Education International
Education International

Uganda: for-profit education chain suffers major blow

published 4 November 2016 updated 14 November 2016

Uganda’s High Court has ordered the immediate closure of more than 60 Bridge International Academies found operating in contravention of the law, a decision that backs the Ministry of Education’s clampdown on the global edu-business.

The ruling of the High Court in Kampala, Uganda, may mark the beginning of the end for the north American edu-business Bridge International Academies (Bridge) in Uganda. After a tug-of-war with the country’s Ministry of Education, the schools, attended by 12,000 students, are to close immediately, according to news reports.

“The applicant (Bridge International Schools) is operating its academies in contravention of the law. The Permanent Secretary ministry of Education (Dr Rose Nasali) made all the necessary efforts to engage the applicant to remedy the inadequacies in its operations but the applicant did not take the requisite actions,” Justice Basaza ruled. “The Permanent Secretary Ministry of Education has both the mandate to promote quality control of education and training and the power to close institutions that do not comply with the set requirements and minimum standards and the law… I have no basis whatsoever to fault Permanent Secretary Ministry of Education in her decision to close the applicant’s academies for the reasons set out in her letter of July 25, 2016. In the result, this application fails and is dismissed with costs to the respondent. I so order.”

Education International applauds the decision“EI welcomes the decision which upholds the importance of educational standards in the interest of protecting children and their right to quality education. Every child deserves to be taught by a qualified teacher delivering an engaging curriculum in safe schools conducive to quality teaching and learning,” said EI’s General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen in his response to the news.

EI’s affiliate in Uganda UNATU also acknowledged Uganda’s High Court decision. James Tweheyo, UNATU General Secretary,  stated: “We call on the Ugandan government to protect and promote the principle of access and equity for all students through the provision of public education, which must set the standards for high quality education. We also expect the government to put in place appropriate procedures to ensure students affected by the closures are quickly reassigned to public schools.”

A major setbackBridge, a company backed by the World Bank, the U.K.’s Department for International Development (DfID), philanthropistBill Gates and Facebook head Mark Zuckerberg, runs more than 400 nurseries and primary schools across Africa. It started its expansion after opening its first school in a slum in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2009.

The Ugandan branch of Bridge has recently come under scrutiny for offering an education well below the national standards, which prompted the order by the Ugandan Education Ministry to close the schools in August 2016. This was preceeded by an intervention of UNATU during a parliamentary session in July that helped shed light on some of the company’s practices. In what was treated as a matter of national importance, Margaret Rwabushaija Namubiru, UNATU’s spokesperson during the session, described the poor infrastructure, lack of trained teachers and quality curricula that disqualified Bridge to operate as an education provider.

These events were followed by the publication of a report on Bridge’s practices in Uganda by EI in September 2016, Schooling the Poor Profitably. The report found that Bridge International’s “profit-driven, cost-cutting, standardised and internet-based approach to education delivery involves a number of critical shortcomings.”