Monday, September 28, 2015

Ed Tech in Kenya

Link

A trailblazing educational technology initiative backed by Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and the World Bank has been stopped in its tracks by the government of Kenya.

When it launched in 2009, Bridge International Academies served just a few thousand, fee-paying primary school students. They’re already serving nearly 120,000, and they planned to open 100 new academies this year. But the Ministry of Education has put a freeze on the opening of new “non-formal” schools while they try to work out the regulations that will govern the sub-sector.

This is a very significant moment with implications for educational technology, development work and global investment.

Many have praised the Bridge International Academies and held them up as an example of the finest innovation in educational technologies. The company allows entrepreneurs to open a primary school as a franchise, while automating most school administration functions.

Because the script for each lesson is meticulously timed out and supplied on tablets, Bridge academies are able to hire people without teaching experience. Accordingly, they can pay their teachers just 12,000 Kenyan Shillings a month (which works out to about $5/day) compared to the average primary school teacher salary of 16,000 Kenyan Shillings per month (which is about $7/day). (Coincidentally, many Kenyan primary school teachers are currently striking for higher pay.)

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There is no reason the supply side of education cannot be more like movie making: scripted, intended to hold the attention of the consumer and carries a message. Instead today's education resembles the popular party game Charade where people try to act out movies, with hand gestures, flailing about like idiots. Charade is fun and funny because the explanations suck so bad. But does education need to be like this? Especially in the 21st century?

So the policy choice is clear: deploy technology, bring quality teaching to children, at scale, fire as many teachers as possible. Done. If these "teachers" bitch and moan, give them guaranteed income, so in a way the public would be paying teachers not to teach, an important public-good IMO because it stops mediocrity from spreading. Naturally these teachers would have their strengths / interests in other areas where they can shine, and they can make money with these, through the gig economy as / when that avenue is established. Until then (or always) G.I.

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