In a sweeping move, the for-profit school chain has been told to lock its doors after parliament demanded it halt operations in response to its failure to meet educational and infrastructure standards.
In the latest turn in the saga between the Ugandan government and Bridge International Academies the country’s parliament has instructed management to close the schools until further notice. Bridge currently has 80 pre-primary and primary schools in Uganda run by American founders Jay Kimmelman and Shannon May.
According to Uganda’s Minister of Education, Janet Museveni, Bridge has the opportunity to reopen should they meet necessary standards. However, despite the order to cease operations, Bridge says it is business as usual.
Bridge, operating what are known as ‘low-fee,’ for profit schools in Uganda, Kenya, and most recently Liberia, is financially supported by the likes of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and education conglomerate Pearson Ltd. It is also receives funding from the World Bank and DfID-UK. Bridge’s business model, which depends on public money to operate fee charging schools run by unqualified teachers, faces a continuous barrage of criticism.
Although the company promotes ‘affordable’ education to some of the world’s poorest children, Bridge forces families to pay for inadequate scripted lessons read from tablets. Many children are left to learn in questionable environments, such as classrooms lacking proper materials, including desks, chairs and in some cases, toilets.
In June, global condemnation of Bridge reached its peak after the company orchestrated the arrest of a Canadian researcher investigating its operations in Uganda. The incident threw the spotlight on the company’s practices, resulting in a wave of negative press and increased questions of its claims as a provider of quality education.