Parents of Bridge International Academies in Uganda have expressed concern towards the on-going closure of the school’s 63 branches countrywide over licence issues, a move they deem discriminatory.
The parents who braved the heavy morning downpour on Sunday morning at the school’s branch in Nansana-Nsumbi to attend a parents teachers association (PTA) meeting, also want the minister of Education and Sports, First Lady Janet Museveni, to give them audience so as to air out their views on the on-going closure.
John Mary Nyanzi, the PTA national chairperson said they were in pain because their children had been sent away from schools after they had paid school fees.
“We are not against the ministry’s directive to close the schools but they should involve us as parents in such processes and also listen to our views,” Nyanzi said.
On February 15, government ordered that all schools should adhere to the existing standard operating procedures, which should be fulfilled by the management teams of both government aided and private schools, else they would be closed.
Education minister Janet later specifically warned the Bridge Schools against operating without licences. The schools’ country director Morrison Rwakakamba subsequently said that all documents required by the ministry for issuance of a licence were handed in by January 2017.
Ministry of Education permanent secretary Alex Kakooza in a statement admitted receiving the files and that the ministry had not yet verified them.
He also indicated that the management of Bridge Schools was submitting documents for all the schools as a single file yet each school is supposed to meet its own criteria.
The schools have over 15,000 pupils in their 63 countrywide branches out of which several have been closed so far. Noeline Nassazi, the secretary of the PTA said that government seems to be targeting only Bridge Schools since many others with far worse conditions still remain operational and authorities are giving them licenses.
Nassazi was also weary of the changing government rhetoric on why the schools are being shut. Government earlier said the schools were not teaching the Ugandan curriculum. Government also accused the Bridge Schools of 'teaching homosexuality' to Ugandan children.
“They used to say we use a different curriculum but our students sat for UNEB exams and passed them. If these schools don’t follow the Uganda curriculum, why is it that the student passed the exams,” Nassazi said.
Universal Primary Education
Ministry officials have since last year asked the parents of Bridge Schools to take their children to other alternatives including the government funded Universal Primary Education (UPE) schools.
However, the parents said that very many UPE schools are in dilapidated states, offer poor quality education and have less motivated teachers.
“They are sending us to UPE schools but none of them has any child in those schools because they know they are not good. We need a clear reason from the ministry as to why exactly they are closing certain schools,” Nassazi said.
A highly placed source in ministry of Education who declined to be named because he is not authorised to speak to the media told The Observer that Bridge administrators are just trying to gather sympathy through the press “instead of addressing the issues we told them as if they are the only ones being closed.”
On the accusations of selective closure, the source said that it is possible to close a particular school today and it opens the following day.
“Bridge is in the limelight unlike other schools that we close and then they open up after we leave. I must admit the ministry doesn’t have the capacity to follow up on all those schools we have closed and see if they are still closed,” the source said.
When asked whether the Bridge Schools could be a threat to the government’s UPE programme since they are cheap and provide better education, the source said “it is highly possible that parents can easily abandon UPE” but refused to delve into details of how and why.