The Ugandan Parliament ordered the for-profit corporation Bridge International Academies to close its schools for failing to meet the nation’s standards. The linked report comes from Education International, which represents teachers’ unions around the world. Teachers’ unions think that children should be instructed by qualified teachers. Most children in Uganda cannot afford to enroll in a fee-paying school.
The Ugandan teachers’ union elected a member to Parliament, who championed their case against the for-profit schools.
In the latest turn in the saga between the Ugandan government and Bridge International Academies the country’s parliament has instructed management to close the schools until further notice. Bridge currently has 80 pre-primary and primary schools in Uganda run by American founders Jay Kimmelman and Shannon May.
According to Uganda’s Minister of Education, Janet Museveni, Bridge has the opportunity to reopen should they meet necessary standards. However, despite the order to cease operations, Bridge says it is business as usual.
Bridge, operating what are known as ‘low-fee,’ for profit schools in Uganda, Kenya, and most recently Liberia, is financially supported by the likes of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and education conglomerate Pearson Ltd. It is also receives funding from the World Bank and DfID-UK. Bridge’s business model, which depends on public money to operate fee charging schools run by unqualified teachers, faces a continuous barrage of criticism.
Although the company promotes ‘affordable’ education to some of the world’s poorest children, Bridge forces families to pay for inadequate scripted lessons read from tablets. Many children are left to learn in questionable environments, such as classrooms lacking proper materials, including desks, chairs and in some cases, toilets.
This is the response from Bridge:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Bridge International Academies statement on comments in Ugandan Parliament
Kampala, 9 August 2016: Bridge International Academies has expressed sincere concern over statements made in the Ugandan parliament this afternoon threatening to force 12,000 Bridge children out of school and 800 Ugandans out of work, by seeking the closure of Bridge International Academies. Bridge has been working in partnership with the Government of Uganda to ensure that all Ugandan children have access to a high quality education.
“We are waiting to receive the report referred to in Parliament and a copy of the Parliamentary Hansard to review the Ministry’s concerns”, says Michael Kaddu, Head of Corporate and Public Affairs for Bridge International Academies in Uganda. “We have been working closely with the Ministry to put the needs of the children first and come to a speedy resolution of any issues made known to us.”
“In the meantime, our academies are running as usual as we continue to work with the relevant educational authorities to uphold our commitment to our parents and communities to provide a world-class education to their children.”
“Bridge has been a great blessing to our community,” says Mrs Gertrude Kizza from the Nsumbi area of Nansana, the grandmother of two Bridge children and the LC1 of the Nsumbi community. “Prior to Bridge opening in Nsumbi, our children either had to travel a long distance to get to school or pay high fees for the local private schools. As a result, many children did not go to school. Since Bridge opened in February of this year, I have seen great changes in my grandchildren, who are now leaders in English and confidence.”
“As a Ugandan citizen I should have the right to give my grand-children a better future, which is why I sent them to Bridge”, says Mrs Kizza. “Now the government is taking away that right.”
Bridge now operates 63 nursery and primary schools across Uganda. Bridge teaches the Ugandan curriculum, using technology to prepare and support teachers, streamline administrative processes and monitor attendance and academic progress.
“I joined Bridge after teacher training college because I was excited by the idea of a school system were I would be prepared and supported to ensure children are learning”, says Patrick Mutegeki a teacher at Bridge International Academy in Nsumbi. “Working at Bridge has made me a better educator and has made me excited for the future of Ugandan children. Bridge pupils in Kenya had a 40% higher chance of passing the national primary exit exams than the national average, and have gone on to the best secondary schools in Kenya and the United States. I want those same opportunities for Ugandan children.”
Bridge International Academies is the 21st largest employer in Uganda, with close to 800 Ugandan employees and has already invested over UGX10bn in the Ugandan economy, with plans to invest another UGX25bn in the coming years.