WASHINGTON—Education International, the global union federation representing 32 million educators in 170 countries, released a damning report today highlighting the abuses of for-profit school chain Bridge International Academies in Uganda.
The report, “Schooling the Poor Profitably: The Innovations and Deprivations of Bridge International Academies in Uganda,” documents in distressing detail BIA’s disregard for legal and educational standards established by the Ugandan government. This includes failing to employ qualified teachers, failing to observe the national curriculum and failing to uphold school building standards.
BIA has expanded rapidly in Uganda 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 research revealed that as many as 9 out of 10 BIA teachers are unlicensed, in direct contravention of Uganda’s Education Act.
The report shows that BIA’s business plan is based on standardizations, automated technology, shoddy school structures, and internet-enabled devices that are used to carry out all instructional and non-instructional activities on the cheap.
BIA is backed by $100 million in funding from global educational conglomerate Pearson, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, the World Bank, the U.S. and U.K. governments, and others. It plans to sell basic education services to 10 million fee-paying students in low-income communities throughout Africa and Asia by 2025.
However, many Ugandan children cannot afford to pay anything for education, much less BIA’s fees, according to officials. Families with an average household income have to spend up to 23 to 27 percent of their earnings just to send one child to a Bridge school for one year. Indeed, the BIA school dropout rate ranges from 10 to 60 percent.
The report highlights BIA’s use of 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. BIA makes money by keeping overheads low and by employing unqualified teachers and paying them severely low wages.
The physical structures of Bridge Academies are also shown to be below par, with reports of “poor hygiene and sanitation” in school buildings that often do not meet basic requirements and minimum standards established by the Uganda Ministry of Education.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, an EI member organization, said: “This report serves as a warning about what happens when private education providers put profits above people. BIA’s shameful abuses, cookie-cutter curriculum and cost cutting make for distressing reading but sadly aren’t in the least bit surprising.
“BIA and other for-profit operators need to realize that their compliance with national and international laws and regulations isn’t optional. Every student, no matter his or her country, has the right to a high-quality, affordable education taught by qualified educators. In Uganda, BIA has failed to deliver.”
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.”