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Thursday, January 26, 2017

day 6 -why would anyone want to give aid to countries blocking bridges international

Touch-screen teaching

Emerging markets should welcome low-cost private schools

An East African crackdown on Bridge International Academies is hopelessly misguided

MORE than 250m children in developing countries are not in school. Those who do attend often fail to learn anything. According to one study of seven African countries, primary-school pupils receive less than two-and-a-half hours of teaching each day; teachers are absent from class about half of the time. Even when they show up, theirs is a Potemkin pedagogy, lecturing to nonplussed pupils. Only about a quarter of secondary-school pupils in poor countries would reach the basic level of attainment on standardised international tests.
Into this void have stepped low-cost private schools. For a few dollars each month, they give parents an alternative to the public sector. Such schools are common—about 1m of them are scattered across developing countries—but until recently this has been a chaotic cottage industry of tiny, unregulated providers. Only now are private chains emerging, offering the promise of innovative education at scale. The prospect of change ought to be embraced. Instead, it is being fought.
One chain in particular has attracted opposition. Since it opened its first branch in 2009, Bridge International Academies has expanded to run 520 schools across Kenya, Uganda, Liberia, Nigeria and India. To keep costs low, the firm uses one of three standard templates to build its schools; it makes its uniforms, textbooks and furniture in-house. To keep standards high, its teachers read from scripted lessons on a tablet computer. Remote teams use data from these devices and pupils’ test scores to monitor the quality of teachers. Investors include Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and the development-finance arms of the British and American governments.
Bridge continues to open new schools. But its overall pupil numbers are below their peak. This is as a result of roadblocks in its two biggest markets, Kenya and Uganda. Teachers’ unions there criticise Bridge for often hiring unlicensed teachers; they also argue that the chain funnels money away from public education. In Uganda the government has said that it would shut Bridge’s 63 schools on the ground that the company expanded without receiving permission from the Ministry of Education. (Bridge is lobbying the Ugandan government to try to stay open.)
Such concerns stretch beyond east Africa. Education International, a global group of teachers’ unions, accuses the firm of “robbing students of a good education”. But the worries about private education providers in poor countries are either overblown or solvable. One fear is that they could end up replacing a public monopoly over education with a private one. Given the state of the education system in many countries, that would be a nice problem to have. It is also wildly premature, if only because the business model remains unproven (see article). And governments have plenty of ways to foster competition. They could introduce school vouchers or conditional cash transfers for parents to spend on eligible schools. Liberia is running a randomised controlled trial in which eight different private operators run publicly funded schools.
Another worry is that companies have an incentive to flout sensible regulations in their desire to gain scale. The answer is for policymakers to strengthen the institutions that monitor educational performance. Better school inspectors and measures that identify which schools are improving academic outcomes would be a boon in any case. Developing countries are estimated to spend 2% of GDP a year on education that has no discernible effect on whether pupils are actually learning.
The bigger point is that private education offers too many potential benefits to poor countries for it not to be encouraged. Chains bring in money, from both parents and foreign investors, which is likely to be better spent than aid and government cash. In 2014 less than 70% of education aid actually reached recipient countries (much of it was spent on scholarships in donor countries). A 2009 study in Tanzania found that about 37% of government grants intended for education were lost.
Private education also promises innovation. Scripted lessons may be somewhat robotic, but in countries like Kenya and Uganda teachers need to be nudged to stop talking, ask pupils questions and check that the class understands what is going on. The evidence is not conclusive but Bridge’s own analysis suggests that it improves pupils’ results.
Bridge to somewhere
All the while it pays to remember the alternative. Private-school chains are not perfect, but their rivals are usually worse. Of the 337m primary-school-age children who look likely to fall short of basic international standards, three-quarters are in school. Most of them are in public schools. Not to try something different would be shameful.

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