The government will soon close over 63 nursery and primary schools, operating under the Bridge International Academies (BIA) network.
The network, the largest and most controversial chain of commercial private schools worldwide, has been on a roll, establishing learning institutions almost every two months.
Education Minister Janet Museveni told parliament last week that she had based her decision on technical reports from her office, indicating that the schools did not respect national standards.
These ranged from concerns about “poor hygiene and sanitation [that] put the life and safety of the school children in danger,” to “material used [which] could not promote teacher pupil interaction”.
Bridge International Academies is a for-profit commercial chain of low-cost private schools backed by investors such as Bill Gates (Microsoft), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) and Pierre Omidyar (eBay), as well as the World Bank, and the US and British Governments.
It aims at providing education to 10 million pupils by 2025 and already runs over 450 schools in Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria and soon Liberia and India. The company has been particularly criticised for using a non-transparent system of entirely scripted and standardised curriculum, mostly designed in the US, delivered by untrained teachers reading the script from a tablet, while selling this scheme as “world-class education”.
The move follows a petition by several civil society groups, including Initiative for Social and Economic Rights (ISER) and the Forum for Education NGOS in Uganda (Fenu).
Reacting to the minister’s revelation, ISER Executive Director, Salima Namusobya said they were encouraged by the sector’s resolve.
“This decision, which is backed up by field visits of Ministry officials, confirms the grave concerns we have had about Bridge,” said Namusobya.
“We have long been worried that BIA schools did not respect the government guidelines on basic requirements and minimum standards for schools for example regarding infrastructure, purposefully used unqualified teachers in order to reduce costs … in violation of Ugandan laws.”
For his part FENU executive director, Frederick Mwesigye, said that the ministry was acting in line recent resolution from the UN Human Rights Council that made it the duty of the government to close schools that are sub-standard or that lead to commercialisation of education.
“The Ugandan education system suffers from many shortcomings. However, it does not mean that any investors can come in and make profit out of the situation by delivering low-quality education while disregarding national authorities and standards,” Mwesigye said.
Acknowledging that the closure could result in a crisis, ISER Programme officer, Saphina Nakulima tasked the sector to work around ensuring a harmonious exercise.
“The Government now has to ensure that all children have access to free quality education and no child’s education [should] be disrupted,” she said.
“They made the wise decision to wait until the end of the term (early September) to close the Bridge schools, and we call on the authorities to use that time to help find alternative school for the children.”