Bridge International Academies: A Dutch Perspective

Dutch journalist Maria Hengeveld reviewed the claims and business plans of Bridge International Academies and found much not to like. She is clearly irked that the Dutch Ministry of Affairs has invested in this plan.

Shannon May, a founder, says that BIA is all about “social justice.”

Hengeveld adds:

“And for profit. According to her husband, the “global education crisis” is worth about US$51 billion a year. In 2013, Kimmelman explained in a presentation how, for less than US$5 in tuition fees per pupil per month, Bridge could grow “into a billion-dollar company” and “radically change the world.” Earlier he and May promised that they could do this for US$4 per month per pupil.

“Big dreams and even bigger promises. However, my research and research done by others shows:

*that their quality claims have not been supported by any independent research;
*that the education provided turns out to be more expensive than promised;
*that underpaid teachers have to recruit additional pupils;
*that they have dismissed criticism from non-governmental organizations and trade unions;
*that critics are silenced;
*that a PR offensive has been launched in order to continue selling the education services provided.

“Furthermore, €1.4 million of Dutch taxpayers’ money has been poured into the company. Dutch support was provided because Lilianne Ploumen of the country’s Labor Party, currently caretaker Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, believes that Bridge uses an “innovative and cost-effective education model, which is able to keep tuition costs per child down.”

“How do you improve education, make it cheaper and also make it profitable? May and Kimmelman have come up with an “innovative pedagogical approach.” The possibility of setting up a few thousand standardized schools within a few years is to be the first innovation. The profit made from each school may be low, but once half a million pupils are recruited — the number of enrollments that Bridge needs to break even — business really takes off. The plan is to reach two million pupils by 2018 and 10 million by 2025.

“This rapid growth would be made possible by using Bridge’s second innovative method, namely its very own approach to the role of teachers and their salary scale. May believes that “qualities such as kindness” are more important than diplomas and this allows for significant savings. In Kenya, where the starting salary for qualified teachers is around US$116 dollars a month, Bridge teachers usually earn less than US$100 a month. However, as Kimmelman explains in a presentation, teachers can earn bonuses by recruiting new students themselves. Marketing is a core task for both teachers and school principals.

“A third innovative aspect, explains May, is the smart use of technology. It works like this: a team of “master teachers” designs digital “master lessons” that are so detailed that all a teacher needs to do is read them from a special Bridge tablet (know as the Nook).”

She continues with a close review of BIA’s claims. It has been showered with awards, but it has run into considerable controversy. Some at the UN have even warned that it is a prelude to privatization of what should be universal public education. Maybe more than a prelude.

from sarah


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