KAMPALA – A legal tug-of-war between Ugandan authorities and a for-profit international chain of schools has led to the education provider being ordered to shut down in a matter of weeks, leaving the lives of thousands of pupils in limbo.
Uganda’s High Court has described the Bridge International Academies (BIA) — which is funded by the likes of Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg — as unsanitary and unqualified, and has ordered it to close its doors in December because it ignored Uganda’s national standards and put the “life and safety” of its 12,000 young students on the line.
The Director of Education Standards for the Ministry, Huzaifa Mutazindwa, told CNN that the nursery and primary schools were not licensed, the teachers weren’t qualified and that there was no record of its curriculum being approved.
“The Ministry does not know what is being taught in these schools which is a point of concern to (the) government,” Mutazindwa said.
The low-cost education provider, which has 63 campuses across Uganda, is allowed to remain open until December 8 to allow students to sit for exams and finish third term. This was after BIA secured an interim court order that restrained the government from closing its schools until its main case for stay could be heard in court.
For its part, BIA — which runs more than 400 nursery and primary schools across Africa — has continuously denied the allegations that have been made by the government.
“There’s a lot of miscommunication and a lot of very serious, unfounded allegations. We would like to be given the opportunity to explain ourselves . . . . The Ministry has been unwilling to give us an audience to set the record straight,” Uganda’s BIA director, Andrew White, told CNN.
In a statement, BIA addressed eight allegations that have been made about its operations. It said it teaches the Ugandan curriculum, all schools have good sanitation facilities and that the majority of their teachers are certified and registered. Those who aren’t certified and registered, it said, are attending in-service training.
When asked why the allegations were made if they weren’t true, White said: “We definitely feel like a lot of pressure has been applied to have a particular view of Bridge that is a negative one.”
He suggested that the opposition against BIA was because the campuses competed against local state-run and private schools.
“I don’t think the government is threatened by Bridge, but I think lobby groups are trying to make the government and ministry feel like they should be,” White said.
One educational advocacy group agrees with the Ugandan authorities’ decision to close BIA.