Reuben Mwangi Wambugu
Reuben Mwangi Wambugu is Bridge Kenya’s Managing Director. In his previous role as the Schools Director at Bridge Kenya, he supported the daily workflow management of all schools across 30 of Kenya’s counties. He is passionate about the changes he has seen taking place over the years within communities as children have excelled academically and opened new doors for themselves and their families.

Keeping students motivated through new and engaging formats in Kenya

Interview with Reuben Wambugu, Managing Director, Bridge Kenya
Sub-Saharan Africa
18. Mar 2021

Bridge International Academies runs low-cost private schools in Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda and India. Their exceptional teacher training and lesson planning improves education for children from under-served communities. They work in partnership with local communities, teachers, and parents to support and deliver high quality education for primary and pre-primary children.

What were the main challenges to your education model that arose as a result of the pandemic?

We believe that every child has a right to quality education. The extended closure of schools and the restriction of movement to fight Covid-19 meant that pupils could no longer benefit from the in person daily face-to-face relationship with their teachers. In Kenya all schools closed in March 2020, only weeks into the new school year, and did not fully reopen until January. So that was our main challenge; to adapt quickly and create a remote learning programme for our pupils.

Our remote learning programmes had to keep teachers at the heart of the learning process. We worked hard to ensure that children felt within the school system and structure despite distanced learning, with a view to ensure learning continued and pupils remained engaged while at home to minimise dropout rates, both during the pandemic and when schools reopened. We knew the communities we serve would face logistical challenges, including a lack of access to computers and the cost of data. So we had to think of innovative ways to help parents access teaching materials and keep children learning while schools were closed.

A student learning with Bridge@home
A student learning with Bridge@home. © Bridge Kenya

Have you developed any new or innovative learning opportunities and content during Covid times? Can you share some examples?

We rolled out a free programme called Bridge@home, a learning resource designed to help keep our pupils engaged, entertained, and most importantly learning. The programme contained resources that were mainly based on the technology and access that parents and pupils already used in their daily lives. The programme took parents through clear and simple steps to access schoolwork for their children. Each grade had its own weekly plan and learning guides for each day. All the resources were aligned to the national curriculum and were specifically designed for children’s age and grade or class. They included lesson guides, digital storybooks, self-study activity packs and mobile interactive quizzes.

How are you addressing issues of connectivity and digital inclusion now that many education programs have shifted to online learning? In the video made by iBAN featuring Bridge Academies, the children attending Kingston Academy in Nairobi did not have access to computers at home. How did this affect their learning during the Covid-19 pandemic? (See video here: at 3:07)

We knew at the start of the pandemic that we would need to design a programme using many different entry points, to make sure it served all our communities. Mobile phone proliferation is at an advanced level in Kenya, with more than half of the community population using smartphones. We also made sure that we could deliver our @home learning through WhatsApp, which is widely used in the communities we serve because it is a low cost and low connectivity option. The mobile interactive quizzes we developed specifically for WhatsApp were designed to be fast - they take between three and ten minutes to complete - but also challenging and fun. They were easy to follow, with a series of small choices. That kind of accessibility is important in the communities we serve.

One thing we did at Bridge Kenya was to have teachers help print out learning materials for families who were not able to do this at home. We also partnered with local internet cyber cafes providers located in the local community to print out learning materials for families. Every week, parents would visit this local internet hub and securely print out materials. Pupils do not always require access to the internet to learn. Our SMS quizzes are grade specific and cover all subject areas. They provide frequent, consistent opportunity for retrieval practice and include automated feedback on correct and incorrect responses. With schools reopened, we continue to make extensive learning opportunities available through the Bridge@home learning services. Our services are now more accessible than ever.

Did you adopt any new tools or formats for teacher training specifically as a result of Covid-19?

Bridge Kenya is always innovating and our teachers are all very well trained and comfortable in the use of technology to deliver very carefully planned lessons and targeted support to their pupils. In compliance with the Covid-19 protocols, we adopted online training for our teachers and staff where this was possible. Much of the communication with the school and the support office team is through technology and so this has continued throughout; ensuring that teachers felt supported. Teachers have been taught new digital skills and education tools, such as the WhatsApp quizzes and running virtual classrooms. Classes were in WhatsApp groups with their teachers, available to answer questions on the daily learning activities and offer feedback. It’s an effective way of children still feeling connected to the class and their teacher.

Fortunately, with schools once again open in Kenya, our teachers and pupils are able to work together once again. But we also see the @home learning approach and teaching materials we have developed during the pandemic as complementary tools, which our teachers, parents and pupils will be using to enhance the learning experience, even with schools now reopened. These are now being integrated into school programmes - under the heading of 'blended learning'.

Did the Covid-19 pandemic lead you to develop new partnerships to address education challenges?

Bridge Kenya partnered with cybercafés in the communities that we work in to reach parents and pupils without access to the internet. These cafes were provided with links to Bridge@home sites where they could download materials and print them, allowing parents to photocopy them at affordable costs. It was another way we worked to overcome a lack of connectivity for many of those we support. Our SMS quizzes are accessible and usable at no cost by all children in Kenya. We partnered with local community leadership, school owners and policy makers to create awareness on this great initiative. We were also able to use technology to reach out to the wider community of children who are not Bridge Kenya pupils. Our @home learning programme enabled us to reach more children in Kenya than ever before as you didn't need to be a Bridge pupil to access the programmes.