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Privatisation and education transformation

BY PAULTON FRANKSON

Monday, September 04, 2017

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It is agreed that a radical transformation of the education system is a critical prerequisite if we are to attain developed country status and the prosperity we seek as a nation. One would have hoped that the Education System Transformation Programme (ESTP), with its massive investment of $165 billion into the education sector, would have been the catalyst to bring about this transformation. As a nation, we had indeed pinned our hopes on the outcomes espoused by the ESTP. But, alas, it was not meant to be.

The ESTP has delivered, and admirably so, on outputs, but has fallen short on delivering the outcomes of a transformed education system. Having swallowed this cold, hard truth, we must now begin to look at alternatives that can deliver the outcomes needed to propel the country forward into the knowledge-based economy and the fourth industrial revolution which is reshaping the global political economy.

Artificial intelligence, robotics, big data, and social media are digitising economies and societies at a rapid pace. Positioning ourselves to meet these new technological, social and economic realities which confront us will demand deeper partnerships with global players in the education sector.

One model of partnership we could consider for the transformation of education is one of privatised education as offered by Bridge International Academies. Bridge, a private company backed by Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, works in partnership with governments, communities, teachers, and parents to deliver great schools and high-quality affordable education to underserved families and children. The company began in Kenya in 2007, taking over several schools in that country and has now expanded to India, Liberia, Nigeria, and Uganda.

Bridge has pursued a for-profit model in delivering education services with a greater focus on accountability to its customers, whom they deem as the parents paying for their child's education. Because Bridge is competing for the scarce funds of mainly poor parents, they have re-engineered the delivery of education from teacher training and support to lesson delivery, construction and financial administration, as well as student and teacher feedback to monitor progress, to make it efficient, effective, and very affordable for the customers they serve.

The company invests large sums of money in research, development, technology and lesson development so that the optimal returns are achieved for each child. The Bridge model, as outlined on its website, focuses on:

• Well-supported teachers: Teachers are trained at the Bridge International Training Institute and supported 24/7 by master teachers. They also benefit from ongoing training.

• World-class lessons: They follow the curriculum of the countries in which they operate and develop lessons through close collaboration between world-leading academics and country-based education ministries. By leveraging the power of connected devices they deliver professionally developed, up-to-the-minute lesson plans that provide every teacher with the core foundation needed for a successful learning experience in each subject, each day.

• Local context: They work closely with local governments to ensure their programmes are working within national and local standards. A strong emphasis is placed on basic literacy, numeracy, and critical-thinking skills in early grades.

• Personalised instruction: Their handheld, wireless “teacher computers” record attendance of both students and teachers and assessment scores, track lesson pacing, and measure pupil comprehension. This technology frees Bridge teachers from the time-intensive planning and administrative tasks, creating more time for them to focus on teaching and their students, giving them time to identify where students are struggling.

• Data and analytics: Bridge uses near real-time data, analytics and advanced technology to constantly make changes that improve student learning outcomes and deliver results for families.

• Bundled services: Bridge streamlines non-instructional management tasks such as payroll processing, billing and expense management. This allows school managers to focus on critical work — overseeing classroom lessons, supporting teachers, and building relationships with families and the local community.

This is indeed a sound model in the technological age in which we live and the results are proof of this. Studies of student achievement in Kenya and Liberia show that the Bridge schools in these countries perform better than those operated by the Government. The results from Liberia indicate that Bridge students made more progress toward achieving national literacy benchmarks. In just four months, 17 per cent of Bridge second graders met the reading fluency benchmark for the first time, compared to only four per cent of second graders at traditional public schools. Bridge students, in Liberia, also outperformed their traditional public school peers on the reading comprehension benchmark by a similar margin; 15 per cent of Bridge students met this standard for the first time, compared to four per cent of students attending traditional public schools.

The success that Bridge students are having over consecutive years demonstrates that the Bridge approach is working. The idea of turning over public schools to a for-profit company can be seen as dismantling the public education system for private profit but, given that Government has continued to struggle with the transformation of education, it is high time to consider alternatives.

paulton.frankson@gmail.com

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