20 November 2017

Uganda: Bridge Schools Under Fire in Kenya and Uganda

Photo: The Observer
A teacher attends to learners at Bridge International Academy, Katooke

Officials at Bridge International Academies (BIA) were last week holed up in meetings in Nairobi, following a series of challenges that have beset the group in both Uganda and Kenya.

Attempts to reach BIA's new Uganda director, Morrison Rwakakamba, last week fell through, when he suddenly cancelled a scheduled interview with The Observer to attend a meeting in Nairobi.

He had been scheduled to explain the progress in their efforts to finally get registered as an education institution in Uganda. According to education ministry officials, BIA was reportedly still struggling to get a license, after a series of setbacks.

"Many of the teachers they had fronted for accreditation failed the test, after it emerged that they did not have the requisite academic qualifications ... but we are still giving them a chance to complete the verification exercise," an official at the ministry revealed.

This official, who gave us the information on condition of anonymity, as they are not permitted to speak on the ministry's behalf, insisted that BIA was also behind schedule in having its curriculum and premises passed as fit for operation.

BIA is working to obtain licenses for its 68 academies in Uganda, after a losing a high court case on the matter last year. Bridge agreed to submit to the education ministry's licensing regime after accepting not to pursue the matter in court again.

Across the border in Kenya, BIA officials had their operations in knots following an African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR) report, released last week, demanded that Nairobi effectively enforce regulations on quality.

The report specifically faulted the Kenyan government over the "lack of monitoring and effective regulation of private school chains, such as Bridge International Academies".

The ACHPR was particularly concerned that BIA schools "register as non-formal schools, whereas they appear to offer formal education".

This, the report says, raises concerns on the compliance of BIA schools with the protection of the right to education under Kenyan law. The report urges Nairobi to "ensure monitoring of Bridge International Academies regarding their system and methods of education".

Bridge runs over 400 schools in Kenya. The ACHPR report follows a government document from July 2017 that showed that most Bridge schools were not registered, despite being in operation for several years.

Earlier in February, a court order allowed the county of Busia, in western Kenya, to close 10 BIA schools. Several other cases are pending in other Kenyan courts. The Kenyan government is yet to formally respond to the letter, as a minister for education is yet to be appointed, following last month's presidential election.

However, the ACHPR has been backed by mounting concerns from civil society over the commercialisation of education in Kenya and in Africa.

Zulekha Amin of Hakijamii, a Kenyan based NGO interested in education rights, said: "the registration of schools operated by non-state actors must be conditional on full compliance with national standards".

She added that: "evidence of compliance must be maintained at all times and adherence to the national standards must be subject to regular monitoring. Operators who fail to adhere to the national standards must have their registration revoked".

Martin Mavenjina, from the Kenya Human Rights Commission, was just as scathing.

"Inadequacies in the public schooling system and public incentives have led to the rapid growth of so-called 'low-cost' sub-standard private schools funded by development aid. This has resulted in the segregation or discriminatory access to education. The Government of Kenya has a legal obligation to guarantee free mandatory education for all without discrimination", Mavenjina added.

Officials in Rwakakamba's office indicated that BIA would respond to the reports later this week after the Nairobi meetings.

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