An innovative approach to primary education in Kenya, against all expectations allows poor Africans to send their children to private schools, an option hitherto available only to the wealthy.

Dennis Abudho and his family of five children live in a one-bedroom house without electricity in Bandani, an informal settlement in Kisumu, Kenya. Abudho is active in the PTA at Bridge International Academy in Bandani, where his four oldest children (three boys and a girl) are in baby level, first, third and fifth grade. You might not expect someone like Abudho — who said he is a casual labourer, operating a bread machine at a local mill and bakery — to have four children in private school. 

Precisely by building the story along a concrete family in a specific country, Tina Rosenberg jumped the label of those who speak from a high horse without having a grasp of the situation in question. Tina’s assertion about public schools in Kenya, which is quite similar with those in Nigeria: lack all that makes learning and teaching possible. The grim reality oscillates from inadequate teaching aids to poor infrastructure; over-crowded classrooms and in many cases, an uninspiring teaching staff. The truth is that teaching in our climes is more “a sinecure than a vocation”.

If these are the problems, what then is the solution? And here enters the Bridge – an initiative that provides quality education at an affordable cost. How did they do it?

From the very beginning, Bridge planned to be big. As a for-profit business, it would have to live on school fees alone. The founders wanted to invest in high-quality curriculum, textbooks, storybooks, learning toys, technology and research. The only way they could keep their school fees low, then, was to amortize this investment over large numbers of schools with large numbers of students — at least 50 per class. 

The Bridge’s effort show how a combination of an innovative use of technology, hard work, parental involvement, make it possible to keep this educational experiment low cost and effective.

Nwachukwu Egbunike is a book editor and writer in Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria . He studied Medical Laboratory Science at the University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus and currently blogs on Feather's Project,...