Bridge International Academies — Investment Prospectus

Power, corruption and lies

The big picture about big data & big EDU

An anonymously leaked document provides the big picture about big edu and big data. Private student, parent & teacher data to be monetised for marketing & surveillance purposes.

Bridge International Academies, the for-profit edubusiness bankrolled by the World Bank, DFID, Pearson and venture philanthropists, Bill Gates & Mark Zuckerberg, having failed to conquer Africa now have their sights set on India.

As revealed in my earlier article BIA plan to scale their business to 10 million children within 10 years by deploying a very narrow version of standardised education, delivered by technicians reading lessons from a script, to children in some of the worlds most vulnerable nations.

The inconvenient truth behind their plan is that the efficacy of their approach, despite already scaling to more than 500 schools on the African continent since 2008, is unproven. What evidence they do have for efficacy is the equivalent of what British diplomats might call a “dodgy dossier”. Their published white papers intended to demonstrate efficacy are nothing more than a “sexed up” marketing report that “has such considerable weaknesses that its claims need to be treated with scepticism”.

These are the words of renowned statistician Professor Harvey Goldstein who took the trouble of studying BIA’s reports when august organisations like Harvard and Stanford simply parroted them without questioning the source or flawed methodology. Likewise, organisations like the World Bank, Pearson et al have invested so heavily without due diligence that they are surely too embarrassed to admit that they’ve been duped and continue to invest seeking a return on their money, at any cost.

BIA and their investors have identified poverty as a market opportunity as their recent pitch deck for investment clearly demonstrates. BIA want to grab a sizeable piece of two markets; the USD $64 billion “parent paid market” made up of the 800 million nursery and primary aged children living on less that $2 a day, and the $179 billion “publicly-funded charter school movement for low-income countries”.

The deck provides unique insights into how BIA plans to monetise the data gathered from school children through their education career starting at nursery school. Highlights include:

Usage of existing data for credit scoring and brokering to financial loan and other products” (page 10)

“Creation and brokering of low-cost health insurance” (page 10)

Uniform Sales — will grow to 15% of revenue” (in addition to the monthly school fee)

Lunch Program — potential for 10% revenue share” — BIA take 10% of the children’s lunch money

This 11 page document is worth a look (see here) — suddenly an affordable learning programme looks far more expensive socially and financially than the label price. Seen through the prism of “big data” this is looking less like an education play and more like a surveillance play of Edward Snowden proportions. In this light, the investments in a commercial organisation by the likes of the US and UK governments as well as Facebook via Mark Zuckerberg begins to make more sense than simply philanthropic “development”.

Bridge International Academies — Investment Prospectus

Ironically, the US husband and wife founded, BIA eschews domestic attempts at education provision as a giant cottage industry comprising of hundreds of thousands of non-standardised sole proprietor organisations, “mom and pops” and “a few localised companies starting to crop up”.

Gosh! Those blasted natives and their uppity ideas of creating and sustaining their own education systems within their own cultural context when BIA wants to vacuum them all up and turn it into a tidy return for its investors.

The only way that BIA can address the “market opportunity” that poverty presents is to impoverish its provision by slashing the costs of teaching staff and the buildings in which learning is supposed to take place. Scaling then becomes an industrial manufacturing process inspired by the likes of Frederick Taylor, a late 19th century management consultant, whose theories were used to transform craft production to mass production.

The principle behind Taylor’s “Scientific Management” was that if you measure everything you can replicate it without the need of skilled artisans thus outputting a consistent standardised product. It’s these processes that inform the bloated management consulting firms of the last century such as McKinsey and Booz Allen Hamilton. Historically, these products were cars or spoons but in BIA’s case it’s children. Not necessarily your children or my children or even their children because we wouldn’t tolerate this but if we look away now then we are saying that it’s okay for “those children”.

Bridge International Academies — Investment Prospectus

Having had it’s expansion plans in Kenya and Uganda stalled, by order of the governments in those nations, BIA now has its eyes on India and 4,000 schools in Andhra Pradesh. According to Angelo Gavrielatos, project director for Education International — the global federation of teachers’ trade unions,

“Of serious concern is the recently signed Memorandum of Understanding between the government of Andhra Pradesh and, Pearson supported low fee private school chain, Bridge International Academies in which the government has outsourced a number of its schools to. A recent report produced by BIA states its intention to operate 4000 schools in that state. At the same time the Telangana government has ordered the shutting down of 4,000 government schools.”

This hardly sounds like a coincidence given that prior to bifurcation Telangana and Andhra Pradesh were one state just over 12 months ago. They still share the same capital, Hyderabad, and one might expect that it’s the schools in Hyderabad that BIA are targeting.

Having spent some time travelling through India visiting schools and education programmes while researching my last book, Learning {Re}imagined, I know first hand the immense challenge India faces in providing access to inclusive and equitable, quality education for its citizens. It may seem churlish of me then to complain, as one India-based education provider described, “about the toppings when we haven’t got the pizza base right” but we’re not making pizzas here and BIA aren’t creating chefs. By deploying proprietary 21st century technology to deliver 19th century learning all rights in the education system they deliver belongs to them in perpetuity.

We wouldn’t accept a healthcare system where “Big Pharma” also owned the hospitals and employed all the doctors but that’s exactly the kind of closed loop system that’s happening with “Big Edu” where $multi-billion corporations like Pearson seek to own the content, the exam and the schools.

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An entertaining & thought provoking slayer of sacred cows, Graham Brown-Martin works globally with senior leadership teams to help organisations adapt in the face of rapid change & innovation. By challenging entrenched thinking he liberates teams to think in new ways to solve complex challenges. His book Learning {Re}imagined is published by Bloomsbury and he is represented for speaking engagements via Wendy Morris at the London Speakers Bureau.