Like many parents around the world, mothers and fathers in the poorest slums of Kenya try to find a good education for their children.
But quality schooling options for poor families in Kenya are rare. Students are stuffed in overcrowded classrooms, commonly with more than 100 students. Many teachers lack training and teach because it is an available job, not because of their passion or ability. On top of this, public schools are free only in theory—schools and teachers frequently require “motivation” fees, which amount to bribes. Private schools are almost always prohibitively expensive.
In this environment, private education company Bridge is launching private schools across the country, offering private education for $5 a month per child, including books and materials.
The company accomplishes this by keeping costs down. It develops lessons for each level and daily sends them out as ebooks to teachers. The ebooks let Bridge keep curriculum costs down. The daily teacher support also lets the company employ local teachers. Bridge hires local high school graduates, giving them about five weeks of training before they begin teaching. The company hopes the local teachers will be good role models for their students.
Mobile banking, which has helped countless businesses in Kenya, also plays a huge role in Bridge’s success. Because using cell phones for money transfer is so widespread in Kenya, Bridge uses this system to pay teachers and collect tuition. This cuts administrative fees and, more importantly, takes away opportunities for bribing.
Bridge opens a new school every 3 days. The company claims 85 percent of the families in the poorest communities can afford to send all of their children to its schools.
But not all responses to the school have been positive. Kevin Watkins, a nonresident senior fellow with the Brookings Institution’s Center for Universal Education, argues that the schools are not as good as the company claims.
He could be right. It is too early to know how well students at Bridge schools will perform academically, although the company’s tests show students outperforming their public schooled peers. If outside evaluators confirm those results, the schools will be a huge step in a growing movement of bringing private schools to the world’s poorest people.