A By-the-E-Book Education, for $5 a Month

Tina Rosenberg:

Dennis Abudho and his family of five children live in a one-bedroom house without electricity in Bandani, an informal settlement in Kisumu, Kenya. Abudho is active in the PTA at Bridge International Academy in Bandani, where his four oldest children (three boys and a girl) are in baby level, first, third and fifth grade. You might not expect someone like Abudho — who said he is a casual laborer, operating a bread machine at a local mill and bakery — to have four children in private school. But he can afford it — the cost of school for each child at Bridge, including books and materials, is the equivalent of $5.16 a month.
Why doesn’t Abudho send his children to public schools? One reason is that there aren’t enough of them in Bandani. Informal settlements in Kenya, and many other places, have few public schools because their inhabitants are unregistered; legally, there are few children who need school.
But even when public school is available, learning may not be. Public schools in poor countries are mostly overcrowded — there can be 100 or more children in a class. While there are heroic teachers, there are many others for whom teaching is more a sinecure than a vocation — they are absent half the time, and not actively teaching when present. Since they have no supervision, this behavior incurs no penalty. Materials may consist solely of a chalkboard. Coursework usually consists of rote learning and memorization.