These schools wouldn’t be good enough for kids in the UK, so stop promoting them overseas

22 November 2017

“Unsanitary learning conditions”, “unqualified teachers”, “poor quality education”, “unaffordable”. These are just some of the damning terms used to describe schools across Africa run by Bridge International Academies, a private for-profit company that provides ‘low cost’ private education.

No parent should have to send their child to a school like that. In the UK, we rightly have standards that schools need to meet to ensure children receive quality education in a safe environment. So why is the UK’s department for international development (DFID) investing aid money into the private company responsible for providing substandard schooling?  

Damning reports

In yet a further indictment against Bridge Academies, the international development select committee (IDC) yesterday released its report into DFID’s work on education. It raises serious questions once again regarding the quality of education provided by the company, its inability to reach the poorest and most marginalised children, as well as the sustainability of such a high-cost model of providing education. Serious concerns have also been raised regarding its relationship with country governments.

These concerns are only the latest in a string of similar criticisms made about Bridge International Academies. In December 2016, the Kenyan National Union of Teachers issued a damning report claiming the company provide "poor quality education" and that they remain unaffordable to many households, contributing to "educational segregation" in the country. Meanwhile, the Ugandan government threatened to close all Bridge International Academies schools in the country due to substandard conditions. Earlier this year over 100 civil society groups from across the world issued a statement calling on investors to end their support for the company.

Yesterday’s report must be the final nail in the coffin for DFID’s funding of Bridge International Academies. It is now clear that DFID must end its funding of this private education provider once and for all. DFID needs to end both its direct funding to the company, and its additional investments made via the CDC Group (DFID’s private equity branch). 

The problem goes beyond just one company

The model of providing education via private for-profit providers is not the right approach. Access to quality education should be something every child has a right to, not a privilege reserved for those children whose parents can afford it. The IDC report shows how there is simply not sufficient evidence to support the roll out of a model of education provision that is reliant on private providers.

In 2015, Global Justice Now published a report that exposed many of the problems associated DFID’s agenda of promoting private education. An unprecedented 2016 statement from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC)  warned that UK aid's support for low-fee, private schools run by for-profit businesses could even be considered a violation of children’s rights. DFID has also faced criticism from the UN special rapporteur on education, who claims that commercialised education furthers inequality in countries. The UK National Union of Teachers has also hit out at the UK government’s funding of private education schemes in countries in Asia and Africa. 

UK aid should instead be used to support public education systems to provide free, universal education to all children regardless of their ability to pay. This is the best way to achieve the global goal (Sustainable Development Goal 4) of ensuring inclusive and quality learning for all.  We should therefore welcome the IDC’s calls to do this by using DFID funds to support the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). Financing multilateral schemes such as the GPE, which place national education strategies at the centre of their work, is the way forward for ensuring all children can realise their right to quality education. All children across the world (regardless of where they live or how rich their parents are) have the right to free quality education. Bridging the global gap in education is essential if we want to build fairer world for our future generation.

Photo: Bridge International Academy School - Nairobi, Kenya. Credit: Rowan Simpson/Flickr



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