Education activists, teachers and global union leaders went to London to urge shareholders at the Pearson Annual General Meeting to stop funding Bridge International Academies, a for-profit company that makes money by shortchanging the education of thousands of at risk children.
Showing their support for a free quality public education for all and protesting publicly were representatives from Education International, the National Education Union (NEU), AFT, UCU and UNISON and Global Justice Now.
Also attending to observe the proceedings was the Honorable Amos Muhinga Kimunya the Deputy Chair of the Kenya parliamentary education committee.
In announcing the closure of these schools, authorities in Kenya and Uganda have cited the company's failure to seek registration to operate, failure to employ qualified teachers, failure to conform to national curriculum requirements and use of unsafe facilities. Bridge has retaliated by taking legal action against its critics in an attempt to silence them.
Inside the meeting Angelo Gravielatos from Education International and Kevin Courtney , Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union (NEU) confronted the CEO of Pearson, John Fallon, who stated that Pearson had no plans to discontinue its support of Bridge.
“Every child has the right to a free, high quality education, with trained teachers and a safe learning environment. Bridge exploits this right for profit, and in the process delivers a sub-standard education that deepens inequality in the communities it “serves”. Pearson’s investment in this exploitative business model is wholly indefensible,” added Kevin Courtney.
Pearson credibility gap
Responding to EIs concerns, the CEO of Pearson, John Fallon, said that Pearson had investigated the concerns raised with Bridge and was satisfied with Bridge’s response.
“It’s astonishing that Pearson has effectively dismissed the decisions of the minister and other education authorities of sovereign nations elevating Bridge above the law. This is neo-colonialism at its worst. ” said Gavrielatos. The fact that Bridge disregards and neglects the laws of Kenya and Uganda are of no consequence to Fallon,” he added.
Also expressing their solidarity with the demonstrators, and sending messages to Pearson’s CEO were educators from Germany, Sweden and the United States, among others.“Bridge International Academies (is) an entity unfit to work for the realization of commonly agreed goals for education,” expressed Johanna Jaara Åstrand President Lärarförbundet (Swedish Teachers’ Union).
Educators in Germany were emphatic on why they oppose the fee paying, substandard offerings promoted by Bridge. “Our choice is for quality public education with qualified teachers and a digital dividend which liberates young minds,” explained Nick Strauss for the GEW Gewerkschaft Erziehung und Wissenschaft.
Bridge is one of the largest education for-profit companies in the world, with plans to sell basic education services directly to 10 million fee-paying students throughout Africa and Asia by 2025. Bridge's business plan is predicated on the employment of unqualified staff delivering a highly scripted, standardised curriculum in substandard facilities.
Despite their slick marketing, the company uses cost-cutting techniques aimed at minimising operational costs in order to maximise profit. In both Uganda and Kenya, Bridge schools have been ordered to shut because of the company's neglect and disregard for national legal and educational requirements.