Bridging Quality Gap in Basic Education

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With a mission to provide every child the chance to acquire quality primary education regardless of family income, Bridge International Academies, an education innovation company, plans to reach over 400,000 children from low income Nigerian families in the next 10 years; and 10 million children across a dozen countries by 2025. Uchechukwu Nnaike reports

Over the years, there have been concerns among stakeholders in the country’s education sector over the quality of education pupils at the basic education level are receiving, especially in public and low income private schools, which are on the increase. At the centre of these concerns are the issues of inadequate infrastructure and poorly trained/motivated teachers.
With the current recession in the country, more parents are likely to patronize these schools hence the need for an urgent attention to the issue of quality.

There seems to be a ray of hope, as an education service provider, Bridge International Academies is set to close the quality gap between high and low income schools by combining a revolutionary technology platform, custom-developed world-class instructional materials and teacher lesson guides, a purpose-built teacher training and support programme, and fully data-driven back office support function.

Bridge International Academies, which serves the 700 million families who live on less than $2 per day, strive to provide the highest quality education product to the more than 100,000 students who attend its more than 400 nursery and primary schools across emerging markets in Africa.

With over 50 per cent of families in Sub-Saharan Africa living below the poverty line and with over 50 per cent of the world’s 3 billion people living on less than $2 a day, the organisation regretted that 55 per cent of the poorest families in urban and sub-urban communities across the world are spending up to 20 per cent of their income to send their children to private schools.

“These families will be served by low fee private schools and will have to work with the teachers who are less equipped to efficiently on their own deliver quality education. The trend has resulted in poor children consistently underperform their richer peers not because they are less intelligent or have less potential, but because technically no one is teaching them.”

Bridge International Academies are said to be unique because they are the only provider globally with research-proven learning outcomes for children in Sub-Saharan Africa; deliver significant learning gains in the same communities that the traditional public sector works in; Bridge also delivers significant learning gains on a budget similar to or less than government is already spending on education per child, at scale.

Also apart from improving access to quality pre-primary and primary education and innovation spillover, Bridge Academies hope to level the playing field for children from low income families. “At N24,000 per year, 80 per cent of all low income and poor families will be able to afford our schools.”

Taking into cognizance the importance of teachers to quality education delivery, Bridge academies use smartphones and tablets to monitor teacher and student performance in real time, “constantly reviewing and revising to ensure that we are offering a world class education that will prepare our students for the 21st century.
“Outside of the classroom, we work with governments and civil society organisations to create customised teacher training modules, English Language Learning curricula, and “pop up” schools for refugees and other vulnerable populations.”

Highlighting some of the key issues in today’s classrooms, the academies Expansion Director, Ms. Olu Babalola, stated that teachers are required to develop and deliver their own lessons, which can be time consuming and is often foregone when working long hours in difficult conditions. She said some teachers lack an underlying background in what they are teaching.

“Most of their pre-training focused more on teaching methodology and less on classroom management and best practices. By focusing on developing the lessons, teachers have less time to help struggling pupils, to communicate with parents, to grade papers, or to improve their own subject knowledge.

“There is no means to measure and evaluate the pedagogy. If lessons change on a daily/monthly/yearly basis according to individual teacher preferences, there is no way to measure how a certain type of teaching affects a student’s learning, making it more difficult to improve the teaching methods.”

However, she said the Bridge Academies use scripted instruction, which is essentially teacher-centred instruction and for each lesson in the day, the teacher is provided with background on the topic and purpose of the lesson; instructions for how to teach the lesson; a guideline as to timing for each aspect of the lesson; how to use “guided practice” to actively seek student participation; and guidance as to feedback.

“Scripted learning also ensures that every teacher every day in every class is reflecting and demonstrating the core values of Bridge International, which is making the child the centre of the learning process by freeing the teacher to focus on how much learning is actually going on in the classroom.”

To teach at Bridge, Babalola said every candidate regardless of prior training must undergo and pass a rigorous 200 hour residential induction training course run by Bridge International Academies; training focusses on teaching delivery skills with competitive assessments every six days for every candidate in both written and performance/practical examination; and at the end of the training only the top candidates based on their performance in training are offered the jobs.

According to her, ongoing training, professional development and support are enabled and supported by providing every teacher with a tablet running custom applications to deliver teacher guides directly in the hands of each teacher for every subject and class. “No teacher is ever left without guidance for the class.”

She added that teachers are also supported through individualised follow up by academy manager, independent quality assurance team and regional supervisors; regular classroom observations, feedback, summit and more; advice and messaging on propriety teacher messaging platform through the teacher computer; as well as supporting and monitoring teacher performance every hour, day, week and term through the teacher computer.

On accountable delivery in the classroom, she said through the use of Bridge’s proprietary teacher computer tablet, the academy manager smartphone application, and its cloud-based back-office platform, Bridge ensures accountability for daily teacher attendance, lesson delivery, pupil attendance, as well as pupil performance.

“Using more than 1,000,000,000 data points to drive accountability across its network of more than 5,000 teachers, Bridge has an unexcused absenteeism of less than one per cent. Bridge uses qualitative and quantitative data from each school to drive continuous improvement at that school with specific teachers and across the entire network.”

She said the academies have recorded high learning outcomes as Bridge pupils learn to read almost 10 more words per minutes than their neighbouring school peers.
“In English Language, over 32 per cent more schooling in one academic year; in maths, the Bridge effect is 14 per cent additional schooling. This is a 0.3 Standard Deviation in English Language and 0.1 Standard Deviation in maths.”