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Posted by on Apr 10, 2017

Steer clear of the bridge: Bridge International Academies in Kenya, neoliberalism, and lazy shortcuts to meaningful education

Reblogging here from Panoply Digital. Returning to a favorite subject of mine, discussed here and here in past posts, is the ongoing Bridge Academy debacle throughout the continent, but particularly in Kenya, which has now turned legal.

“Lawyers for the for-profit chain secured a temporary court order preventing Wilson Sossion, General Secretary of the Kenyan National Union of Teachers (KNUT), and the union or its “agents,” from publicly criticizing Bridge “pending” a court hearing. Bridge accuses Sossion of putting a “malicious post on twitter about the institution.” Sosson accused Bridge of recruiting the “richest of the poor at great cost of those families.”

So the General Secretary of KNUT cannot publicly criticize a system that essentially undermines KNUT by replacing qualified teachers with the surrogates provided for in the Bridge model. These surrogates “do not plan any lesson. We follow the tablets to the letter. We are robots being directed by tablets.” Lessons are pre-made, little to no autonomy exists inside the classroom. I have seen these models before and they do little to address local needs or community development. Quite the opposite, in fact, as capacity developed in such a model is capacity emerging from a manufacturing mode of education, one that many have left behind (and one that will ultimately leave Kenya behind as well).

There is no substitute for developing a teacher training system that promotes autonomy, critical thinking, community awareness and development; it is messy and inefficient but a good place to start doesn’t generally involve suing the professional body of teachers that serve the communities that you claim to serve. Again, support teachers with training and advanced pedagogy by all means, teach them how to teach with tech responsibly and ethically, build digital literacy (as my colleagues here and here have called for in past posts), but don’t replace them with instrumentation and calibration. Get messy and build a durable, sustainable curriculum with Kenya, not one merely directed at them. The article actually gets it right despite the misstep in terminology: “The secret behind Bridge’s ability to delivery cheap education in Third World countries appears to be cheap education designed for the Third World.” This is not good education. Is it better than nothing? Sure, but that isn’t the zero sum game we are playing here. There are other ways to go about playing this game.

Yet ultimately this is part of the issue with for-profit education, a byproduct of the type of neoliberal policies plaguing much of the public infrastructure designed to serve the public good. It is particularly rank with education: the thin veneer of goodwill and transformation gleaned from marketing rhetoric to setback to entrenchment to legal posturing signaling an ultimate exit from the scene altogether. Students stranded, teachers and communities left to fend for themselves. Facebook and Gates free to turn to their next project all while nonsensically muttering “disruptive” and “transformative” to any and all media outlets that will listen. Time to disinvest and to funnel whatever funds and goodwill is still there towards proper partnerships that extend access to teacher training programs. Good, responsive pedagogy; models that extend participation; teacher autonomy and innovation. It takes time so avoid trusting turnkey or out of the box solutions. They don’t exist in any meaningful way in education.

Kenya, hold your leaders to account for making these partnerships in the first place. For the rest of us, we helped create these beasts. It is up to us to disinvest in them as well. For those investing in these models, you know better. It is short-sighted and is slowly swinging around to bite you.

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