Bridge Kenya and the IFC: How For-Profit Schools Designed for Poor Communities Could Help Solve the Education Crisis in Sub-Saharan Africa


Global initiatives targeting improvements in education have historically focused on increasing enrolment rates. There is evidence to suggest that many of these initiatives have achieved that target. In sub-Saharan Africa, one of the areas with the worst records for education, enrolment in primary schools increased from 56% in 2000 to 73% in 2007. However, this still leaves more than a quarter of all primary aged children in the region not attending school. This equates to around 32 million, or half of the out of school population in the world at the time.

In pursuit of the goal of achieving universal education, many African nations began to introduce free primary schooling between the mid-1990s and mid-2000s. These included Kenya in 2003, a country which saw an increase in enrolment of over 20% in the first year of free education. While enrolment rates have increased, educational outcomes have not improved as much as they should. Many children who enrol in school drop out or are taken out before completing their basic education and, of those that remain in school, establishing a solid educational foundation is not guaranteed. Free primary education may have increased enrolment, but as funding did not increase in line with this, the quality and availability of resources dwindled.

Overcrowded classrooms, under-qualified teachers and a lack of key supplies meant that many children attending primary school were still not learning the basics of literacy and numeracy. On top of this, many state schools charge numerous additional fees for ‘extras’ such as books, desks, exams and ‘teacher motivation’. This free government-backed education was costing many families the equivalent of several US dollars per month in some of the poorest communities in the world. Despite this, the quality of education was sadly lacking.

Bridge International Academies has developed a low-cost model of private schooling focusing on primary and pre-primary education, with the aim of delivering a system that is effective, affordable, and accountable. Accountability plays a key role in ensuring quality of education. When parents in poor communities choose to spend some of their monthly income on education, they have the right to expect to see results and the determination to ensure their children are receiving their due. Low-cost schools are motivated to be the best the region has to offer to encourage parents to send their children there.

Bridge Kenya works to deliver schooling that offers a balance between affordability and quality. Students at Bridge Kenya schools significantly outperform national averages in terms of national standard primary school exams.

Private schools that can operate at costs affordable to even the poorest families in developing countries could form part of the solution to the education crisis in sub-Saharan Africa. The accountability of low-cost private schools to families coupled with affordable fees helps to ensure that not only are more children enrolled, but those children that are enrolled leave school having achieved the foundations of learning that will help them throughout further education and employment.