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

The Star (Kenya) - - Voices - HENRY WANYAMA @hwanyama1

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.

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