called ‘Bridge effect’ was found to equate to .31 standard deviations in English and .09 standard deviations in maths. In 2015 the first graduating class sat the national primary exit exam in Kenya. The results showed that pupils had a 40% higher chance of passing the exam than the national average.
Costs for bridge schools net losses and revenues are estimated and are not released by the firm, with losses in 2016 estimated $12m a year and with a total revenue of $16m / year.
The first Bridge International Academy opened in the Mukuru slum in Nairobi Kenya in 2009. After this pilot, 1341 pupils were enrolled at Bridge academies by the end of 2010. 2011 saw the first substantial expansions outside Nairobi and by the end of 2015 Bridge was teaching over 100,000 pupils across the country.
As of September 2016 Bridge entered into a partnership in Liberia with the Liberian Education Ministry to take part in the Partnership Schools for Liberia program. Approximately 8,370 children are affected by Bridge's work in this program. At the end of the one-year pilot program, independent administrators will decide whether the program should be expanded. Previous President of Liberia Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was a strong supporter of Bridge's work. saying of the project: "Liberia needed to adopt a more radical approach, because we know that education is a long-term endeavor and more rapid results can only be achieved by departing from traditional structures,"  George Werner, the Minister for Education for Liberia, said of the opportunity; “If we went by the status quo to continue doing what we have been doing, it will take decades for Liberia to catch up”
Bridge launched in India in 2016, and now operates 4 academies with approximately 485 pupils.
Bridge launched in Uganda in 2014, and now has 63 schools across the country. Approximately 13,800 pupils study at Bridge schools in Uganda. In 2016, the Ugandan Ministry of Education issued an interim order calling for closure of all Bridge schools, citing poor sanitation, improper school registration, and the lack of trained teachers, a requirement for schools under national law. BIA appealed to the Ugandan High Court for a stay of the closure and continue to operate academies within Uganda.
Awards & Acclaim
Bridge, as well as its founders, have received notable recognition through the winning of business awards and inclusion in internationally recognized reports and case studies.
In September 2016, International Finance Corporation chose the company for its Inclusive Business Case Study. In April 2016, Bridge was featured in a report by the Brookings Institution, Center for Universal Education entitled Millions learning: Scaling up quality education in developing countries. In 2015, it was awarded the WISE (World Innovation Summit in Education) Award, the Economist Innovation Awards  and the OPIC Development Impact Award, as well as being named in the World’s Top 10 most innovative companies. The company was awarded the 2012 Africa Awards for Entrepreneurship for Outstanding Small and Growing Business Award by the Africa Leadership Network.
Co-founders Jay Kimmelman and Shannon May have also received a number of awards for their work, sharing the Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneurs of the Year Award 2014, as well as both being named on the CNBC Next List 2014. Shannon May was one of World Economic Forum's 15 Women Changing the World. In 2015 Jay Kimmelman was listed on the Goldman Sachs 100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs Goldman Sachs.
Controversy & criticism
The organisation has received criticism from different sources, including government teacher unions and education rights groups. Education groups have pushed back on Bridge as using a model that stifles creativity, innovation, and goes against educational research in developed countries. Other organizations have criticised Bridge for pushing Western cultural norms. Its status as a for-profit education provider that is competing with government public schools for international funding is also a point of controversy.
Kenya's National Union of Teachers (KNUT) published a report in December 2016 requesting to shut down the schools for unfit education model. The government promised to investigate and issue their own report.
After a statement by the president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, in 2015, praising Bridge Schools, there was a large push-back from organizations in Kenya and Uganda, disagreeing with his statement.
In Uganda, Bridge International started expanding in 2015 and has opened 62 schools so far, with plans to open more. However, in April 2016 further expansion was halted by the Ugandan Ministry of Education and Sports Management, who have expressed concerns that the schools may not be in compliance with the government's basic requirements and minimum standards
The welfare of the company's employees has been subject to scrutiny in recent months following complaints of late salary payments, lack of trained leadership, long hours, unfair dismissals, high staff turnover & harassment cases.
It was recently revealed that Bridge International Academies employed a number senior level staff for an undisclosed figure, believed to exceed $0.5 million. Critics & investors have questioned the relevance of some of these positions stating that this money could have been better invested in the company's expansion program. Furthermore, Bridge has also been criticized for their travel expenditure, having recently paid for a number of executives to fly to the Andhra Pradesh region of India for the opening of a new academy. Sources state that a number of the company's employees have questioned the need for this and other senior leadership travel.
Aid provided to the company by the UK government was recently criticized by the UN, given the company is classed as a 'for-profit' business, which undermines the UN's sustainable development goal of inclusive and equitable education for all by 2030. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child said it was concerned that UK aid money was linked to private education providers and called on the UK government to refrain from such financing. The UK government is being drawn into the dispute after investing £3.5m in Bridge International Academies.
Wilson Sossion, the secretary general of Knut, in 2016 demanded the closure of all 405 Bridge International Academies, saying they are a profit-making venture. He said the academies are informal schools but operate like private schools. Sossion believes that all children's education should be catered for by the government.
In 2016, The Liberian government has announced plans pilot project that will see some of its primary schools run by low-cost private schools firms, with the majority being managed by Bridge International Academies. This has led to mounting opposition from civil society, the UN and teachers union in the country.
The company has come under criticism from aid agencies and civil rights groups, including ActionAid and Education for All, for being detrimental to the plan of offering a “universal, free and compulsory basic education” to all children.
The World Bank was criticised by more than 100 organizations for funding Bridge International Academies. A statement addressed to Jim Kim, president of the World Bank, expressed deep concern over the global financial institution’s investment in a chain of private primary schools targeting poor families in Kenya and Uganda and called on the institution to support free universal education instead. Education International (EI), a global group of teachers’ unions, has criticized Bridge International for its for-profit model being “morally wrong.”
Global Justice Now has criticized Bridge International Academies by suggesting that “the cost per student at just $6 dollars a month” is misleading. It states that 'the suggestion that $6 is an acceptable amount of money for poor households to pay reveals a profound lack of understanding of the reality of the lives of the poorest”. Global Justice Now calculated that for half their populations, the $6 per month per child it would cost to send three primary school age children to a Bridge Academy, is equal to at least a quarter of their monthly income. Many families already struggle to provide three meals a day to their children. It has also claimed that the real total cost of sending one child to a Bridge school is between $9 and $13 a month, and up to $20 when including school meals.
Concerns have been raised over the quality & standards of education provided to children at Bridge International Academies, due to the way in which untrained teachers deliver scripted classes. This has been criticized by the Kenyan government for failing to follow set guidelines, that require schools to employ at least 30 per cent of trained and registered teachers.
It has been flagged that there are major disparities in pay at Bridge International Academies. A number of employees have raised concern that the company discriminates against race.
Funding and investors
Bridge has received funding from a number of investors, including Bill Gates, CDC, DFID, IFC, kholsa ventures, LearnCapital, NEA, Novastra Ventures, Omidyar Network, OPIC, Pan African Investment Co., rethinkedcuation, Zuckerberg Education Ventures, Pershing Square Foundation  and LGT Impact Ventures.
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- https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/14/opinion/liberia-desperate-to-educate-turns-to-charter-schools.html?_r=0, http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/08/where-private-school-is-not-a-privilege/
- "Bridge International Academies gets high marks for ambition but its business model is still unproven". The Economist. 2017-01-28. ISSN 0013-0613. Retrieved 2017-02-05.
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- "Sossion wants Matiang’i to close Bridge academies". www.the-star.co.ke/. Retrieved 2016-06-08.
- "Low Cost Private School Firm Bridge International Keen On Liberia Despite Opposition". www.afkinsider.com/. Retrieved 2016-06-02.
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- "Teachers unions, NGOs call for closure of Bridge schools". www.businessdailyafrica.com/. Retrieved 2016-01-26.