The United States and its allies must understand the critical nature of education in the developing world. In their acts of barbarity, terrorist organizations like Boko Haram have revealed the weakness at the heart of their ideology. Their belief structure is a house of cards which can only stand on a foundation of ignorance. Even the name Boko Haram, when translated, exposes their deepest fear; that the populations of the developing world will become educated and thereby no longer vulnerable to their propaganda.
The Overseas Private Investment Corporation has made a commitment to education in the developing world through a ten-year, $10 million loan to Bridge Schools International. Bridge Schools International has established a prepackaged educational format across impoverished regions of Kenya. For $6 a month, students are offered an education which by most accounts far surpasses the current Kenyan public school system, which is plagued by a lack of standards in instruction, a lack of accountability among teachers and a lack of properly implemented curriculum. Mukhtar Abdi Olge, a national coordinator at the Kenyan National Examinations Council, states “They [Bridge Schools International] are not only fixing all the aforementioned challenges but also, in each day of their success, shame the government officials and teachers in public schools.”
One of the issues with the Kenyan public school system is that it is difficult to set standards or expectations of the teachers. Many of them are the products of poor educational environments themselves, lacking the foundation of knowledge necessary to effectively mentor their pupils. Jay Kimmelman, cofounder of Bridge Schools International, describes the government selection process as “A teacher is just put in a classroom and told, ‘Okay, teach, let’s see how well you do by the end of the year.’” It is not surprising that under these conditions some teachers may have little commitment or passion for their work. Some show up late and others don’t come in at all. By the end of the semester, students have lost the equivalent of weeks of lessons.
Bridge Schools combats this lack of accountability in the teaching staff through a highly formatted and structured teaching curriculum supervised by an unrelenting tablet computer which tracks the time that a teacher arrives and the duration of each lesson. Teachers receive scripted lessons through the computer and are not given any opportunity to wander off topic. Under this extreme standardization, teachers are really just a medium for expressing the lessons saved on the computer. Anyone can do it. The benefit is that this alleviates the concern over the training or educational background of the educational administrator (teacher seems like an odd label in this scenario). The concern is that the program stifles creativity, independent thought and instructional freedoms.
Another concern relates to student-teacher ratios. Bridge Schools International seeks to maximize its customer base so the typical class size is around 40 to 50 students per class, though larger groups have been reported. At what point must we consider the laws of diminishing returns in relation to these students and the educational benefits they receive in overcrowded classes?
Despite its flaws, it seems that Bridge Schools International has created a format which performs better than the Kenyan public schools and for a price which families can afford even in the most impoverished areas. I share concern over the lack of instructor freedoms available under this program but it seems that the majority of instructors in this environment benefit from such a program. Also, this may not be the ideal system for those that can afford better but perhaps it is the most effective method of providing a basic level of education to Kenya’s most impoverished students. If this education correlates with even a slight increase in earning power and socioeconomic status, these children may influence the future of this program by demanding smaller class sizes or a less restrictive curriculum. After all, they will be the primary customers when they have children. Some of them may decide to become teachers and reform the Kenyan public school system which requires significant overhaul.
Education has taken the world stage as the foremost necessity for global stability and an indispensable right of all children. Of the two Nobel Peace Prize recipients last year, the most inspiring and courageous in my opinion would certainly be Malala Yousafzai whose campaign for children’s education across the world has become a movement for all those who believe education is the only solution to poverty, ignorance and violence. The question is no longer whether or not all children are entitled to an education but how best to administer it. The future of the world is at stake in each classroom, so there is clearly nothing more important.