Get sick, get well
Hang around a ink well
Ring bell, hard to tell
If anything is goin' to sell
-- Bob Dylan

Sunday, June 12, 2016

What is the BIA and what the hell are they doing in Uganda?

Shannon May
Some might see it as the great white hope coming to save and fix the poor in Africa. I see it as cultural imperialism -- taking the worst aspects of American corporate-style school reform and spreading, with the might and power of power-philanthropy and the World Bank, to countries that can least afford to resist.

Bridge International Academies (BIA) is a for-profit organization active in privatizing public education in several African countries including Liberia, Kenya and Uganda. They have already built 412 for-profit schools in Kenya in six years. BIA co-founders, Shannon May and her husband, Jay Kimmelman, have raised more than $100 million from Bill GatesMark Zuckerberg, and the  Omidyar Network (eBay founder Pierre Omidyar) to push their "Education in a Box" model in Africa.

According to the Washington Post:
BIA — which is supported by the World Bank; Pearson, the world’s largest for-profit education company; and billionaire education philanthropists Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, among others — operates a chain of for-profit schools in a few African countries, charging what it says is an average of $5 a month to families for high-quality nursery and primary education in places where public education is poor or nonexistent.
Curtis Riep, a Canadian doctoral student, doing research about BIA, on behalf of Education International (a federation of 396 associations and unions) was recently arrested by Ugandan authorities. Riep was arrested on charges of "impersonating a BIA officer" and trespassing, but was cleared of all charges and released two days later. But the episode put a spotlight on BIA and how the company works.

According to Education International, the whole affair was a set-up by BIA in order to intimidate Riep and any other researchers from shining a light the group's operations.

The Bridge formula is designed to be replicable. Its 5,000 trained teachers read scripted lessons from e-reader tablets. Parents pay an average of $6 per pupil, and have access to a 24-hour hotline.

May, who earned a Ph.D. in anthropology from UC Berkeley, explains the formula, referred to here as "Academies in a box" or "McDonaldization".

Instead of hiring expensive teachers with degrees, Bridge contracts experts to develop scripted lessons that instructors follow on computer tablets. Lessons are identical for each grade, down to the words of encouragement instructors give their pupils. It’s so streamlined that all the gears in the institution—lessons, attendance, time sheets, tuition payments, and teacher oversight—can be conducted with cheap mobile phones, cutting human administration to a bare minimum.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it. Not wonder Gates is enthralled.

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