Education Opinion

Good Schools for the World’s Poorest Neighborhoods

By Tom Vander Ark — February 19, 2013 3 min read
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Have you ever thought about bringing great education to the world’s poorest neighborhoods? Now may be time. Bridge International Academies is expanding and Pearson is investing in the
growth of similar networks across the developing world.

“The evidence is clear, from Pakistan to Tanzania: the public system alone cannot solve the global education crisis,” explains Pearson’s Affordable-Learning.com. “Purely private sector
solutions do not work either. The challenge is combining the sectors to ensure universal enrollment, improved outcomes and greater equity.”

As noted in June, “When I visited the massive slums surrounding
Nairobi, Kenya a few years ago, I was surprised to learn that most of the children attended private schools. As professor James Tooley shared in his book The Beautiful Tree, edupreneurs in the slums of Africa and Asia are
addressing the problem of access to educational quality by developing low cost private schools.”

The most important group working in low cost private schools is Bridge International Academies led by Jay Kimmelman. After he sold the EduSoft assessment system to HMH in 2003 he began investigating developing world education. In 2007 he
launched Bridge and began to engineer out cost and design in quality. The Bridge “Academy in a Box” leverages data, technology, and scale in order to keep
quality up and prices down. Step-by-step instructions for local school managers to set up their school in as little as five months and manage their school
to ensure success. Bridge schools are built for less than $2,000 per classroom. Tuition is about $5 per month. With planned enrollment of 1,000 students,
the schools break even within one year of opening. Bridge utilizes an automated, cell phone based payment system which is used for almost all student
payments and school financial transactions.

“In just the last month,” said Kimmelman, “we’ve launched 51 new schools doubling our total enrollment within 30 days. We’re currently launching 1 new
academy every 3 calendar days - that puts us on pace to be the largest chain of private schools in the world next year.”

Bridge has 134 academies in Kenya and over 50,000 pupils enrolled. “Ten years from now we plan to be operating in at least a dozen countries and to count
10,000,000 children as our pupils,” said Kimmelman. “We’re looking for talented individuals across the sectors of education, business, technology, and more
to join us in disrupting global education and providing knowledge for all.”

Bridge, which is frequently profiled on Getting Smart and is a Learn Capital
portfolio company (where I’m a partner), is hiring with jobs based in Kenya, India, Nigeria, and the U.S. Jay is in the U.S. recruiting this month
interviewing candidates for posted jobs at these events:

  • 2/21 (6:30pm), Opower Offices, 642 Harrison St, 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94107

  • 2/25 (6:30pm), Opower Offices, 1515 North Courthouse Road, 7th Floor, Arlington, VA 22201

  • 2/28 (6:30pm), Robinhood Foundation, 826 Broadway, 9th Floor, NY, NY 10003

Pearson’s former CEO Marjorie Scardino was so impressed with Bridge that she joined the board last year and launched an Affordable Learning Fund. Pearson
invested in Omega Schools, a 20 school chain in Ghana launched by Tooley along with Ken & Lisa Donkoh, and
is actively considering several more. In addition to Africa, the Affordable Learning Fund will consider investments in Latin America, and Southeast Asia.

Affordable schools provided by networks like Bridge and Omega are expanding access to quality primary education. With inexpensive tablets, digital content,
and new blended formats, the revolution of affordable education will soon expand to secondary schools. It’s a revolution that will change history. Maybe
it’s time for you to polish your resume and check it out.

For more on affordable schools, see:

Pearson is a Getting Smart advocacy partner.

The opinions expressed in Vander Ark on Innovation are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.