A consortium of Non-Governmental Organizations has recommended that the money that Bridge International Academies is drawing from philanthropists and education investors should be channeled to government schools.
The international and regional NGOs including; Oxfam, ActionAid, Global Campaign for Education, Africa Network Campaign for Education for All (ANCEFA), East African Centre for Human Rights (EACHRights) Right to Education and Forum for Education NGO’s in Uganda (FENU) argue that Bridge must respect the right to education and comply with government orders to close its schools.
In the statement, the group advised the financiers of Bridge International Academies’ to stop injecting money into this social enterprise. Philanthropists Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are among the high-profile philanthropists funding Bridge Schools’ model. It’s also being funded by UK government, USA government and World Bank among others.
“Given the grave and systemic pattern of violation of the law by the company, we also call on all investors in Bridge Academies to immediately discharge their due diligence obligations and responsibilities by making no further financing commitments to Bridge,” the statement asserts.
The NGOs further stated that the organizations call on investors to expand their public sector investments in education in the countries where Bridge schools operate to help them achieve universal, free and high-quality public education.”
These aren’t the only NGOs or civil society organizations opposed to Bridge Schools’ funding model. In August last year, a coalition of 174 Civil Society Organizations called on international donors, including the UK government, to drop support the schools.
Bridge has opened 63 schools in Uganda in the last two years. But the Ministry of Education says the schools are yet to be licensed because they have not met the requirements to merit operational licenses.
The manager for Policy, Advocacy and Campaigns at ActionAid Uganda, Fred Kawooya told Uganda Radio Network that Bridge is trying to position itself as an alternative to government in the provision of public education by drawing finances from international donors.
He argues that Bridge is a profit motivated corporate entity that should not be supported to overtake government’s responsibility of providing education as a social service.
Kawooya says Bridge schools is a corporate entity that is being supported to build a base and later start reaping profits from the education sector in Uganda.
Kawooya says donors who have been investing money in Uganda’s education sector have shifted to Bridge Schools. He says this affects government that is struggling to find resources for financing education.
To argue that what drives Bridge Schools is profit is erroneous, says Morrison Rwakakamba, the Bridge International Academy Uganda Country Director. He opines that their schools are situated in low-income communities and parents pay between Uganda shillings 50,000 to 100,000 to access quality education.
If Bridge targeted profit maximization, Rwakakamba says it would build schools like Kampala Parents School or Greenhill and charge as much as Uganda shillings one million school fees.
The Bridge Schools’ model is a social enterprise that can’t be compared to NGOs and isn’t aid funded. He says the model is driven by sustainability. Rwakakamba says they have social investors, equity investors and impact investors. Some of the investors, he says expect a return on their investment.
Social investors, he says, are the ones bringing down the cost of education in Bridge Schools because they don’t expect a return on investment.
Rwakakamba says there is a need for education stakeholders to appreciate that available schools, both public and private aren’t reaching everyone. For instance, he says, there is over 700,000 school going children who aren’t accessing education in Uganda. Uganda needs more not few schools, Rwakakamba says.
Rwakakamba did not reveal the amount of money that the philanthropists and government have invested in Bridge Schools. He referred this publication to the Bridge website which however does not have any detail of their finances.