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We're simply teaching robots, Bridge Schools teachers admit

Teachers at embattled Bridge International Academies have admitted that they don't own or prepare content they teach to their students. 
 
URN has visited at least five Bridge Schools in Kawempe, Wakiso and Nasana, interacting with the teachers and residents to assess the state of the schools that the ministry of Education says are operating without licences.

A classroom session at one of Bridge Schools Academies 

Since 2014, Bridge has established at least 63 academies in Uganda, and in a recent interview, Bridge Academies country director, Morrison Rwakakamba, said that they would want to open as many as a thousand schools.
 
Bridge academies opened a new technology savvy chapter in Uganda's education system; with teachers using tablet computers to conduct lessons. The teachers, however, admit that they don't know the source of the information that they teach. The teaching materials are loaded unto teachers' tablets who then download and deliver them to pupils.
 
"We are told that there are people at Bridge Schools country offices who develop teaching lessons and upload them for us," a teacher told URN.

"We are told that lessons are taught uniformly in all Bridge Schools across the country. If we are teaching primary five pupils science here between 2:00PM to 4:00PM, that is what other schools will be teaching."
 
Another teacher said; "We are told some of the lessons we teach are developed by people outside Uganda. The only job we are required to do is to go in class and teach children what is given to us on computers."

Some of the content, a teacher said, is hard to explain to pupils because the teachers are required to follow  robotic instructions on how to explain content without deviation.  
 
What the teachers told URN correlates with the September 2016 study by Curtis Riep and Mark Machacek on the operation of Bridge Schools in Uganda. The study is titled; "Schooling the Poor Profitably: the innovations and deprivations of Bridge International Academies in Uganda."
 
The study says instructional materials are pre-programmed and "centrally developed by Bridge at headquarters in Boston, Massachusetts and Nairobi, Kenya, and sent electronically to each school site using web-enabled smartphones that transfer curriculum to tablet e-readers."
 
The "teacher computers" as Bridge calls them are highly controlled by the computers. The scripted lessons given to Bridge teachers for instance involves step by step instructions explaining what teachers should do and say during any given moment of a class.

For instance, the computer guides teachers on when to shout a word, when to write it on a blackboard, and when to call a pupil to write or even rub the word off the blackboard. 

A scripted Bridge Academies English lesson seen by URN on their tablets for instance reads; "the next word is 'maize.' Call on a pupil to come to the board and write 'maize.' If the pupil spells it well, give him/her cheers. If the pupil spells it incorrectly, call on another pupil to come up and correct the spelling. Rub the board…."
 
On its website, Bridge justifies that the use of teacher computers, containing world-class lesson plans based on national curriculums, brings a high quality education to some of the remotest parts of Africa.

"By taking the stress out of planning lessons, our teachers are able to focus on the pupils, give time to those that are struggling and go round the classroom answering questions," they argue.
 
By linking up community members with tablet computers containing scripted instruction, Bridge argues that "we are giving our pupils access to the types of teachers they would never be able to afford."  
 
Curtis Riep and Mark Machacek observed that since all aspects of instruction and pedagogy are controlled and automated through the use of teacher-computers, Bridge assumes it does not require professionally-trained or certified teachers.

They said Bridge has established its own Bridge International Training Institutes where it provides three-week teacher-training programmes for new recruits.

They further observed that about 80 percent of Bridge teachers are unqualified and the curriculum they teach is not approved by National Curriculum Development Centre.
 
For over a week, the Bridge International Academies Uganda officials were not available to comment on this story. The director Education Standards at the ministry of Education and Sports, Dr Kedrace Turyagyenda, told URN that according to the teachers' professional code of conduct, every teacher is supposed to plan, prepare lessons and teach their content.
 
"A teacher is supposed to prepare teaching content bearing in mind that children are different. A teacher has to take into account these individual differences. That is the expected international standard," she says.
 
For instance, she says teachers teaching pupils in the same class in different areas or year after year must be cognisant that they are different learners. The preparation of teaching materials she says necessitates taking into account these differences.
 
Indeed the teachers' professional code of conduct says a teacher shall "prepare relevant schemes of work, lesson notes teaching aids well in advance to ensure effective teaching and learning and set an adequate amount of written and practice exercises promptly for effective teaching and learning."
 
East African education NGO, Uwezo country coordinator, Dr Mary Goretti Nakabugo, told this reporter that Bridge should follow national guideline and curriculum.
 
To discuss Bridge Schools' curriculum and teaching technology, education consultant Fagil Mande says it is like flogging a dead horse and overstepping the legs.

"Haven't they been told to close? When we discuss that question is like we are leaving behind a bigger question. If they have been told to close that means something is wrong. Those could be part of the reasons why they have been told to close," Mande said.
 
The ministry of Education permanent secretary, Alex Kakooza, told URN that school owners who defied the ministry's directive will be charged.

"Unlike Uganda Revenue Authority, we don't have seals to lock buildings of schools and say you can't open until you have come back. Once, we serve you with the notice, we have already closed you," he said.
 
Kakooza revealed that he has written to the permanent secretary Ministry of Local Government to charge owners who are operating closed schools.

Comments

0 #11 ejakait engoraton 2018-03-29 11:25
IT defeats any logic that one can try to come up with.

Pupils at the end of the year or at any critical stage, that is Primary Leaving Exams, are given exactly the same exams, whether in Kampala or Karamoja, whether at Buddo Junior or some Mango Tree primary, yet they do not want a system that teaches them in exactly the same or at least similar fashion.

Right from our politics, to job opportunities, there are those who are bent on seeing that there is no level playing field.
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