WE BRIDGE THE GAP BETWEEN POVERTY AND EDUCATION
Parents, pupils, teachers and officials defend Bridge Academies-Kenya after Uganda closed its sister schools over poor sanitation, curriculum
After the High Court in Uganda on November 6 ordered the country’s Bridge International Academies closed over poor sanitation and curriculum, Kenya’s BIA senior public relations manager Jackline
Walumbe defends the operations of Bridge’s 405 academies in Kenya. What are the gaps BIA has tried to fill in Kenya’s education sector?
Bridge provides education to the unreached and underserved communities. Public education infrastructure in informal settlements and rural pockets of poverty is inadequate to meet the demands of these communities. Given the income levels of these communities, they cannot access high cost private schools. Bridge provides a viable alternative that ensures a quality education at affordable cost. What is BIA’s success story in Kenya and other parts of the world?
Kenya is the cradle of operations for Bridge and when talking about Bridge’s success, there’s no better place to go to other than Kenya. In Kenya, Bridge educates around 100,000 pupils. In the 2015 KCPE, Bridge had a national mean score of 264 marks out of a population of around 1,800 pupils.
Is Kenya still pushing to close Bridge schools for non-compliance to regulations, and where have you reached in terms of complying with new APBET (Alternative Provision of Basic Education and Training) regulations?
There is no push to close our schools. Bridge has taken great strides on compliance. Almost 70 per cent of our schools now meet the APBET threshold on teacher qualifications at time of registration, and about 100 of our schools have now been inspected for quality assurance purposes. What makes it difficult for the Kenyan government not to deliver adequate education in the informal settlements?
There is limited access to land for establishing schools, teachers shortage occasioned by limited budget, limited learning resources occasioned by limited budget and the cost of running public schools is transferred on parents. In some instances it has been attributed to a systemic failure, which is not true. It is mainly a budget limitation.
Why has BIA been misunderstood yet it attracts support from the likes of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, World Bank and Mark Zuckerberg?
The attraction by those entities is simply based on the potential for social enterprises to release universal goals in education on a large scale.
How is BIA’s operational envirionment in Kenya different from Uganda’s?
In Kenya, for a long time, we did not have a regulatory framework that best accommodates low-cost private schools, in terms of appreciating the challenges obtaining. With the release of the APBET guidelines, now all that remains is compliance, timelines and the speed in attaining the same.
In Uganda, the situation is a little different. Much of the concerns raised have to do with miscommunication, misinformation and negative perceptions springing from uninformed perspectives. Bridge has since realised this and embarked on a serious engagement plan to ensure better communication and transparency in its operations. What next after the court’s decision in Uganda?
While we are appealing the decision on behalf of the more than 20,000 parents, we are consulting the ministry in Uganda to reach an amicable working understanding in the interest and welfare of our pupils. Bridge’s intention is not to avoid regulation, but rather to come under regulation. Bridge is doing everything it can to ensure that this is attained. What are your school fees? On average, Bridge charges around Sh600 per pupil per month, although the actual fees is pegged on income indicators for households in the target population.
Does the ministry of education acknowledge the fact that there are fewer public schools in urban areas, and that Bridge’s presence fills the gap?
The ministry does acknowledge the same and this is the reason it has created room for establishment of private and non-formal schools.
The Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development is on record saying that your schools do not use the approved national curriculum. What are you doing to ensure you use the approved curriculum?
We have equipped all our 405 academies with approved books from the Orange Book as we seek approval of all our learning materials and teacher guides with KICD. We submitted ECDE print supplementary support materials to KICD for vetting and approval.
Out of 19 titles, nine passed conditionally, while 10 were asked for additional editing to the language level and other criteria — as is common.
WHAT BRIDGE PARENTS SAY Lister Mokeira from Kisii county said, “I would advise parents to enroll their children at Bridge because your child will learn everything they need and get a good foundation in their education. This prepares them even for higher learning. Bridge should be adopted by governments and education institutions.”
Nyakundi, a parent at Bridge Kiserian, said, “When I received a call from Bridge about Josephine going to study abroad; I was amazed I could not contain my joy. When Bridge started in Rongai, most people never cared about it but I had a good feeling about it and that is why I transferred my children to Bridge. I would ask all parents and education stakeholders to support Bridge because they are doing a great job.” WHAT BRIDGE PUPILS SAY Jeldah Makori, 12, of Majengo Mapya Bridge International Academy in Likoni, Mombasa county, Joined the school in 2014, one year after it had been established. Jeldah, now in class five, recalls that in a nearby public school, teacher absenteeism was a common happening.
“My present performance compared to the school I was after shifting has improved. Teachers here are close to learners and it has helped improve my performance,” she said.
Jeldah, who aspires to be a journalist, said it was hard to get help from a teacher in her former school. “Pupils were always told to go back to class,” she said.
Mutheu Wayua, 12, Majengo Mapya Bridge International Academy, talked of enough books at Bridge. Wayua, a standard seven pupil, says they have three-chair desks, which means that a book is conveniently shared. She also points to close monitoring by teachers, which is “a mark to quality education”. Wayua would like to proceed to Alliance Girls and later become a university lecturer.
Daniel Mungeria, former Bridge pupil and current student at Nova Academies, said when he came to Bridge, he found all the textbooks he would need to read. “My performance also improved drastically. Teachers never used to come to class and we never had any special revisions. The KCPE revision camp is something so exciting I never saw this happen in my previous school.”
Josephine Nyakundi, former Bridge pupil in Rongai currently in RabunGap School in the US, said: “At Bridge, teachers are always in class, we never get to miss lessons.