Teachers call for ban on UK-backed private schools as Kenyan government promises crackdown

Bridge International Academies
Bridge school pupils celebrate after exemplary performance results. Photo: Twitter/BridgeIntlAcads

Following a call from Kenyan teachers for a ban on a chain of low-cost private schools, the Kenyan government have promised a crack down.

Bridge International Academies (BIA), supported by British aid money through the Department for International Development with backing from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s Zuckerberg Education Ventures and Microsoft founder Bill Gates, offers cheap nursery and primary education to poor families.

However, they have faced criticism for its ‘academy in a box’ model which keeps costs down by employing untrained teachers to read scripted lessons from a tablet computer.

Last month, 63 BIA schools in Uganda were ordered to close by the high court after it was found they were operating without a license, using unregistered teachers and having poor sanitation. A ruling the company is appealing.

Bridge International Academies
Photo: Twitter/BridgeIntlAcads

On Monday, Kenya’s National Union of Teachers (KNUT) launched a report which criticised BIA’s low quality of education and called for all of Kenya’s 405 schools to be shut.

“They should not be allowed to exploit children from poor households.”

– Wilson Sossion, KNUT’s secretary general

Low-cost private schools have been expanding across the Kenya, particularly in unplanned slums where there are not enough government schools.

BIA is aiming to reach 10 million students by 2025 through targeting low-income families.

Bridge International Schools
Photo: Twitter/BridgeIntlAcads

The KNUT report claims the majority of parents interviewed struggled to pay BIA fees, and that pupils were regularly excluded because of arrears.

“My wife was admitted to hospital … so I decided to pay the hospital bill first and pay school fees later but my children were sent home.”

– Unnamed parent of BIA pupil

The report also claimed that in their sample of eight schools, most of the BIA teachers had no teaching qualifications.

Kenya’s education minister, Fred Matiang’i, told a media briefing in Nairobi he had visited Bridge schools and agreed with the criticisms in the report and that the government would soon release their own report.

“It is true that some of these schools are … (not) offering quality education as they purport to.” – Fred Matiang’i, Kenyan education minister

While he ordered officials to crack down on schools operating illegally, he did not elaborate on how he thought schools were breaking the law.

Increased foreign investment in Kenyan private schools has proved controversial, with anti-poverty campaigners calling for a greater focus on the right to free quality public education.