Bridge International Academies

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Bridge International Academies
Social enterprise
GenreLow cost private schools
FounderDr Shannon May, Jay Kimmelman, Phil Frei
Area served
India, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Uganda

Bridge International Academies is a network of schools which began in Kenya in 2007.[2][3]

It is a social enterprise that believes in ongoing teacher training and support, advanced lesson plans and the use of wireless technology to deliver education, anywhere it's needed. They have been a participant in the United Nations Global Compact[4] since September 2017.

Bridge has over 500 schools and educates over 100,000 children. It is aiming to educate 10,000,000 pupils across 12 or more countries by 2025. It currently operates schools in India,[5] Kenya,[6] Liberia,[7] Nigeria[8] and Uganda.[9] It is headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya with additional offices in Kampala, Lagos, Monrovia, Vijayawada, London, Boston, and Washington, DC.

Through the use of technology it streamlines school administration, delivers lessons plan to teachers, facilitates classroom management and tracks the progress of both teachers and students in real time.[10] The company has notable investor support from Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates.[11]

Bridge schools are different from many competitor schools in that they prohibit their teachers from using corporal punishment.


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.


Bridge’s headquarters opened in Nairobi, Kenya in 2008. The first academy launched in 2009 in Mukuru 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 2014, Kenya ordered many Bridge academies to close 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.[12]


Bridge continued growth in Kenya and expanded internationally, starting with seven Bridge schools opening in Uganda. Two schools were opened in Nigeria in September in line with the start of the Nigerian academic calendar, bringing the total number of Bridge academies to 415 across three countries.

Bridge opened a London, UK office and was awarded one of six prestigious World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) Awards for innovation in education.[13]


In 2016, Bridge opened four schools in Andhra Pradesh, India in a partnership with the Government of Andhra Pradesh to use disused school buildings to create Bridge schools.[14]

Bridge was also chosen as one of the first partners by the Liberian Ministry for Education’s Partnership School for Liberia[15] (PSL) program, adding 25 academies to the Bridge global count. The PSL program is a public / private partnership.[15]

In 2016, a Ugandan judge also ruled to close all Bridge academies in Uganda but all academies remained open.[16]

Bridge won the Global Shared Value award for an “outstanding record in re-conceiving education for a new market” in Kenya over 2016.[17]

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 number of Bridge academies in Lagos, Nigeria increased. Bridge Partnership Schools for Liberia (PLS) expanded to south-east Liberia. The Learning in Liberia report revealed impressive learning gains for Liberian pupils,[18][19] after just four months, and an RCT evaluation of the first year of PSL showed learning gains of 100% in Bridge-PSL schools. The third year of KCPE results were published with Bridge pupils outperforming their peers by 10 percentage points.


Governor Godwin addresses a crowd of Nigerian teachers.
Governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki addresses a crowd of 7,000 graduating government qualified teachers at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, Benin City for launch of the Edo Basic Education Sector Transformation (EdoBEST) initiative on October 10, 2018.

Bridge pupils took part in Ugandan primary school exams for the first time and 100% of Bridge pupils passed. Bridge was selected as a technical delivery partner for the Nigerian education initiative EdoBEST that aims to transform education in Edo State.[20] Partnership Schools for Liberia was renamed Liberian Education Advancement Program (LEAP).

Educational model[edit]

It is closely aligned to Sustainable Development Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning.[21]


Bridge's approach uses a central team to prepare content and monitor student progress. Bridge equips its teachers with a tablet onto which they download daily lesson plans and teacher guides.[10]

The teachers guides set out the content and structure for each lesson.

A typical lesson consists of three parts:

  1. A teacher demonstrates a concept or solves an equation;
  2. 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; and,
  3. The teacher then circulates around the classroom checking for understanding, assigning new questions for excelling children, and giving individual attention to struggling children.

Co-curricular activities[edit]

In addition to classroom lessons, the Bridge curriculum also includes extra-curricular activities such as sports, art, martial arts, music, and debate.[22]


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.[23]

Using the custom application, Bridge can track 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.

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%.[24]

Monitoring and evaluation[edit]

Bridge uses technology and roving quality assurance teams to track learning outcomes.

The teacher guides monitor attendance, timing of lesson delivery, and pupil comprehension, which is uploaded daily onto the central server.[24]

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.[25]

Bridge uses this unprecedented data on learning to not only improve its model, but also to contribute to wider pedagogy.

Learning gains[edit]

Typically, the longer pupils had been in a Bridge academy, the better they perform in their Kenyan KCPE exams[26]:

  • 5+ years at Bridge: Average Score of 293 and Pass Rate of 74.4%
  • 4+ years at Bridge: Average Score of 286 and Pass Rate of 74%
  • 3+ years at Bridge: Average Score of 274 and Pass Rate of 66.4%
  • 2+ years at Bridge: Average Score of 261 and Pass Rate of 58.3%

In July 2017, the report Learning for Liberia, revealed impressive learning gains achieved at Bridge Partnership Schools for Liberia (PSL) in just four months.[27]

The report reveals that in just four months, students in Bridge PSL public schools could:

  • Read 7 more words a minute and answer 6% more questions correctly about the story they just read;
  • In maths, they solved 2.6 more addition problems & 2.2 more subtraction problems in a minute;
  • 17% of Bridge PSL public school second graders met reading fluency benchmark for the first time, compared to only 4% of second graders at traditional public schools;
  • 15% of Bridge PSL public schools students met reading comprehension benchmarks for first time, compared to 4% of students at traditional public schools;
  • In reading, Bridge PSL public school students outperformed traditional public school students in reading by 0.77 standard deviations; and,
  • In maths Bridge PSL public school students outperformed traditional public school students by 0.18 standard deviations: that’s 50% more learning in 4 months.

Bridge PSL public school students made more progress toward achieving national literacy benchmarks.

Awards and acclaim[edit]

Bridge, as well as its founders, have received notable recognition through the winning of business awards and inclusion in internationally recognised reports and case studies.






  • Tyton Partners award for an International Education Company with Impact[35]
  • African Business Employer of Choice Award 2018[36]
  • ACQ5 Award: Education Company of the Year (Africa)[37]

Dr Shannon May[edit]

Dr Shannon May was listed by the World Economic Forum at one of their 15 Women Changing the World.[38] In 2018, she was awarded a CEO Today, Business Women of the Year Award.[39]

Jay Kimmelman[edit]

In 2015, Jay Kimmelman was listed on the Goldman Sachs 100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs.[40] In 2018, he was awarded an ACQ5 Gamechanger of the Year Award (Education; Africa).[37]


The organisation has received criticism from different sources, including teaching 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.[41][42]

Other organisations have criticised Bridge for pushing Western cultural norms.[43][42] Its status as a for-profit education provider that is competing with government public schools for international funding is also a point of controversy.[44][45] However, a report published in October 2018 by the UK Government's Department for International Development verified that their investment was in fact positive.[46]

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.[47]

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 organisations in Kenya and Uganda, disagreeing with his statement.[48] In April 2016 further expansion in Uganda 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.[49]

In countries[edit]

UK Government[edit]

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.[50] In October 2018, a report by the UK Government's Department for International Development and Education Data, Research and Evaluation in Nigeria (EDOREN), concluded: "There are some positive indications for DFID’s investment in Bridge."[46]


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.[51]


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.[52]

Non-governmental organisations[edit]

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.[52]

Education International (EI), a global group of teachers’ unions, has criticised Bridge for its for-profit model being “morally wrong.[53]

World Bank[edit]

The World Bank was criticised by more than 100 organisations for funding Bridge International Academies. A statement addressed to Jim Yong 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.[54]

Scripted education[edit]

Concerns have been raised over the quality and standards of education provided to children at Bridge academies, due to the way in which untrained teachers deliver scripted classes. However, scripted education - sometimes called scripted learning or guided instruction - has been widely recognised as an effective delivery method of instruction in numerous academic studies,[55] and is the cornerstone of USAID early-grade literacy programs in Africa.[56][dead link]

Funding and investors[edit]

Bridge has received funding from a number of investors,[57] including:


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