88 Groups Call on Donors to Cease Support to Bridge International
Monrovia – Bridge International Academy has come under scrutiny in five countries including Liberia for “lack of transparency, poor labour conditions, and non-respect of the rule of law in host countries.”
Report by Alpha Daffae Senkpeni – [email protected]
The for-profit private education company, which runs over 500 schools in Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Uganda, and India, has often come under fire for its business module, which critics claim leaves behind minimum impact for host countries.
There are also concerns documented by several independent sources highlighting higher costs than those advertised by the company.
They also complain about the firm’s failure to register schools; its use of unapproved curriculum, failure to meet teacher certification requirements, and discriminatory impacts.
Bridge Faces International Criticism
The firm now faces international pressure after 88 civil society organizations “urged investors to cease their support” to the company.
There are also concerns from the United Nations, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the UK Parliament’s International Development Committee.
They have also expressed specific concerns about Bridge’s performance, citing the quality of education, relationship with governments, lack of compliance with government regulations, and high cost of fees.
Bridge investors are notable private investors including Omidyar Network, the Zuckerberg Education Ventures, and Bill Gates to public State agencies.
In their joint statement released on March 1, the 88 organizations said they were calling investors’ attention to a “series of concerning practices by BIA and the associated legal and reputational risks they incur”.
According to the release, the firm lack of transparency, poor labour conditions, and non-respect of the rule of law in host countries are all alarming issues.
The organizations accused the firm of “acting in defiance of the law and have a negative impact on the right to education of thousands of children” in Africa and other regions.
In Uganda, the education ministry has closed Bridge schools in the country because it failed to meet minimum educational, health and safety standards, following an 18-months negotiation with the company.
“The Government of Uganda has been negotiating with Bridge International Academies and giving them time to comply with the law.”
“But Bridge has failed to meet basic standards and deliver on their promises, and the Government is currently closing illegal schools,” said Salima Namusobya of the Initiative for Social and Economic Rights in Uganda, as quoted in the press statement.
“Yet, the company is still supported by investors abroad that would never accept such a situation in their own country. Investors will be complicit in this disaster if they do not remove their support,”
“Private investors do have a role to play in improving education infrastructure and services. However, this does not mean that they can violate our laws and standards and treat their teachers or parents in an undignified and disrespectful manner,” added Linda Oduor-Noah of the East African Centre for Human Rights in Kenyan.
Linda argues the actions of Bridge would never be allowed in the Western countries and should not be allow in Africa.
“Foreign investors who add value to our country and our people are welcome, but those that support illegal companies that undermine the right to education are not,” the release quoted the Kanyan advocate.
The letter calling on investors to withdraw from the for-profit education provider comes seven months after similar call was made on August 1, 2017.
Bridge ‘Controversy’ in Liberia
In Liberia, Bridge continues to face disapproval from many actors in the education sector including the national teachers association. The group has frequently called on the government to abandon the partnership school agreement.
And the Liberian Coalition on Transparency and Accountability in Education, which is a signatory to the call for Bridge’s agreement to be scraped across Africa, is also calling on investors to withdraw their financial support to the firm.
“Bridge Academies came to our country last year, with the promise to improve quality as part of a government program.”
“But they have only managed to marginally improve outcomes, at an astronomical cost, by pushing out teachers and mass-expelling children,” said Anderson Miamen.
“We trust that this new call and the further evidence provided will trigger investors ́ actions in line with their due diligence obligations to stop supporting Bridge’s operations,”
Liberia’s new Minister of Education seems to be aware of the numerous controversies clouding the firm’s presence in the country amid massive concerns of a fixing the messy education system.
At a press conference on Thursday, March 1, Minister Ansu Sonii hinted that the new administration would ensure that for-profit education firms comply with the ministry or leave the country.
“There has been so much resentment about this PSL (Partnership School Liberia).”
“What we have interacted with all of them, PSL can remain with a condition, those who cannot work with us will leave,” Minister Sonii said.
‘We can’t throw them out without a proper assessment we intend to do a tour if they are not doing what they say we will not work with them.”
Bridge operates about 25 out of the 93 schools taken over by foreign private providers in a pilot project approved by the Liberian government during the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf administration.
A Bridge Spokesperson in Monrovia on Thursday defended the firm’s performance across the country.
“It is the children, the parents and the teachers who are our most vocal supporters”.
“We advocate a transparent approach to education; focusing on outcomes rather than inputs and have delivered impressive learning gains across multiple years and countries thanks to empowered and supported teachers,” said Gboko Stewart.
“We understand that the work we do disrupts the education status quo and that Bridge has become a lightning rod in the debate about global education reform. We remain committed to supporting the achievement of SDG4 in a sustainable and scalable way.”
“We hope that one day, ideologues will put evidence of learning; parental choice and the needs of the 600 million children being failed above their own interests”.