E-Schooling Working in Africa: Bridge Over Troubled Africa

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Providing quality education to all children is not just a moral obligation, but an economic necessity. This is both the civil rights issue of our generation and the economic foundation of our future. Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education. That quote was noted in an article written by Fikadu Nigussa, Addis Fortune, entitled “Ethiopia: Children Pay the Price of Policy Reluctance.” He wrote that “early childhood is the most effective time to ensure that all children develop to their full potential,” which I summit famed U.S. Sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois would second.

Mr. Du Bois famously pushed for the elite of the Black race, who he referred to as the talented tenth be the leaders of that community and hoped that they be the impetus for educating the general populous of that race. Historian and Author Carter G. Woodson had a contrary opinion on educating the masses of the Black race. He famously advocated that the Black community should first be thought “to do for themselves” because a man who can farm for himself can in-turn feed his family. Which of these points of view are correct will have to be based on your responses to the following questions, what came first the chicken or the egg; Is a starving man interested in developing new and efficient ways to farm using math and science or is he able to farm and feed his family because a learned man thought him how to farm with tools and equipment that were developed using math and science?

These are some of the issues that African nations such as Ethiopia and Kenya are grappling with. How to ensure that its citizens who live in rural and poor communities improve their economic condition, while at the same time ensuring that it’s youth get a quality education as the world around them is fast encroaching upon them. One private company that seems to offer a viable solution is Bridge. It already has 200 schools operating in Kenya. Jay Kimmelman, Co-founder of Bridge, was quoted saying that they “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.” He was quoted by Jason Beaubien of National Public Radio on November 12, 2012 in a piece entitled “Do For-Profit Schools Give Poor Kenyans A Real Choice?”

What seems to make Bridge’s model of teaching attractive is its consistency and efficiency as described by Mr. Beaubien. He noted that Bridge employs a system of standardized lesson plans that are scripted by experts which gives teachers with no college degree the ability to teach students whose parents can’t afford to send them to more privileged schools. He also noted that Bridge provide schools with E-Readers which ensures that “the exact same lesson being taught in [one] classroom is being taught in every other sixth-grade class . . . across the country.” Ethiopia is facing a similar problem, how to ensure that the youths living in non-urban areas get a quality education. Mr. Nigussa noted in his article that Ethiopia’s “Early Childhood Care & Education Policy . . . was set up to ensure all children had the right to a healthy start in life; be nurtured in a safe, caring and stimulating environment and develop to their full potential.”

That Policy seems to be a combination of the viewpoints that were individually advocated by Mr. Du Bois and Mr. Woodson. He also wrote that Ethiopia’s “private sector is unable to deliver the promised early childhood care and education services. It rather favoured the urban centres and the well-to-dos.” Not that I’m endorsing Bridge, but one of the main arguments against its program model seems to be that it has class sizes between 40-50, which Bridge says is to keep the cost of its services low to around $5 per month per child. Yes, overcrowding in classrooms may have an adverse effect on childhood learning, but Bridge’s response to that is that it is “helping to solve one of the biggest problems facing the poorest of the poor — the lack of access to decent education.”

I guess the best way to address this query about educating Africa’s poor can be summed up with this observation and commentary, getting an education for $5 a month is hard to argue against no matter the size of the class as ignorance no matter where it is located is not blissful! I hope that Ethiopia get Bridges across its lands too.

Allen Thomas