Education International
Education International

Ugandan teachers unite for their public school system

published 5 October 2016 updated 10 October 2016

On World Teachers’ Day, and in the face of the privatisation of their school system, educators from Uganda have gathered for an event attended by the thousands to demand quality education for all.

This year’s World Teachers Day is being celebrated  under the theme of “Valuing teachers, improving their Status”. The slogan is a reminder that qualified, well-supported and well-respected teachers are at the heart of the achievement of free quality education for all. In Kampala, Uganda, President Museveni has joined thousands of teachers who have rallied today against the privatisation and commercialisation of their education system by the for-profit edu-business Bridge International Academies (BIA) to amplify the meaning of the theme.

Bridge International Academies, known to many as Bridge, is a multinational chain of low-fee profit-making private primary schools targeting poor families in Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, among other countries. In Uganda, Bridge has expanded rapidly since February 2015, with an estimated 12,000 fee-paying students in 63 schools.

BIA under scrutiny

The school chain has recently come under scrutiny over its failure to ensure minimum standards in schools including the recruitment of qualified teachers.

On 6th April 2016, the Permanent Secretary- Ministry of Education & Sports (MoES) of Uganda decided to ‘halt the expansion’ of Bridge citing concerns regarding the legality of these schools in violation of the Education Act 2008, due to: “the quality of the infrastructure, teacher issues, methodology, and curriculum among others”. In August 2016, the Minister of Education and Sports announced the closure of Bridge schools due to the company’s failure to meet the Government’s educational and legal standards.

A report unveils BIA’s practices

During the rally at the Kampala Oval Cricket Ground, representatives of Education International (EI) unveiled the findings of a report on the practices of BIA in the country. “Schooling the poor profitably” highlights the extent to which the education provided by Bridge in Uganda disregards the legal and educational standards established by the Government.

Apart from failing to provide ‘affordable’ education for all children (with families having to invest around 25 percent of their earnings just to send one child to a Bridge school), the quality of the service is generally poor: the physical structures of Bridge Academies are below par, with poor hygiene and sanitation in school buildings. The tuition is also below standards: mostly unqualified teachers deliver scripted lessons from tablets to pupils, with no cultural-specific adaptation of the curriculum.

Teachers at Bridge Academies receive pay below living standards, according to the study, and up to nine out of 10 BIA teachers are unlicensed, in direct contravention of Uganda’s Education Act.

Government action must be consequent

“This commercialisation and privatisation of education represents one of the greatest threats to the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals adopted in September 2015.”, reads a statement signed jointly by six trade unions leaders today in Kampala (UNATU and FENU from Uganda, KNUT from Kenya, SADTU South Africa, NTAL Liberia and SYPROS Senegal as well as the Education International African regional office).

The statement goes on to demand the government to:

  • Ensure compliance in relation to minimum national standards with respect to the provision of education. Registration of schools must be conditional on full compliance with minimum standards.
  • Fulfil its obligations consistent with the UN Sustainable Development Goal 4. By adopting the Sustainable Development Goals governments have committed to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.  Target 4.1 requires governments to ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes.
  • Fulfil its primary obligation to properly and adequately fund free quality education for all children regardless of the background. This is crucial to Uganda’s future prosperity.