In a milestone inquiry report released today, Members of Parliament have raised serious questions about the UK government’s funding of the American chain of schools, Bridge International Academies (Bridge), due to concerns regarding the 'poor' quality of teaching, relationships with governments, 'alleged lack of compliance with government regulations', and the 'higher cost of fees'. The findings also highlight how a number of governments have invested in the company despite repeated warnings that this could lead to serious breaches of human rights standards.
Confirming previous concerns raised by civil society, and contrary to Bridge’s own claims, members of the International Development Committee (Committee) observed that the quality of teaching ‘was notably poor in the Ugandan Bridge schools’. The report also notes concerns raised about Bridge’s operations in Liberia, where Bridge’s slightly better learning outcomes under a pilot programme for public-private partnerships were only achieved by spending a significantly higher amount of money per pupil ($400 more compared with other providers), firing teachers on a large scale, and the mass expulsion of pupils.
The Committee found that the evidence they had gathered raised ‘serious questions about Bridge’s relationships with governments, transparency and sustainability.’ This finding comes against the backdrop of Bridge being ordered to improve their standards and comply with national laws, or close their schools in Uganda and Kenya, after it was found that the company had operated schools for years without registration and offering unknown education curriculum in the respective countries. Last week, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights also raised concerns about Bridge’s compliance with regulations.
The report also questions Bridge’s sustainability, cost-eﬀectiveness, scalability, and learning outcomes, and recommended that no more investments be made unless these concerns are adequately addressed and a ‘compelling case for any further support, including evidence to prove that Bridge was providing education to the very poorest and most marginalised children which was not being provided elsewhere’ be made.
‘These findings confirm the many independent inquiries and evidence collected by journalists, U.N. officials, civil society organisations, and other bodies, that raise exactly the same issues’, said Delphine Dorsi of the Right to Education Initiative.
‘Now that the UK parliament, which cannot be accused of bias against Bridge, has confirmed so many of the concerns raised previously, we hope that both private and public investors, will take steps to remove themselves from supporting a company that could be undermining years of progress in education’, said Sylvain Aubry of the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
‘We’ve been asking for years that all private providers, including foreign providers, respect the basic norms and standards in education. We’re glad that the UK parliament has addressed this matter and we hope that the UK government and other investors will cease funding schools that operate illegally in Uganda’, added Salima Namusobya, of the Initiative for Social and Economic Rights (Uganda).
‘This report shows how support to private actors has failed to deliver on the right to education. We are looking forward to donor states strengthening funding to public education’, concluded Camilla Croso, president of the Global Campaign for Education.
In a statement released in August this year, 174 organisations gathered all independent evidence which revealed extremely serious concerns regarding the operations and impacts of Bridge. That statement called on Bridge investors to fully discharge due diligence obligations and cease support for Bridge as well as redirecting funds to programs that promote high-quality, equitable, and inclusive free public education.
Signatories: Asia South Pacific Association for Basic and Adult Education; Brazilian Campaign for the Right to Education; Coalition for Transparency and Accountability in Education; East African Centre for Human Rights; Global Campaign for Education; Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; Global Justice Now; Initiative for Social and Economic Rights; Right to Education Initiative; Right to Education Forum
- Sylvain Aubry: Legal and Research Advisor, Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (GI-ESCR): email@example.com /+254 788289634
- Salima Namusobya: Executive Director, Initiative for Economic and Social Rights (ISER), Uganda: firstname.lastname@example.org / +256 414581041
- Delphine Dorsi: Executive Coordinator, Right to Education Initiative: email@example.com
- Inquiry report by the UK International Development Committee, DFID’s work on education: Leaving no one behind?
- August 2017 Civil society call on investors to cease support to Bridge International Academies