A new model for bringing schools to poorer and third-world countries for as little as $5 per student (per month) is based on standardized lessons and lesson plans being delivered on hand-held tablets and smartphones, communicating on a local cellular network. Bridge International Academies is one such organization, with more than 200 Bridge school in a box locations in Kenya alone, and more planned.
Explains Bridge International Academies’ founder, Jay Kimmelman, “We believe that we can be educating at least 10 million pupils around the world that come from families who live on less than $2 a day. We believe that we can give them an education … that’s truly globally competitive.”
A Bridge International Academies ‘school in a box’ class
The tablets also serve the functions of tracking the teacher’s time, acting as the teacher’s grade book, and even as their ‘supervisor’, monitoring the progress as well as the day-to-day activities of the teacher.
And the on-the-ground administrator in each location can perform all of their administrative duties from a smartphone, including admitting new students, and sending their test scores back to Bridge HQ. Even tuition is paid via mobile.
Some have likened the educational model to Starbucks – standardized, always the same thing at each location. Indeed, students in any given grade at any given Bridge academy location will be learning the exact same thing at the exact same time as the students in that same grade level across all Bridge academy locations.
“What we are trying to do is provide parents a real option,” says Kimmelman.
But detractors criticize that the lessons could be delivered “by robot”, because of the high degree of standardization and method of delivery (indeed Bridge says that one of the advantages of the standardized model is that the teachers don’t even need college degrees, allowing them to keep costs down), and that it lacks the key ingredient of student interaction. Rather the students are all just being fed the same thing at the same time.
“If somebody suggested that kind of an educational model in this country they would be laughed out of the educational community,” opined Ed Gragert of the Global Campaign for Education.
Moreover, it’s unclear on just what the classroom material is being standardized. The stated goal of 10 million is a whole lot of future adults – just what are they being taught? Indoctrination can happen even under the purest of intents (just who discovered America?) And if intent is less than altruistic, watch out.
We hasten to add that nobody is suggesting that Bridge’s intentions are anything other than above-board, but it is a monumental – and complicated – responsibility when you undertake to educate millions of children from other countries.
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