Profit-Driven Schools Fail Uganda’s Children

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A classroom at the Kibuye Junior Primary School in Uganda. (AP Photo / Stephen Wandera)

Africa’s poorest schools are a gold mine for the corporate education industry. The Global South is awash in corporate school programs marketed as private alternatives to traditional brick-and-mortar schools. But in early November, Ugandan officials suspended the operations of Bridge International Academies upon realizing the education franchise’s “academy in a box” model was coming apart at the seams.

A Ugandan court has upheld government plans to shutter 63 schools run by multinational Bridge International, but has allowed the facilities to remain open through the end of the school term on December 8. Education authorities cite repeated failures to comply with national education standards, leaving 12,000 students stranded. The order affirmed the education authorities’ decision in July to close the schools for flunking the licensing process and flouting standards for “certified teachers, accredited curriculum, appropriate teaching methods, adequate school facilities.” (The schools remain open for now but their futures are uncertain pending further legal proceedings.) 

The crackdown was spurred in part by a months-long investigation by Education International (EI), a global teachers-union federation, which illustrated how the fee-charging schools relied on “teacher computers,” in ramshackle facilities.

Bridge International, which runs about 400 nurseries and schools across Africa, launched its first school in a Nairobi slum. It has since expanded through massive global marketing to investors, blending humanitarianism with techno-evangelism. But despite its Silicon Valley branding, EI argues, Bridge International illustrates the dangers of privatization in Global South education systems through corporate partnerships promising innovation and “social enterprise.”

Bridge International’s Uganda schools, according to EI, revealed what critics see as a “profit-driven, cost-cutting, standardized and internet-based approach to education delivery.”

Following the crackdown on the schools, EI Project Director Angelo Gavrielatos tells The Nation that the Ugandan school system should enact comprehensive reforms to ensure all multinational school enterprises are licensed and comply with basic standards, including “the employment of qualified teachers, the provision of a curriculum consistent with national requirements,” and providing “facilities that are fit for purpose.” For the school system as a whole, EI called on Uganda “to ensure that they properly and adequately fund free quality public education for every child.”

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