The Controversial Silicon Valley-funded Quest to Educate the World’s Poorest Kids
Tuesday, January 23, 2018
On a Monday morning in October, Faith stands before her class of kids, ages 10 and up. She looks down at her tablet computer, which details the day’s lessons. Her teaching plan gives instructions down to the minute, including when kids should stand up, solve problems, cheer for a classmate, and work with others.
They have precisely two minutes to discuss a prompt—What is your favorite thing to wear?—with their desk mates. Then they have 38 minutes to write one page on a similar question. Faith reads the directions from the tablet, scans the classroom, and “signals,” or snaps her fingers, when it is the students’ turn to respond.
As the students write, the teacher makes her way around the classroom, peering over their shoulders. This is a strategy called “check, respond, leave.” She instructs one student not to cross out his words, and to make sure he indents. She does not appear to read what he has written, or correct misspelled words.
She calls on one student to read his answer. He reads, haltingly but confidently, that he likes to wear blue jeans “because they make me look like a big man.” The students laugh. Faith smiles and responds: “That is correct.” She calls on another student. His answer, too, is “correct.”
Reaching the end of the lesson, she doesn’t ask if there are any questions. “Today our goal was …” she pauses, looking at the blackboard where she wrote the lesson goal, “to practice writing.”
It might sound as if Faith is teaching in a high-tech classroom in Silicon Valley. In fact, she’s in Mukuru, one of Nairobi’s biggest slums. She works for Bridge International Academies, a Valley-backed chain of schools in Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Uganda, and India.
Jenny Anderson is a reporter for Quartz.