DFID should support private sector to fight the global learning crisis

Posted On: 
28th November 2017

Private sector should be supported to fight the global learning crisis says Bridge International Academies

The International Development Select Committee (IDC) has called on the Department for International Development (DFID) to boost funding for education in the developing world. Their new report also recognised that the private sector is essential to support governments in places like sub-Saharan Africa where there are insufficient numbers of schools.

The report cites some alarming statistics: 263 million children and young people remain out of school around the world; another 330 million are in school but are estimated not to be learning the basics; the UN estimates that it will be 2042 before all children can access a primary school.

If we do not challenge this, generations of children will be failed.

The IDC’s report rightly emphasises that low and middle-income countries “lack the resources” to provide “quality education to all their citizens” and that DFID agrees “the private sector is essential for universal access to be achieved.” This report, along with the recent five year strategy from DFID which announced significantly increased funding to its investment arm CDC, is a welcome change in the UK Government’s approach to both aid and the global education crisis.

This is important and urgent work. The social enterprise I work for, Bridge International Academies (Bridge), is a proud partner in pursuit of the objectives the report outlines. That is, we join with the UK Parliament in calling for non-state actors to help address the global learning crisis. We agree that the private sector must partner with governments to help them quickly improve education access and quality for some of the most marginalised children in the world.

Bridge can help. The report recognises the strong learning gains made by children in Liberia who attend a free government school run by Bridge. An independent report found that those children experienced a learning increase of 100% compared to their peers in traditional Liberian schools. These gains are real and concrete - Bridge students read faster and with greater accuracy; Bridge students also solve basic math problems faster. If this trend continues, it will mean that Bridge students will be much better equipped to face the increasing demands of secondary school and college than their traditional public school peers. These findings apply beyond Liberia.  For example, amidst a fraught political cycle, Bridge pupils in Kenya have just achieved their third consecutive year of outperforming the national average in their end of primary school exam. Bridge pupils were 20% more likely to pass the exam than their peers with 86% reaching the threshold for secondary school eligibility. 

I was glad to see that the MPs report recognising Bridge’s model is “innovative, impressive and scalable” and that Bridge “is undoubtedly expanding access to education” in highly populated areas. Our social enterprise serves communities living on under $2 a day and it is these communities who, if given access to education and opportunity, will form the foundation of future growth and prosperity.

UK Government Minister of State for International Development, Alistair Burt, said that affordable education is needed in places where children would not otherwise get any education. The report says “where governments have proven unable or unwilling to provide education sometimes support for low fee private schools is the only option available to parents.” But it is not a simple binary choice as the third option is a combination - a public private partnership that takes the best of both sectors to create high quality learning where it is most needed. I think his comments endorse innovative organisations and private sector partners, such as Bridge.

Surely he is right and it makes sense to give children a quality school now, rather than force them to wait for a quality government school that may not arrive until 2042.