NAIROBI, Kenya — Bridge International Academies have set up hundreds of “pop-up schools” in Kenya, providing simple yet effective education for students in need. Similar to a global fast-food company where franchise owners are coached to cook the food according to specific and uniform instructions, the same model is being applied to schools in the developing world.
Founded by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Jay Kimmelman, Bridge charges students $6 per month in tuition. While the tuition is affordable, the lasting impact of these small plywood schools on the greater Kenyan community will be priceless, especially if the idea continues to spread.
The first Bridge International Academy opened in the Mukuru slum of Kenya in 2009. Today there are hundreds. In fact, new “schools in a box” are opening at a rate of one every 2.5 days.
Ensuring results and accountability, teachers follow a prescribed curriculum outlining specific learning outcomes. Apart from a strict curriculum, teachers are mentored on other necessary components of running a classroom: dealing with parents, checking on school managers and supporting students when they need extra attention.
Teachers are not the only ones tracked for success. Students are monitored to ensure they are meeting the learning standards and showing up on time.
“Pop-Up Schools” have earned their name from their unassuming architecture. Composed of little more than plywood frames and corrugated roofs, the schools nevertheless provide what schools are built for, learning.
Founder Jay Kimmelman emphasized this point in an interview with Wired, stating, “They can be sitting under a tree as long as they’re getting educated. That’s what matters.”
The education problem in Kenya and many other parts of Africa is more complex than families not being able to afford to send their children to school. The problem is that even if families can afford to send their children to get an education, there are few functioning schools available.
There is a clear gap between the education currently offered and the needs of the population. Teachers in Kenya are absent from class as much as 47 percent of the time and on average spend only two hours and 20 minutes each day in the classroom. Furthermore, teachers are unqualified — 65 percent of teachers cannot pass exams based on the curricula they teach.
Bridge’s “pop-up schools” are the beginning of a positive move toward change in the education system in Kenya. Bridge pupils on average are scoring 35 percent higher on core reading skills than their peers in neighboring schools.
Dispelling the myth that a quality education must cost a fortune, Bridge is a testament to the beauty of an easy and simple solution to a seemingly colossal problem. Instead of fancy technology, iPads and SMART boards, Bridge offers a template for setting up schools cheaply and efficiently.
With a mission statement of “knowledge for all,” Bridge hopes to educate 10,000,000 children across a dozen countries by 2025. It appears the traditional chalkboard characteristic of a “pop-up school” will not hold students back from getting the education they deserve.