16 Replies Latest reply on Mar 17, 2015 3:33 PM by bobstro

    "...An army of teachers wielding Nook tablets..."

    gb18

      http://www.wsj.com/articles/startup-aims-to-provide-a-bridge-to-education-1426275737

       

      (Excuse formatting.)

       

      MATINA STEVIS and

       

      SIMON CLARK

      March 13, 2015 3:42 p.m. ET

      6 COMMENTS

      MASII, Kenya—An army of teachers wielding Nook tablets and backed by investors including Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg is on a mission to bring inexpensive, private education to millions of the world’s poorest children.

      In rural Kenya, 6-year-old Sharon Ndunge, sitting in a rough-built classroom with chicken-coop wire for windows, a tin roof and wooden benches, is among 126,000 students enrolled at the more than 400 Bridge International Academies that have sprung up across the country since the company was founded in 2009.

      Bridge’s founders are challenging the long-held assumption that governments rather than companies should lead mass education programs. The company’s goal is to eventually educate 10 million children and make money by expanding its standardized, Internet-based education model across Africa and Asia.

       

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      The Internet and Barnes & Noble Inc. Nook tablets are used to deliver lesson plans, which are then used by teachers. The tablets also are used to collect test results from students scattered across hundreds of towns and villages and serve as a means of monitoring their progress.

      “It’s like running Starbucks,” said Greg Mauro, a partner at California-based venture-capital firm Learn Capital LLC, the largest shareholder in Bridge with a 15% stake, likening it to the coffee chain with standardized systems and procedures that can be replicated across new locations. If all goes to plan, the American-run, Nairobi-based education startup will seek a stock-market listing in New York in 2017, according to Mr. Mauro.

       

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      Mr. Mauro has invested alongside Microsoft co-founder Mr. Gates, e-Bay Inc. founder Pierre Omidyar’s Omidyar Network, textbook publisher Pearson PLC and others who already have put more than $100 million into the company, of which about 90% is equity investments, according to Bridge. Facebook Inc. co-founder Mr. Zuckerberg this month invested $10 million in the company, according to Bridge. The investment comes as the social-network company expands into emerging markets to potentially reach billions of new customers.

      Mr. Gates saw “significant innovation in the approach and wanted to support it personally,” said a spokeswoman for Mr. Gates.

      Bridge co-founder Shannon May said Bridge is more cost-effective than state-funded Kenyan schools and provides better teaching. Kenyan public schoolteachers spent an average of two hours and 40 minutes teaching a day, according to a 2013 World Bank report, and 45% of teachers weren’t doing their jobs: 16% were absent from school, 27% were at school but not in class and 2% were in class but not teaching. By contrast, Bridge said its teachers teach for more than eight hours each day, and there is unexcused teacher absenteeism of less than 1%.

      Bridge’s revenue is in the “low double digits” of millions of dollars, Ms. May said. She estimates it will be $500 million in 10 years.

      This lofty growth forecast for a company that hasn’t turned a profit rests on the hopes of people like Jacinda Ndunge, Sharon’s mother, who spends $6.50 of her monthly $100 income from her vegetable stall to send her daughter to Bridge. A big attraction for her was more attentive teachers and a smaller class size than at a free state school, she said. Bridge’s average class has 30 pupils. At some Kenyan state schools, the student-to-teacher ratio is 100-to-1, according to the teachers union.

       

      A classroom at a Bridge International Academy in Nairobi, Kenya.ENLARGE

       

      A classroom at a Bridge International Academy in Nairobi, Kenya. PHOTO: PHIL MOORE FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

      At state school, many times the teacher did not go to class. Sharon comes home with homework to do and is happy to go to school.

      —Jacinda Ndunge, who pays $6.50 a month to send her daughter to Bridge.
      “At state school, many times the teacher did not go to class,” Ms. Ndunge said. “Sharon comes home with homework to do and is happy to go to school.”
      Bridge teachers on average make 10,000 Kenyan shillings a month, about $110, less than half what state teachers make but more than most other comparable schools, said Ms. May. There are other private, inexpensive schools, most of which are religious or organized by individual communities. Bridge said its advantage is that the quality of education is better through the use of technology and standardized procedures.

      Last month, Bridge opened its first seven schools in Uganda and plans another 65 or so by year-end. It then plans to move into Nigeria by the end of 2015 and to India in the second half of 2016.

      To be sure, some critics said it is a step backward for poor people to pay for education and question the standardized teaching model.

      “There’s something about it that flies in the face of progress,” saidDavid Archer, head of program development at Action Aid, a London-based nonprofit, antipoverty organization who has campaigned for universal free education for two decades. “There are individual needs of individual kids. Does this standardization zeal actually give better education to children?”

      Ms. May defended Bridge’s teaching model. “Just because the class is scripted doesn’t mean the tablet is restrictive,” Ms. May said. “Children do interrupt with questions, teachers do go off script.”

      Bridge’s progress comes as for-profit companies play an ever-bigger role in Africa’s development, seeking to make money through businesses that often serve a social purpose. Private-equity fundraising for investment in sub-Saharan Africa more than tripled to a record $4 billion in 2014 from the year before, according to the Washington-based Emerging Markets Private Equity Association. Private-equity firms also have invested in African health-care services, nurseries and for-profit universities.

      Providing education to Africa’s poorest has historically been the domain of governments and charities. Ms. May, 38 years old, is an anthropologist who first became interested in education as a means of lifting people out of subsistence living in rural communities while she carried out postdoctoral research in China.

      Along with Bridge’s other founders, she saw a business opportunity as the Kenyan government struggled to keep up with booming enrollment rates.

      Bridge’s rapid expansion isn’t without potential roadblocks. “A big risk is that Bridge grows too quickly and neglects quality,” saidJames Tooley, a professor of education policy at the U.K.’s Newcastle University and an advocate of low-cost private schools.

      Ms. May acknowledges growth comes with big and often unpredictable challenges. When moving teachers to train in Uganda, for example, Bridge staff got embroiled in a standoff with Ugandan authorities suspicious that they were possibly transferring aspiring jihadists to training camps. The situation was settled peacefully.

      And in Kenya, Bridge students almost missed an important national exam because there was no government regulation in place dealing with how children not attending traditional private or public schools take such tests. The incident was eventually resolved.

      “The biggest challenge that Bridge will face in any market is going to be regulatory,” said Amy Klement, a partner at Omidyar Network.

      Investors said the Nook tablet is at the heart of what makes Bridge work. All class plans, tests and additional materials are uploaded on it. Teachers manually enter test results through the tablet, and every piece of information is stored electronically. Bridge also monitors teachers through the tablet. For example, if a teacher doesn’t sign into the tablet one day, Bridge can call the teacher to find out why.

      “All Bridge’s systems have been designed with the view of getting to millions of students,” said David Easton, an investment director at CDC Group PLC, a London-based investor in Bridge.

      A 2013 report commissioned by Bridge by an outside research firm indicates Bridge students score better in literacy and numeracy tests than peers attending nearby public schools.

      But overall, separate research doesn’t show an advantage of low-cost private schools over state schools. A report by the U.K. government’s Department for International Development found “little to no evidence” low-cost private schools are better than state schools. The same department is an investor in Bridge academies.

      Write to Matina Stevis at matina.stevis@wsj.com and Simon Clark at simon.clark@wsj.com

       

       

      Message was edited by: g b See next reply.

        • Re: "...An army of teachers wielding Nook tablets..."
          bobstro

          paywall. can't read it without a subscription.

            • Re: "...An army of teachers wielding Nook tablets..."
              gb18

              Above is a copy and paste. I found and could read the article via a Google news search.

              1 of 1 people found this helpful
                • Re: "...An army of teachers wielding Nook tablets..."
                  Froide

                  Thanks. Your cut and paste is much easier to read than this version of the article, which is not behind a paywall but has no paragraph breaks.

                  1 of 1 people found this helpful
                  • Re: "...An army of teachers wielding Nook tablets..."
                    keriflur

                    Guys, when an article is behind a pay wall, it's paid content. You all know what it is when you post someone else's paid content on the internet for free and without the content owner's permission. So...please don't do this going forward.

                      • Re: "...An army of teachers wielding Nook tablets..."
                        gb18

                        Forum police are here. Article is free if you do a Google news search for nook tablet. Read it that way if you wish.  Otherwise, don't read it.

                          • Re: "...An army of teachers wielding Nook tablets..."
                            keriflur

                            Oh, yes, forum police. The thing people cry when they're doing something they know they shouldn't and don't want go be reminded.

                              • Re: "...An army of teachers wielding Nook tablets..."
                                gb18

                                Please remind all you want and have fun doing it. But remind.....? No.

                                  • Re: "...An army of teachers wielding Nook tablets..."
                                    bobstro

                                    It doesn't sound like the NOOKs bring anything in particular to the table (or desk, as the case may be). I cant ascertain whether these are the original NOOK Tablet or the current NGTS. Hopefully it's not just a dumping ground for old tech.

                                     

                                    I'm a little leery of this being run as a profit-generating enterprise, but it does seem to be the best program available.

                                      • Re: "...An army of teachers wielding Nook tablets..."
                                        Froide

                                        It doesn't sound like the NOOKs bring anything in particular to the table (or desk, as the case may be). I cant ascertain whether these are the original NOOK Tablet or the current NGTS. Hopefully it's not just a dumping ground for old tech.

                                        Even if it were a "dumping ground for old tech", this digital-divide-bridging initiative would be a good use of refurbished legacy technology -  far better for all stakeholders than using the old devices as landfill.

                                         

                                        I'm a little leery of this being run as a profit-generating enterprise, but it does seem to be the best program available.

                                        Agreed. And I add: color me cynical, but history has demonstrated the need to be leery of many not-for-profit, NGO, and public sector initiatives, as well. That said, I'd love to see other organizations institute similar programs. Seems win-win, to me.

                                          • Re: "...An army of teachers wielding Nook tablets..."
                                            bobstro

                                            Froide wrote:

                                            Even if it were a "dumping ground for old tech", this digital-divide-bridging initiative would be a good use of refurbished legacy technology -  far better for all stakeholders than using the old devices as landfill.

                                            I understand your sentiment, but I don't agree, at least not in all cases. If a bunch of old tech is dumped as a tax write-off, and that tech isn't part of a sustainable system, it may require so much work as to be a drain on scarce resources. I'm thinking of examples where old IBM Model 25s (dual diskette drives) were "donated" to schools who then had to struggle to keep them alive and act like they were usable for the photo ops. I also worry that these won't be useful without proprietary 'subscription' software models. I'm just very suspicious of attempts to help the underprivileged by giving them discounts on subscriptions for basic education. (Having worked on the Navajo Nation fielding computers in schools is partly responsible.)

                                             

                                            A related, but I think more innovative approach is the "outernet" project. Essentially, they're building a receiver that downloads internet content via satellite onto a device that can act as an isolated wifi access point and web server. Any wifi device with a web browser can access non-interactive Internet content such as Wikipedia or news.

                                             

                                            I like getting tech and knowledge out to those who need it most. Doing so for-profit is what bothers me. Still, better than nothing. I'd just hope to see something more open come along.

                                             

                                            Is it just me, or does the Subject of this thread bring to mind a marauding band of teachers wielding NOOKs as weapons?

                                      • Re: "...An army of teachers wielding Nook tablets..."
                                        DeanGibson

                                        keriflur wrote:

                                         

                                        Oh, yes, forum police. The thing people cry when they're doing something they know they shouldn't and don't want go be reminded.

                                        I'm totally with you on this.  So what if it's available on the Internet somewhere else for free?  Perhaps it was licensed (eg, for a fee) to a free site with ads.  Perhaps it was copied due to a misunderstanding.  The "someone else copied it" is a completely bogus argument.  Even stuff that is free to copy has restrictions.  Eg, the GNU Public License has provisions that are regularly violated.

                                         

                                        "Copy" means "copy".  Copying even a free article is WRONG, unless explicit permission is given.

                                         

                                        No wonder B&N is paranoid about DRM.

                                    • Re: "...An army of teachers wielding Nook tablets..."
                                      Froide

                                      Keriflur wrote:

                                      Guys, when an article is behind a pay wall, it's paid content. You all know what it is when you post someone else's paid content on the internet for free and without the content owner's permission. So...please don't do this going forward.

                                      Though I thanked the OP, would I have cut and pasted the entire article here? No. On that count, Keriflur has a point, though she certainly could have worded her post differently or - better yet - appealed to agarcia or another mod to ask him to address her concerns.

                                       

                                      But I have no qualms about having posted the link above.

                                       

                                      Many news articles - like the one in question - that are originally published behind a paywall are also made available online, free of charge, to non-subscribers either when the article's over 24 hours old (N.B. this thread was begun March 15, and the article's dated March 13) or because the publisher has an arrangement with LEGITIMATE news aggregators (several of which re-published this article). Of course, non-subscribers can also access most paywalled periodical content, including the article in question, from the day it's published via their public library accounts, though that's a digression from the specific circumstance at issue here.