The UK Department for International Development (DFID) has published a report in Nigeria which shows full equity of learning in Bridge International Academies classrooms, regardless of a child’s socioeconomic background. It is a strong endorsement of DFID’s commitment to innovative private sector’s role in improving service and opportunity for these families. Even though the report was based on Bridge schools in Lagos, Nigeria, the findings clearly have relevance in a Liberian context where the social enterprise supports Government schools as part of the Liberian Education Advancement programme.
The DFID findings build on the preponderance of evidence demonstrating that the methods used and support provided by Bridge to teachers and students lead to higher learning than the alternative. This has been seen in Liberia when an independent report released last year by the Centre for Global Development and Innovations Poverty Action revealed that Bridge students learnt twice as fast as their peers in neighbouring schools. Students at Bridge run public schools learned significantly more than students at traditional public schools, nearly twice as much in reading and more than twice as much in maths. This is the equivalent of an additional year of schooling.
The DFID report makes clear that at Bridge schools, and only at the Bridge schools, parents’ income and education was not correlated to children’s learning outcomes. This is a landmark finding – demonstrating that children from even the poorest families attain the same learning as those that are better off if the child attends Bridge. This is what we should always find at every school – that the school itself is ensuring that each child, regardless of family background, can achieve their full potential. This will be cause of celebration for poor families across Liberia whose children are in Bridge supported Government schools and, for those that hope to be if the Ministry expands the programme in the future. The DFID findings contradict decades of global education research trends that demonstrate family background matters more than the school a child attends, in relation to levels of learning. At Bridge, this is not true.
A spokesperson for DFID Nigeria said DFID “welcomed the findings of the independent study that show the need to build the regulatory capacity of government to support school management systems and processes that are necessary for improved learning outcomes in both public and private schools.” they added “this study will contribute to the growing body of evidence on the role of private sector provision of education in sub-Saharan Africa”
One of the report author’s, Alina Lipcan, from Oxford Policy Management, said: “Good management matters, we find a strong correlation with better learning outcomes. As a next step, we would recommend more programmes focused on better management, so that more schools and pupils can benefit.”
Other highlights from the report’s findings include:
A child’s family background has no impact on their attainment in class
Bridge pupils know more than their peers in other schools
The majority of children in Bridge schools are from poor families
Bridge teachers have the best relationships with their pupils
Bridge schools are managed more effectively than other types of schools
The Vice President of Measurement and Evaluation at Bridge, Dr. Steven Cantrell, highlights: “There is equity of no learning at Bridge schools. This is a big deal. This DFID study validates our methods, which ensure that all teachers have high expectations for every pupil, irrespective of their families income, prior educational attainment, or which language they speak at home. Bridge schools are places of equal opportunity and equal learning benefits for all types of children, and especially for the poor. Overall, this independent report shows that Bridge is helping children from poor families to learn, improving access to quality education, and enabling the providing the best overall learning attainment in the local communities we serve. We can now say with total confidence that Bridge makes a significant and important overall contribution to education opportunities.”
The report marks an important milestone in the debate around Bridge’s role in helping poor families access quality education. The UK Government now recognises that “the private sector, as well as the public sector, contributes to the provision of high quality education and that DFID therefore needs to work with the private sector as well as the public sector to improve education outcomes for children. Just last week, the UK Secretary of State for International Development (DFID), Penny Mordaunt, said, “We have tackled the dogma and culture that still exists in some parts of the aid sector, which not only sees organisations failing to put the beneficiaries first but also preventing the private sector from helping deliver those global goals”. The CEO of the IFC, Philippe Le Houérou, supported this view at the World Bank annual meetings in Bali last week, saying that: “We need to be imaginative and find new and more creative public-private solutions and, in many countries governments are seeing the potential of working with the private sector.” The Liberian Government should be praised for its leadership in bringing the private sector in to help transform the public school system.
The Liberian Ministry of Education has made clear that education is at the top of its agenda. The new findings from DFID will only add to the evidence that it is possible to make schools equal playing fields and ensure that no child is left behind.