We have been some of the most vocal critics of Bridge International Academies (BIA), largely because most investigations and evaluations of their edtech impact to improve schooling in sub-Saharan Africa have been less than spectacular (many would say the impact is non-existent). So imagine our surprise to see Wayan Vota's latest ICTworks™ post highlighting the successes of BIA in Liberia.
In Vota's ICTworks™ post, he glosses over the numerous failures noted in Kenya and Uganda (not to mention the harm caused to communities) to call BIA a "leader in using ICT in education." If being a leader means generating a lot of money to deploy educational technology interventions that remain expensive to the intended beneficiaries with scarce evidence of impact, then yes, we suppose they are indeed leaders. However, in our opinion such an honorific is not well-deserved or earned by BIA, as seen in our previous posts here and here.
The findings that Vota highlights in his recent post merely reinforce our assessment of BIA's work, namely when he states:
This gain in teacher interactions didn’t require technology, just old-fashioned teacher training, resourcing, and management. [...] A stark lesson on what really matters in education, even to committed technologists like myself.
EdTech is littered with charlatans posing as the next Messiah to deliver schools from perpetual failure. BIA continues to hoodwink its donors and investors by proclaiming they do a better job than government at education provision, in part because of their technology-enhanced approach. Yet their own findings continue to suggest that if governments receive better support (financial, technological, and human resources) to facilitate continuous professional development of its teacher workforce, alongside providing opportunities to successfully recruit, train, and retain new teachers, that the same results can be achieved - quite possibly for a much lower cost.
As we have recently seen here in the UK with the litany of private sector theft in the form of gross mismanagement of government resources, entrusting public monies to the private sector cannot continue to be seen as a silver bullet to fix persistent challenges facing a nation. While we don't believe the private sector should be eschewed altogether, we know that public sector-led interventions built on multi-stakeholder partnerships are more likely to have the greatest chances of success.
While we are undoubtedly at least glad to hear that BIA has been able to make some gains in Liberia, we would be more thrilled if the value for the money was better. Vota shares comparisons with a private school system cum intervention in Sierra Leone that costs a third less than what BIA does. Sometimes, you don't actually get what you pay for, and this is why BIA continues to be a cause for concern for us here at Panoply Digital.
If you know of any positive, evidence-based BIA stories, please do share in the comments below! We'd hate to harp on them without giving a nod to good work done, but we have yet to encounter any.