On 13 September 2022, the Right to Education Initiative and 37 civil society organisations (CSOs) released a joint statement in response to a working paper entitled ‘Can Education be Standardized? Evidence from Kenya’.
In the light of human rights standards on the right to education and the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4, we and our co-signatories raise serious concerns about the potential implications of the paper.
We urge governments and other actors to recognise the limitations of this study, which some will seek to use to justify the expansion of for-profit private provision of education and scripted teaching methods. There are well established approaches to address the challenges faced by some education systems and we urge all actors to focus on education strategies and policies that have been proven to deliver inclusive, equitable and good quality education, and that contribute to strengthening public education for all.
The above referenced working paper, published on 5 June 2022 by the University of Chicago’s Development Innovation Lab details a quantitative study conducted from 2016-2018 on Bridge International Academies (BIA). The research, which uses a randomised controlled trial (RCT) method, studied a group of students who applied for one of 10,000 two-year scholarships to attend BIA schools and compared test scores between those who received the two-year scholarship with students who did not. (It is important to note that only one-third of scholarship winners actually took the scholarship and chose to attend Bridge schools. The other two-thirds of winners wound up going to government schools or other private schools).
The working paper argues, on the basis of this comparison between scholarship-recipients and others, that primary school students who attended Bridge schools with the scholarship for two years increased their test scores by an amount equal to being in school for an extra 0.89 year for primary school pupils, and an extra 1.48 years for pre-primary school pupils. It concludes that attending schools delivering highly standardised education has the potential to produce dramatic learning gains at scale, suggesting that policymakers may wish to explore incorporation of standardisation, including scripted lesson plans and scripted teacher feedback and monitoring, in their own systems.
While the authors claim that their study provides evidence that scripted teaching works, a review of the working paper raises a number of policy and human rights concerns, primarily:
- The learning gains reported in the study are not necessarily a result of Bridge schools’ model of scripted teaching or “standardisation” and cannot be separated from an array of other factors
- Scripted lessons and standardised education models do not represent good quality education; a large body of academic literature argues they are less effective and drive inequalities in education and between learners
- Education models that disregard teachers’ rights are unethical, erode the teaching profession, and are in violation of human rights
- Financial support received for the study raises considerable concerns about funding bias
- The study ignores the broader context of Bridge's problematic behaviour as a company
- The study overlooks a major policy shift within many international organisations, which are moving away from for-profit private education and affirming public education
Read the full statement in English and French for more detail on these concerns, and for a series of measures we call for in order to strengthen the quality of education for all.