The following comment was posted in response to Laura Chapman’s comment and critique of for-profit schools in Africa (see below):
My name is Josh Weinstein and another commenter, Laura Chapman, referenced a post that I wrote about my time working at Bridge International Academies. I am including the original post below, but I want to clarify some depictions of my views about for-profit education in developing countries and Bridge International Academies in particular.
For some background, I spent three years working in microfinance, agriculture, and education in Southeast Asia and East and West Africa. I came to Bridge in 2011 when it had 15 schools, and left in 2012 when it had 75 schools. Today it has over 400 schools and has grown considerably. I will address some of Ms. Chapman’s mischaracterizations of my views, and explain why I believe for-profit schools are, on balance, a positive trend to children born into extreme poverty.
First, Ms. Chapman says: “[Josh Weinstein says that] local people saw a contradiction between the Western idea of a liberal education with its emphasis on critical thinking versus the BIA practice of hiring high school graduates to teach from a prepared script. For this reason they automatically assumed that the quality of a Bridge education was poor, and “far below that of more expensive schools.” I did not say that, nor do I believe it. For people living on less than $2 a day, which is the target customer for Bridge schools, the concept of a liberal education is not a consideration. Rather, they evaluate BIA schools relative to public schools, which are underfunded, overcrowded, and serve a fraction of the eligible primary school population at a cost to parents, despite FPE (free primary education) in Kenya. The choice for parents is not between an education emphasizing critical thinking and one offering rote memorization, but fundamentally one that offers higher time-on-task and direct instruction of evidence-based teaching methodologies backed by rigorous testing.
Ms. Chapman quotes an organization called “Global Justice Now” in saying that BIA schools actually cost between $9 and $20 a month, or 68% of the income of someone in Uganda. That is also false – I’ve included the article she references below and the figure is unsourced. I performed the cost- and affordability analysis for BIA schools in 2012, which included detailed data gathering from teams of researchers in slums around Nairobi. In fact, BIA schools, at a cost of 400 Kenyan shillings (~$5) were considerably cheaper than the alternatives. Her statement about the cost of BIA schools is patently false.
Finally, I will make two points. First, BIA did not create the concept of a low-cost private school. It merely focused on streamlining operations to enable economies of scale that would allow it to focus on teacher training and curriculum development – the most important elements of an education. Many, if not most, of BIA students came from other private schools, run by churches, non-profits, or entrepreneurs. Students who could not get into public schools or whose parents did not feel the education was good enough also sent their kids to BIA schools. These parents are discerning consumers of education, and wanted the best for their children. They evaluated schools based on what skills students learn and how they perform on homework and how quickly they learn English and other skills. To assume that they do not what is best for them is paternalistic at best, and harmful at worst.
Second, criticisms in this and other articles ignore fundamental realities about life for the poorest of the poor. The conditions for people living in slums is dire, and the education systems of the countries mentioned in the article are rife with corruption (which is well-detailed). To make a blanket assumption that education is a public good and should be government-run refuses to acknowledges the harsh realities of life in the slums. If BIA succeeds, it will provide parents an alternative to education their children. Or, it will force governments to reconsider their own approach to public education. Either way, it is a good thing for children with few opportunities to escape the unfortunate circumstances into which they were born.
If you have any questions, please email me at email@example.com
My article: http://developeconomies.com/education-3/do-for-profit-schools-give-low-income-people-a-real-choice/
“The Beautiful Tree” by James Tooley – http://www.amazon.com/The-Beautiful-Tree-Educating-Themsleves/dp/1939709121
Randomized controlled trials of private education from Jameel Poverty Action Lab: http://www.povertyactionlab.org/evaluation/private-school-incentive-program-pakistan
Josh Weinstein was responding to this comment by Laura Chapman:
I have been looking into Pearson’s second quarter 2015 report and the international marketplace for education.
Pearson has announced that it is in the process of selling many of its publications in order to concentrate on the education market. Although Pearson has lost big testing contracts in the United States it still has monopolies such as edTAP for teacher education and North America is still Pearson’s largest market.
In higher education, Pearson expects fairly stable college enrollments, less yearly churn in courseware, and growth in its online services and VUE (a platform for tests and 450 certifications).
For the pre-K-12 market, Pearson says “the possibility of further policy related disruption remains” but that they “expect greater stability in courseware and assessments with growth in virtual schools.”
Pearson has offices in more than 55 countries. It sees Growth markets in Brazil, China, and India, especially in English language learning and test preparation, almost all of this on-line. Overall, the company is “investing in courseware, assessment and qualifications (certifications), managed services, and schools and colleges. Pearson is planning for “a smaller number of global products and platforms for delivering infrastructure and “common systems and processes.”
Pearson is not the only international player and there are back-scratching relationships in reving up for international projects. For example, Pearson is one of the investors in Bridge International Academies (BIA) offering “Academy-in-a-Box programs from nursery school to grade 6 in over 400 schools. These schools are in Nigeria (world headquarters), Uganda, Kenya, and they are expanding to India. The World Bank has given $10 million to BIA in Africa. At least $30 million more has come from U.S. venture capitalists— Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Pierre Omidyar (founder of EBay) and also from Pearson.
Profits are made by offering a fully scripted curriculum in small schools. These schools are staffed by local instructors who are high school graduates, along with an Academy Manager who oversees and audits classroom instruction, recruits students, and communicates with parents and the local community.
According to BIA’s website, “Teacher scripts are delivered through data-enabled tablets, which seamlessly sync with our headquarters, giving us the ability to monitor lesson pacing in addition to providing the scripts themselves, recording attendance, and tracking assessments in real-time. We also create our own books, manipulatives, instructional songs, symbols for enforcing positive behavioral management, and more, which we are able to produce locally at an extremely low cost.”
Billing, payments, expense and payroll processing, prospective admissions, and the like are taken care of by “smartphone apps” tailored for the Academy Manager and for the Teachers’ tablet. The assessment platform in Kenya is called Tangerine:Class™ a mobile system for doing continuous, formative assessments with tracking of individual students.
Professional educators in each nation “managed by TFA alumni with master’s degrees” build the curriculum to meet national requirements. A video team films lessons for a version of field-testing the curriculum. Curriculum writers review the videos, looking for evidence of student engagement, comprehension, and retention of content. Student exams are used to identify weaknesses in the curriculum and review teacher performance.”
The curriculum explains what teachers should do and say during any given moment of a class, step-by-step. The marketing pitch is: “This allows us to bring best-in-class instruction, international and local research, and curriculum specialists into every one of our classrooms” and …”standardize our high-quality instruction across all of our academies.” …Because of our highly efficient delivery mechanism (marrying talented individuals from each community with technology, scripted instruction, rigorous training, and data-driven oversight), Bridge is able to bring some of the world’s greatest instruction and pedagogical thinking into every classroom in every village and slum in the world.”
BIA outcomes are currently tracked through products from RIT International, a US-based think tank in the process of commercializing some services and products. Bridge is using the Early Grade Reading Assessment (adapted for 40 countries in 60 languages) and the Early Grade Math Assessment (adapted for 10 countries and languages). Some school operations are monitored through Snapshop of School Management Effectiveness (adapted for 16 countries and 12 languages). RIT is a major contractor for almost every branch of the US government, foreign governments, foundations, and other groups.
According to Josh Weinstein who worked on data analytics for BIA in Nairobi, local people saw a contradiction between the Western idea of a liberal education with its emphasis on critical thinking versus the BIA practice of hiring high school graduates to teach from a prepared script. For this reason they automatically assumed that the quality of a Bridge education was poor, and “far below that of more expensive schools.”
Even so, Josh thought that Bridge was a fairly low-cost improvement over non-formal schools and government schools with little in-house teacher training. Josh was in charge of routine testing of 3,000 Bridge students matched with peers at government and other non-formal schools. So far, Josh says there are strong gains in basic reading relative to peers, and less strong, but still measurable, gains in math.
Josh (a global entrepeneur) was impressed that data is being used to improve the business model–profits, educational outcomes, efficiencies in ancillary services, the location of schools, and web-site performance. He said that policies can be examined on short notice and “changes can easily be rolled out across every single school.” He said that each school is profitable at a relatively small size, so more schools means revenue for scaling up.”
A group called “Global Justice Now” claimed that the real total cost of sending one child to a Bridge school is not the advertised $5 to $6 a month. It is $9 to $13 a month, and up to $20 a month with school meals. In Kenya, sending three children to BIA would represent 68% of the monthly income of half the population. In Uganda, sending three children to BIA would represent 75% of the monthly income of half the population.”
Anyone reasonably attuned to developments in American education will not find it difficult to see the scale of infiltration of TFA viewpoints and practices into the international marketplace. Moreover the same billionaires, corporate and international players are dominating the landscape.
Anyone with an eye to developments in American education can also see the pretense of representing ‘the world’s greatest instruction and pedagogical thinking” as scripted instruction, with data-driven oversight, apps for everything, and unacknowledged colonial values.