174 organisations worldwide tell investors to cease support for DfID-backed chain of private schools
174 civil society organisations from around the world have today released a statement calling on investors to cease support for Bridge International Academies, a company running over 500 commercial private schools in the global south and which receives aid funding from the UK’s Department for International Development.
The statement lists mounting evidence of grave concerns regarding Bridge’s transparency, relationship with governments, labour conditions, and breach of educational standards. It highlights the cases of Uganda and Kenya where Bridge has operated schools illegally and failed until now to adhere to national education standards. In both countries Bridge schools have been ordered to close schools the authorities.
DfID is believed to have contributed at least £5.5 million to Bridge International Academies since it had set up. The British government has increasingly funded private sector initiatives across the board but in education it is particularly pronounced.
Campaigners claim this emphasis is ideologically driven, citing DfID’s own research which found “private school teachers are often less formally qualified, have low salaries and weak job security” and that it is “ambiguous about whether private schools geographically reach the poor” and “whether the poor are able to pay private school fees”. This research also confirms that “girls are less likely to access private schools than boys”. In April 2015 the UN special rapporteur on the right to education wrote that, “the international development agenda must aim to eliminate private schools, not champion them.”
Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now said: “UK aid money could and should be used to develop robust public education systems that would help lift people out of poverty. Instead DfID seems to be hell bent on throwing money at schemes whereby private companies profit by making people in countries like Uganda pay for what turns out to be a shockingly substandard service.”
Linda Oduor-Noah, from the East African Centre for Human Rights, in Kenya said: ‘The quality of Bridge schools has not been independently assessed. In any case, any claimed gains in learning outcomes could never justify the shocking practices that have been documented in this statement. What can justify for instance the treatment of unlicensed, unregistered teachers being denied a living wage while working over 60 hours work per week?’
The statement outlines how Bridge fails to reach the most disadvantaged it claims to serve due to high costs, as well as negative impacts on families. One study found that between 69 and 83 per cent of Bridge parents had difficulty in paying rent, providing food or accessing healthcare due to high school fees.
Salima Namusobya, from the Initiative for Social and Economic Rights, in Uganda said: ‘Rather than the $6 per month as claimed by the company, the total costs to attend a Bridge school are closer to $20 per month. Not only are such costs unreachable by a large part of the population of our countries where Bridge operates, but their announced fee is misleading’.
The document also underscores Bridge’s resistance to public scrutiny and attempts to limit transparency, building on the UK Parliament’s International Development Committee’s recent letter to the Secretary of State, which also raised this issue.
The organisations signing the statement are calling on investors and donors to fully discharge due diligence obligations and cease support for Bridge, comply with national laws and standards, transparency, accountability, treatment of civil society and redirection of funds to programs that promote equality in education.
This latest statement follows repeatedly raised concerns about the fast-paced and unregulated growth of certain private education providers, in particular commercial ones, such as Bridge. In May 2015, 116 organisations had published a statement raising concerns about misleading facts regarding the costs and quality of Bridge schools. Since then, evidence from various sources, including the UN, a UK parliamentary report, independent research reports, and independent media reports, have confirmed those concerns and raised the alarm about the serious gap between the promises of Bridge and the reality of their practice.
NOTES TO EDITOR