Educating the world for $5 a month
Bridge International Academies is a chain of nursery and primary schools that delivers high-quality education for just $5 a month. They claim to be the world’s largest education innovation company. This kind of service is directed at the ~700 million families who live on less than $2 a day.
The first Bridge International Academy opened in the Mukuru slum in Kenya in 2009. The company’s mission is “Knowledge for all”, and plans to educate 10 million students, across 12 countries in Africa and Asia by 2025 (today they have a little over 100,000 students enrolled).
There’s no way you can teach me to reed and right good for just $5 a day!!!
Bridge claims that their students gain an additional 0.34 standard deviation on core reading skills and an additional 0.51 standard deviation on mathematics compared to their peers in neighboring schools. This is based on USAID-designed exams administered by an independent monitoring and evaluation company and can be translated into over 250 additional days of learning. Three pupils from Bridge’s standard 8 class have been awarded full scholarships to complete secondary school at exclusive American private schools. These scholarships are valued at $216,000. Put that in perspective compared to living on $2 a day!
Why can’t I just go to the government funded schools for free?
700 million families translate into ~2.7 billion people living on less than $2 a day. Within these communities there is a huge gap between the education offered and the needs of the students. Teachers are absent from class as much as 47% of the time and 65% of teachers can’t pass exams based on the curriculum they teach. Furthermore, these schools can be expensive for these communities. Even “free” government schools can cost $2-12 a month after all the additional costs are factored in.
So how do they actually pull this off?
Bridge offers an “Academy-in-a-box” model and their success lies in their vertically integrated system. They have re-engineered the lifecycle of basic education, leveraging data, technology and scale.
Using technology and data, Bridge drives enormous efficiencies both in terms of the overhead costs required to run an academy and in terms of increasing the quality of the output. For example, a Bridge academy has only one employee involved in management, the Academy Manager. The vast majority of non-instructional activities that an Academy Manager would normally have to deal with (billing, payments, expense management, payroll processing, prospective admissions, and more) are all automated and centralized through a combination of the Academy Manager’s smartphone application and the Teachers’ tablet application, all interconnected to a custom backend ERP.
This systemization frees the Academy Manager to focus on the critical work that must be executed locally, overseeing classroom instruction and building and managing relationships with parents and the local community. On the instructional side, Bridge invests in and employs world leaders in education to develop comprehensive teacher guidelines and training programs. Using their highly efficient delivery mechanism (marrying talented individuals from each community with technology, scripted instruction, rigorous training, and data-driven oversight), Bridge is able to bring some of the world’s greatest instruction and pedagogical thinking into every classroom in every village and slum in the world.
Bridge offers standardized, yet customizable, instruction with a focus on time-on-task, which has been proven to be the most important tenet in delivering basic education. The curriculum is developed and then scripted in-house. This takes the burden of planning countless new lessons away from teachers. The scripted curriculum includes step-by-step instructions explaining what teachers should do and say during any given moment of a class. Essentially, Bridge gives pupils access to the types of teachers they would never be able to afford.
Teacher scripts are delivered through data-enabled tablets, which sync with Bridge headquarters, giving them the ability to monitor lesson pacing, recording attendance and tracking assessments in real-time
Bridge also creates their own books, manipulatives, instructional songs and symbols for enforcing positive behavioral management which they are able to produce locally at an extremely low cost.
Okay I get it, there is demand for this, but there is no way you can be profitable by charging me $5 a month!
Let’s clear the air here. This company is definitely for profit. In an industry that has long been the domain of governments, churches and non-profits, Bridge takes an unabashedly capitalist approach. In our RC TOM class, the focus has been on creating and capturing value through the operating process, we have established that the operating model is innovative and has significant competitive advantages, so the big question you must be asking yourself is whether this company is actually profitable and can it be profitable?
To be honest, I have no idea. This is a private company where financials are not disclosed. A few years ago Bridge was looking for growth financing and I looked into the economics of the business. Completely back-of the envelope and “outside-in” analysis showed that Bridge would only break-even at approximately 1 million students and I felt that this number is unattainably high given all the other factors in play.
However, people much smarter and successful than myself have indeed invested in Bridge International Academies.
So what do you think? Clearly the business model is innovative and the operating model sets this company apart from competitors but can this company achieve their goals of 10 million students by 2025? How many students do you think they need to breakeven? Would you invest in this company today?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below …
- People Daily: http://www.mediamaxnetwork.co.ke/people-daily/184821/bridges-top-three-win-us-secondary-school-scholarships/
- NPR: http://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2013/11/12/243730652/do-for-profit-schools-give-poor-kenyans-a-real-choice
- Euronews: http://www.euronews.com/2015/10/30/innovative-education-ideas-reap-rewards-and-awards-in-kenya-and-ghana/
- Bridge International Academies: http://www.bridgeinternationalacademies.com
- BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p032sj0r#play
- Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2015/08/to-really-help-the-global-poor-create-technology-theyll-pay-for?utm_source=Socialflow&utm_medium=Tweet&utm_campaign=Socialflow
- Wall Street Journal: http://blogs.wsj.com/frontiers/2015/07/29/east-africa-emerges-as-global-hub-for-impact-investing/
- Entrepreneur: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/240341
- Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/sites/singularity/2014/06/02/an-ideas-exchange-for-solving-humanitys-grand-challenges/
- Next Billion: http://nextbillion.net/cashless-education/