Barely a month after the High Court of Kampala, Uganda, allowed the Ugandan Government to close all schools run by Bridge International Academies (BIA) in the country, the High Court of Kenya in Busia County yesterday announced, in a similar case, that the Busia County Education Board could proceed in closing ten Bridge schools operating in Busia county, for failing to meet education standards.
Korir J dismissed the complaint from Bridge, which sought to contest a decision by the Busia County Education Board to close their schools. Of the 12 schools operating in the County, Korir J allowed Busia County to close 10 schools, for which there were school inspection reports recommending closure. He ordered that the Bridge schools remain open until the end of the current school term (April), and for the County to secure placement in public schools for the affected children. The Busia County Education Board has 45 days from the date of the judgment to show evidence that another school has been found for the children.
The County Education Board decided in November 2014 to close Bridge schools in Busia for not complying with the minimum education standards, including failing to employ trained and registered teachers and managers, using inappropriate facilities, and lacking an environmental impact assessment. After the Board moved to enforce its decision in March 2016, Bridge responded by suing the Board and its director on the grounds that they had not followed the required process.
Reacting to the announcement, Abraham Ochieng, from the Kenyan organisation East African Centre for Human Rights (EACHRights) stated: ‘Beyond just the case of Busia, the Kenyan ministry of education has held various meetings with BIA to ask the company to comply with regulations. They wrote to the company at least twice on 17 November 2014 and 17 February 2016, based on internal reports raising concerns about BIA’s compliance with the law, apparently without success. The Kenya ministry of education wrote again to BIA on 31 August 2016 with a 90-day deadline until 30 November last year to comply with guidelines and standards. It seems that rather than complying with Kenyan laws, which they’ve had ample time to follow since they opened in Kenya in 2009, BIA keeps on using delaying tactics. The decision shows that the County of Busia was right in demanding standards be enforced. It is time for the rule of law to be respected. Children’s rights are not negotiable, even by powerful international companies.’
The judgment confirms that, contrary to the company’s claims, BIA had been duly informed by the local and national authorities of the legal requirements it had to follow, but that it had failed to take appropriate action to meet those standards.
Boaz Waruku, from the Africa Network Campaign on Education For All (ANCEFA), commented: ‘This judgment adds to the similar one in Uganda and is a strong affirmation that Bridge schools do not comply with the minimum education standards in the region. We’re extremely concerned that Bridge Academies, an international profit-driven company with investments that are counted in several billions of Kenya shillings, can come to African countries and charge fees from poor children in our communities without respecting basic laws and education standards of the country.’
Sylvain Aubry, of the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (GI-ESCR) added: ‘Put simply, together with the Ugandan case, this judgment shows that a multi-million dollars American company, which has the means and resources to comply with regulations, is not fulfilling basic educational standards of two African countries in which it operates. Two UN human rights committee have already raised concerns about this situation. The government and county authorities are therefore right in taking steps to fulfil their human rights obligations by engaging in dialogue with operators that do not respect standards, and eventually closing them if necessary. It will now be important for the government to ensure all children affected have access to public schools, as requested by the Judge.’
The decision comes shortly after the Cabinet Secretary for the Kenyan Ministry of Education, Dr Fred Matiang’i, stated that he agreed with a report by the Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) and Education International (EI) that highlights the low standards of Bridge schools and possible contravention of national law. The report, titled Bridge vs. Reality: a study of Bridge International Academies for-profit schooling in Kenya, also emphasised the lack of training and difficult working conditions of the teachers, as well as the high hidden fees charged by the company. During the launch of the report on 5 December 2016, Dr Fred Matiang’i, indicated that he would take a decision soon as to the future course of action, as reported in the local and international media.
In line with civil society statements for the case in Uganda, the five organisations signing this statement call on the Government of Kenya to ensure a timely and orderly transition of affected students to nearby government schools to ensure the uninterrupted, full realisation of the right to education of all children. The signatory organisations also remain highly concerned that BIA’s shareholders, among them high profile investors such as Mark Zuckerberg, Omidyar, Novastar, the World Bank Group, the British development agency and the U.S. Government’s development finance institution could be failing in their due diligence obligations and responsibilities, which might have legal implications.
The organisations supporting this statement are ready to work with the County of Busia, the Government of Kenya, and other interested authorities to support the development of a quality public education system in which all schools comply with human rights norms and standards.
Background on Bridge International Academies
Bridge International Academies Ltd (BIA) is an America-based company registered in Delaware. Operating for-profit the company runs a commercial, private chain of nursery and primary schools. With over 400 institutions and 100,000 children in enrolled BIA schools, it is the largest chain of commercial private schools worldwide.
BIA is one of the most controversial chains of private schools. The use of standardised curriculum developed abroad, the poor working conditions of teachers and the robotisation of their work, profit-making by charging poor families in informal settlements, and questions about its respect for some national education and health and safety standards are some of the most debated aspects of Bridge’s operations.
BIA has received funding from several large corporations, investors and development partners including: the Omidyar Network founded by the billionaire creator of eBay, Pearson (the world’s largest educational business), Novastar Ventures, Kholsa Ventures, philanthropist Bill Gates, Facebook founder’s Zuckerberg Education Ventures, the International Finance Corporation (a branch of the World Bank Group), the UK’s Commonwealth Development Corporation (with funds from the Department for International Development - DFID) and the US Government Overseas Private Investment Corporation.
The company opened its first school in Mukuru kwa Njenga slum in Kenya in 2009, by 2015 the company had 405 schools in Kenya, as well as other schools in Uganda, Nigeria, Liberia, and India. BIA seeks to grow further with the aim of reaching 10 million students by 2025.
- Court judgment (full judgment will be published when available)
- Information statement on ongoing cases involving Bridge International Academies in Kenya and Uganda
- Human rights bodies statements related to states’ obligations with regards to Bridge International Academies
- Human rights analysis of data on Bridge Academies in Kenya and related blog post
- Kenya National Union of Techers (KNUT) and Education International (EI) report (December 2016) on BIA in Kenya: Bridge vs. Reality: a study of Bridge International Academies for-profit schooling in Kenya
- Education International report (September 2016) on BIA in Uganda: Schooling the Poor profitably: the innovations and deprivations of Bridge International Academies in Uganda
- August 2016 statement by civil society on the closure of BIA in Uganda
- May 2015 statement signed by 120 organisations related to the World Bank’s support to BIA
- July 2016 UN Resolution urging States to regulate education providers and support public education
- EACHRights: Abraham Ochieng’, email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; +254701670090
- ANCEFA: Boaz Waruku, email@example.com; +254 722 663290
- GI-ESCR: Sylvain Aubry, firstname.lastname@example.org, +254 7 88 28 96 34
- Africa Network Campaign on Education For All (ANCEFA)
- East African Centre for Human Rights (EACHRights)
- Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
- Right to Education Project