By: Bridge Internat... | Communications at Bridge International Academies | May 10th, 2017

Contrary to the cultural expectations of the countries in which we serve, women are playing a lead role in driving changes to the education sector. Through educating girls and empowering women, communities, countries and nations can be transformed.

This doesn’t happen overnight, but equal educational opportunity and female role models, both in the classroom and in the community all play a key role. Bridge’s powerful, archetypal ‘Super Mama’ concept recognises this and the women at the heart of the grassroot movement to improve education where it’s most needed.

The education sector in various low and middle income countries is changing in tremendous ways largely due to the diversification of the education sector and the introduction of parental choice, in communities that previously had none.

Take Sub Saharan Africa as a case study, which still has 34 million children not in primary school. A new international report, highlighting Bridge as a case study and funded by USAID, DFID, and others, says that one in five children in Africa are already enrolled in affordable schools and in the next five years this number will increase to one in four children, from all sorts of backgrounds.

However, what sits behind these numbers? Who is driving more and more families to enrol their kids in affordable schools, and why?

To answer this, we conducted ethnographic research in over 8 communities, spread out across Kenya. We took a long, deep look into the lives of parents and families living in this new education terrain with the goal of understanding the underlying dynamics driving education decision-making.

What we found was a powerful giant in the room - women. In every community we went to, we found ourselves immediately immersed into a world where women are driving education decision making. They do not accept poor schooling, they have dreams and ambitions for their children and they are making decisions that will enable them to be fulfilled. In communities across some of the most underserved and marginalised areas of Africa and India, women are choosing to invest in their children. The cost can be marginal, the benefit is often huge and for those that rally against the schools and education they have chosen for their children, they are ferocious advocates in their right to choose.

With new access to micro-finance mechanisms, informal savings groups, and so on, women not only have increased bargaining power in the home, but also growing social capital in the community. At Bridge, we quickly realised that they use formal and informal groups to learn from each other and discuss matters of shared concern, such as the quality of education.

Because this generation of women grew up in families where they had limited access to education, many feel they have been robbed of educational opportunities. This in turn influences their views on parenting today: a good parent ensures their children have a great education. As a result, they prioritise education and use their influence to impact and drive decisions – both in the home and in the community.

Through this research, not only did we find the answer to our questions but we also found a powerful female archetype: we call her the ‘Supa-mama’.

Bridge has created a special role for women, playing an active part in shaping education in their local community. We recognise and encourage ‘Super Mamas’ to be the voice of their local community and to contribute to the planning and decision making within local Bridge schools. In Kenya, for example, these women come together from across the country, every year, to talk about what they have achieved and discuss the best ways to strengthen their school network.

The fact that 50% of Bridge pupils are girls, is perhaps due to the work of these women. Mothers do not want to see their daughters left out of schooling and their life chances reduced. They want better than they had. In Liberia, A girl is more likely to be married by 18 than to know how to read, and it is women who are turning that situation around, in Liberia and across Africa.

Read more about how Bridge is empowering women and girls: