The annual closed door meeting of education ministers and government officials is attracting heavy criticism after choosing Bridge International Academies as its top sponsor, a decision protested by global education unions and civil society groups.
With its focus on the privatisation of education, education unions and civil society organisations already had plenty of reasons to protest the Education World Forum in London. However, this year organisers decided to tempt fate by naming Bridge International Academies (BIA) as its ‘Gold Partner,’ opening the flood gates to ridicule from around the world.
The National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the University and College Union were joined by Education International (EI) and Action Aid to protest the decision to accept sponsorship from Bridge, one of the world’s largest for-profit education companies. Bridge plans to sell basic education services directly to 10 million fee-paying students throughout Africa and Asia by 2025.
“Bridge is listed as ‘gold partner’ of this year’s Education World Forum. However, their performance around the globe is anything but gold standard. They are disrupting the free state-education in Uganda to make a profit and they have now been ordered to close the schools by the Ugandan Government,” said Kevin Courtney, General Secretary of the NUT.
Education International’s Angelo Gavrielatos pulled no punches in his scrutiny of Bridge’s involvement.
“Is respect for the law not a precondition for sponsorship of this event?” he said, referring to Ugandan Government’s decision in 2016 to order the closure of all of Bridge’s 63 schools because of their failure to meet the Government’s educational and legal standards. Ugandan Government inspectors said children were being taught in sub-standard facilities and unsanitary conditions.
Bridge has set up in low-income communities such as Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, and India to tap into the 800 million primary and nursery aged pupils whose families live on less than two dollars a day. These poor families nevertheless spend a disproportionate amount of their incomes securing an education for their children, resulting in fat profits, totalling some 64 billion US dollars for the companies like Bridge.
Bridge has received 100 million US dollars in funding for its for-profit education mission from a range of commercial backers and government agencies including the World Bank (IFC), the UK Government’s DFID, and billionaires Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates.
Together, education unions and civil society groups are demanding free state-education that is universally accessible in every community, setting the standard for high quality education. This is a precondition for achieving quality education for all and a better world.