A new study released Oct. 5 by Education International (EI) reveals how profits come before students and how legal standards in education have been disregarded by an edu-business operating in Uganda.
The EI report, “Schooling the Poor Profitably”, follows weeks of investigation into the operations of Bridge International Academies (BIA) in Uganda where it has established 63 private for-profit schools, since February 2015, with an estimated 12,000 fee-paying customers. This is the same company that attempted to intimidate Canadian researcher, Curtis Riep, by having him falsely accused and arrested while he was in Uganda last May.
The company has been the subject of significant criticism for failing to meet legal and educational standards and a government order closed all the schools in August. Although the schools have since reopened temporarily, EI is keeping a watchful eye.
The grip of Bridge International Academies in Uganda
The education provided by Bridge International Academies (BIA) in Uganda disregards legal and educational standards established by the Government, according to a new study by Education International (EI). These include requirements to employ qualified teachers, observe the national curriculum and standards related to school facilities.
BIA is one of the largest education for-profit companies in the world, with plans to sell basic education services directly to 10 million fee-paying students in low-income communities throughout Africa and Asia by 2025. In Uganda, BIA has expanded rapidly since February 2015, with an estimated 12,000 fee-paying students. However, in August, the Permanent Secretary of Uganda decided to close all BIA schools due the company’s failure to meet the Government’s educational and legal standards.
EI’s analysis of Bridge’s curriculum and pedagogy reveals serious implications for teachers and students that fundamentally alters the nature and practice of education itself. The company has created a business plan based on strict standardisations, automated technology, cheap school structures, and internet-enabled devices that are used to carry out all instructional and non-instructional activities that make up an education system.
BIA uses broadband technology to deliver its ‘Academy-in-a-box’, with pre-programmed curricula transferred to tablet e-readers - ‘teacher-computers’ - that distribute knowledge and information to pupils. This represents a business strategy for drastically reducing operating costs and benefiting from economies of scale by employing unqualified teachers and paying them severely low wages. EI’s research revealed that up to nine out of ten BIA teachers are unlicensed, in direct contravention of Uganda’s Education Act (2008).
In addition, the physical structures of Bridge Academies are below par, with reports of "poor hygiene and sanitation" in school buildings which often do not meet the Basic Requirements and Minimum Standards established by the Ministry of Education.
BIA fails in its mission to provide ‘affordable’ education for all children in Uganda. Children of low class cannot afford to pay anything for education, much less BIA fees, according to a Ministry official. Families with an average household income have to expend up to 23 – 27% of their earnings just to send one child to a Bridge school for one year. Indeed, the BIA school dropout rate ranges from 10%-60%.
Education International’s General Secretary, Fred van Leeuwen, said: ”We call on the Government of Uganda to remain steadfast in demanding that Bridge International Academies operate in accordance with Ugandan legislative and regulatory requirements. Every child deserves to be taught by a qualified teacher delivering an engaging curriculum in safe schools conducive to good teaching and learning.”
Download here the report: SCHOOLING THE POOR PROFITABLY: the innovations and deprivations of Bridge International Academies in Uganda by Riep, C. & Machacek, M. (2016)
Angelo Gavrielatos (Project Director, Education International): +61488012045