In the past few years, a group of Western investors have introduced low-cost for-profit private schools into African nations. Their company is called Bridge International Academies. It is a “tech startup” developed by entrepreneurs who hoped to do well by doing good. Veteran journalist Peg Tyre wrote a balanced yet implicitly scathing article about BIA in the New York Times Magazine. Some of the investors are Mark Zuckerberg, Pearson, the World Bank, Bill Gates, and Pierre Omidyar. The schools seek to replace the public schools, which are free but usually underfunded and poorly equipped. Bridge teachers teach from tablets loaded with scripted curriculum (apparently written in Boston by charter school teachers who understand how to write scripted curricula). It claims to get better results than the public schools, but at a higher price. Even though these schools are “low cost,” most families in poor nations can not afford to pay. It is operating schools in Kenya, Uganda, and Nigeria, and a few in India.

Are they philanthropic saviors of African children or neocolonialists?

The government of Uganda is aggressively pushing back against the Bridge schools. 

Janet K. Museveni is First Lady and Minister of Education and Sports. She explains in the linked article that the 63 Bridge schools operating in Uganda are unlicensed and do not meet the standards required to operate.

The Bridge tactic of organizing pupils to march on behalf of the school corporation will sound familiar to Americans.

She writes:

The media has been awash with news about the intransigent manner in which Management of the Bridge International Academies (BIA) which were recently renamed Bridge Schools are acting when faced with closure by the Ministry of Education and Sports for lack of licenses to operate in Uganda.

“It must be puzzling to the public particularly when all they see, as a result of the aggressive media campaign by Bridge operators, are pictures of children that look fairly “organised” as they match on streets and demonstrate at Parliament to protect the interests of the proprietors – at the risk of simply being used as pawns in a game they hardly comprehend.”

She goes on to describe the requirements of the law and the power of the Ugandan government to set standards. She describes the efforts made by the Government to regulate and inspect Bridge schools. These were the findings of the investigation.

 

“Key findings of the multi-disciplinary team that were brought to the attention of the Bridge team during this meeting are summarised hereunder:

“Issue #1: – Curriculum

“Early childhood Development (ECD):

“Children are kept for long hours at school without any designated resting places; did not use the approved ECD Learning Framework and the Caregivers’ Guide; administered written examinations which are against Government Policy.

“Lower Primary:

“The preparation, language of instruction and pedagogy were not in line with the approved curriculum.

“Upper Primary

“Curriculum Content, Schemes of Work, Lesson Plans, Textbooks, Schools and Class timetables did not conform to the approved Ugandan curriculum which they purport to implement. Many teachers were not free to adjust what they received on the tablets to teach from a central source and appeared to live in fear; claiming to be underpaid and lacking a forum for airing their grievances. Most of the Head Teachers, referred to as “Academy Managers” were not professionally trained and could not provide instructional leadership.

“Issue #2: – Teacher Qualification/Competence

“There were no clear documents on teachers’ qualifications in the Managers’ (Head Teachers’) Office; most teachers had no contracts; and about a half had no authentic Teacher Registration numbers.

“Notwithstanding the well-known benefits of introducing technology into the delivery process, teachers should have the freedom to adapt their classroom schemes of work, lesson plans, assessment and remedial activities to the practicalities of the specific teaching-learning context rather than be enslaved to the restrictions of centrally prepared and delivered lessons.

“Issue #3: – Bridge Schools Infrastructure

“All the facilities were temporary with School structures made of roofing sheet material (both walls and roof) and wire mesh, which are unsuitable for students during very hot weather conditions. The structures have no windows and battened wooden doors were used without proper framing. Sound-proofing between Classrooms is inadequate. There is no protection against lightening on any of the structures. Sanitation facilities are shared amongst students (boys and girls) and teachers. The facilities were not fit to be a school.

“Based on the findings/observations outlined above, specific and general recommendations were made on curriculum, teachers and facilities to enable them meet the basic requirements and minimum standards.”

She and the Government of zuganda are serious about regulating Bridge schools.

“I should, however, add that the impunity being exhibited by Bridge Management, and its likes, will not be tolerated and that Government will spare no effort to use all legal means to enforce the requirements of the Law to protect our children and our future, as a country.”