Uganda judgement on closure of Bridge International Academies must signal a move towards fulfilling the right to education
On Friday 4th November, the High Court of Uganda in Kampala confirmed that the process followed by the Ugandan Government in deciding to close schools run by Bridge International Academies (BIA) was fair and legal and opens the door for the enforcement of the closure decision. The judgment, which BIA says it will appeal, confirms that Bridge International Academies could have been operating illegally in Uganda.
The Global Campaign for Education, together with 14 other organisations endorsing this statement, calls on governments and investors in BIA to commit to the full implementation of human rights standards in dealing with the aftermath in Uganda, as well as in other countries where BIA is operating.
While closing schools is always highly regrettable, it appears that the Government was left with no other alternative after several reports found that BIA was failing to meet minimum education standards. In line with previous civil society statements, the signatories of this statement call on the Ugandan Government to ensure timely and orderly transition of affected students to nearby public schools - it is critical that no child is deprived of access to education due to school closure.
Uganda’s neighbouring government in Kenya has been facing similar challenges in dealing with BIA, which operates more than 400 schools in Kenya. It appears that the Kenyan Ministry of Education has held various meetings with BIA to ask the company to comply with regulations, and internal reports have raised concerns about BIA’s compliance with the law.
Abraham Ochieng, from the Kenyan organisation East African Centre for Human Rights (EACHRights) commented: “The story emerging from Uganda is strikingly similar to our experience in Kenya. It seems that BIA continues to flout national regulations despite repeated calls to comply. No education provider is above the law, and we hope that the process in Kenya will similarly lead to Bridge schools either respecting national standards or closing.”
The Kampala High Court judgement shows that, contrary to the company’s claims, BIA had been duly informed by the Ugandan government of its legal requirements but had not taken appropriate action to meet those requirements. This confirms the concerns that although BIA, a multi-million dollar company, has the means and resources to comply with regulations, it appears to have ignored multiple requests to meet the educational standards of the countries in which it operates.
Salima Namusobya, from the Ugandan organisation Initiative for Economic and Social Rights (ISER) added: “...BIA schools did not respect the Government Guidelines on Basic Requirements and Minimum Standards for Schools for example regarding infrastructure, purposefully used unqualified teachers in order to reduce costs, in violation of Ugandan laws, and were running a for-profit business without the agreement and proper oversight of the authorities.”
Both Kenya and Uganda have recently been called on their obligations to regulate private schools by UN human rights monitoring bodies and the African Commission, and a July 2016 Human Rights Council Resolution equally called for adequate regulation in the face of the growth of commercial actors in education.
These developments raise strong concerns 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 US Government’s development finance institution, could be failing on their due diligence obligations and responsibilities. The UK has already been told twice by human rights bodies to refrain from funding commercial schools, which would include BIA. BIA investors must ensure that BIA immediately complies with the law wherever it operates and that it remedies parents, children or other stakeholders where it has failed do so, including by reimbursing parents who may have to leave the schools.
Tanvir Muntasim, from ActionAid International, reacted: “The developments in Uganda should act as a cautionary tale for countries planning to allow commercial schools without appropriate regulation or oversight in place and for investors planning on investing in school chains which are premised on low-standards in order to maximise profit”.
GCE, along with the 14 other organisations listed below, is ready to work with the governments of Uganda, 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.
The statement can be viewed in full here.
- ActionAid International
- ActionAid Uganda
- African Network Coalition on Education for All (ANCEFA)
- Amnesty International
- East African Centre for Human Rights (EACHRights)
- Equal Education Law Centre
- Ghana National Education Campaign Coalition (GNECC)
- Global Campaign for Education (GCE)
- Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
- Global Justice Now
- Initiative for Economic and Social Rights (ISER)
- International Federation of Centers for Training in Active Education Methods (Ficeméa)
- Public Services International
- Right to Education Project
- The Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy (PHRGE) at Northeastern University