How on earth did we get to a point where our aid spending has funded schools which two African countries are trying to shut down, and which have been criticised by UN human rights bodies?
The UK’s continued funding of a controversial chain of private schools in Africa is a sign of the fundamental flaws in its new approach to international aid, anti-poverty campaigners have said.
It comes a week after the Theresa May, the prime minister, signalled a major shift in that strategy during a trade delegation to South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria, based around greater private sector involvement in UK aid spending.
Global Justice Now has written to International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt on behalf of a range of groups to call on the UK to halt funding for Bridge International Academies, which runs over 500 private schools in India, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, and Uganda.
The schools have been criticised for their poor teaching methods including the use of invariable, scripted lessons to be read out from tablets.
The letter recounts a series of failings by Bridge documented by independent observers and media reports, as well as by governments since 2015, which include:
- Independent research showing BIA’s fees and practices exclude the poor and marginalised
- Repeatedly failing to respect the rule of law, including minimum education standards, over several years
- Poor labour conditions
- Reported concerns about freedom expression and lack of transparency
- Absence of valid evidence of Bridge’s positive impact
- Negative impacts on education quality, equity and social segregation and stratification
Ed Lewis, aid campaigner at Global Justice Now, said: “The Prime Minister’s dance moves last week looked like they’d been taught at a Bridge Academies School. Rigid, inflexible and poor quality, these private schools are an embarrassment.
“How on earth did we get to a point where our aid spending has funded schools which two African countries are trying to shut down, and which have been criticised by UN human rights bodies?
"If this is what private sector involvement in aid means, the Prime Minister is dancing with disaster. The UK needs to use aid money to support free, quality, public and universal education and healthcare around the world.”
The letter is supported by civil society groups in Kenya, Uganda and Liberia. These include the Right to Education Initiative, the Global Initiative for Economic, Social & Cultural Rights, East African Centre for Human Rights (EACHRights-Kenya), Initiative for Social and Economic Rights (ISER-Uganda) and Coalition for Transparency and Accountability in Education (COTAE-Liberia).
The UK has funded BIA with over £20 million in direct and indirect funding.
Marianne Brooker is a contributing editor for The Ecologist. This story is based on a press release from Global Justice Now.