Global corporates, like Pearson, and billionaires, like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerburg, like to put a positive gloss on their activities.

So instead of saying, ‘We want to privatise public education because we can make huge profits’, and ‘We’ll trial it first in the Third World’, they say, ‘Our foundations provide education for poor children in the developing world’.

But then along come events that shine a light on the agenda.

Pearson, Gates, Zuckerburg and others have set up Bridge International Academies that operate low-fee private schools across Kenya and Uganda. The Liberian government has just signed an agreement to outsource its entire primary education system to Bridge.

Bridge uses unqualified, low paid teachers to deliver a prescribed curriculum on digital devices. The cost is about $US6 a month to families, which in Africa, excludes the actual poor children. It’s still expensive for the less poor and early research suggests that families are prioritising boys to get the education.

The Bridge alternative also means there is less pressure from relatively middle-class families on their governments to improve public services, challenge corrupt practices, and generally to work toward better democratic practices.

Education International, which represents millions of teachers around the world, including NZEI members, has been investigating Bridge in Uganda. A doctoral student, Curtis Riep, organised to meet with Bridge officials in Kampala. However at the meeting, he was met by police, arrested and jailed.

Clearly there are things Bridge doesn’t want the outside world to find out about. This is a call from action from the head of EI, Fred van Leeuwen:

 

Dear colleagues,

We are writing to inform you of a serious matter requiring your immediate attention and solidarity action.

Mr. Curtis Riep is a PhD student at the University of Alberta, Canada. Last week, while in Uganda conducting research commissioned by EI on the impact of Bridge International Academies, Mr. Riep was arrested by police.

Bridge International Academies is a chain of ‘low-fee’ for-profit schools operating in Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda. Its operations are supported by global edu-business Pearson, billionaires Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, DfID-UK and the World Bank, among others. The Liberian government has recently announced that it will outsource its primary schools to Bridge.

Bridge’s practices are the subject of significant criticism. These practices include the employment of unqualified staff delivering a scripted standardised curriculum in inadequate school facilities. Bridge does not comply with minimum national regulatory frameworks applicable to schools.

Mr. Riep is now safely back home in Canada.

The events and circumstances surrounding his arrest are summarised in the statement below and in correspondence to Bridge (see attached).

Educational International (EI) strongly condemns Bridge International Academies for the manifestly false allegations made against researcher, Mr. Curtis Riep, a Canadian citizen. These allegations resulted in Mr. Riep being arrested and taken for questioning to Kyenjera police station, Kampala, on Monday 30 May 2016. At the time, Mr. Riep was in Uganda researching Bridge International Academies on behalf of EI.

The allegations were made by Bridge in an attempt to manipulate the Ugandan Criminal Justice system and to discredit Mr. Riep. Fortunately, Bridge’s tactics were unsuccessful and will backfire.

Bridge went so far as to publish a “wanted” poster with a photo of Mr. Riep in the Ugandan press on 24 May 2016  as though Bridge itself could decide criminal behaviour. This is unacceptable. It is equally unacceptable that Bridge made arrangements for the media to be present when Mr. Riep arrived at the police station for questioning.

Following a thorough investigation by the police Mr. Riep was completely cleared. It is noteworthy that while the representatives of Bridge were present during the early stages of the investigation, they were absent when Mr. Riep was cleared.

At the time Mr. Riep was conducting his research, the Ugandan authorities had put a halt to the expansion of Bridge activities due to its failure to meet regulatory requirements applicable to schools.   

Bridge has demonstrated that it fears transparency about its operations. It appears to be so afraid of scrutiny that it targeted a researcher who was working in a completely legitimate manner. If this act by Bridge was aimed at intimidating Mr. Riep and EI it has failed.

Bridge’s actions are unbecoming an organization that claims to have the interest of students at heart. 

We ask that you disseminate this information through your networks and that you communicate your strongest opposition to these events directly to Bridge CEO Ms. Shannon May (shannon@bridgeinternationalacademies.com) with copies to the Ministers for Education of Uganda (jesalup@parliament.go.ug), Kenya (cs@education.go.ke) and Liberia (wellehsanyon@hotmail.com).  Please forward a copy of your correspondence to EI at globalresponse@ei-ie.org

Yours sincerely,

Fred van Leeuwen
General Secretary, Education International