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ANALYSIS: Bridge Schools Battle Deepens as Uganda Education Ministry Refuses to Grant Licenses

Uganda’s Ministry of Education and Sports has insisted Bridge Schools cannot operate in Uganda without licenses, a move that could see government dragged in a protracted battle with the education institution’s powerful funders in United States of America.

The schools, which administrators say provide affordable and decent education to poor rural-based children, receive funding from several powerful organizations including some run by the world’s wealthiest man, Bill Gates.

The International Finance Corporation, the financial arm of the World Bank which lends the Uganda government billions of dollars for infrastructure projects, also funds the Bridge Schools.

Despite facing the possibility of being caught up in a complex web of international politics, the government on Tuesday blasted the management of Bridge Schools for embarking on an “aggressive public and social media campaign aimed at hoodwinking unsuspecting parents about the status of the 63 Bridge Schools in Uganda.”

The Permanent Secretary Alex Kakooza said his Ministry has “not yet licensed the Bridge Schools because they have not yet met the requirements to merit being licensed to operate in Uganda.”

But the schools’ administrators opened for business on Monday and warned of denied poor kids especially from western Uganda, an affordable education.

Education

The Bridge Schools pay about Shs 400m in taxes and employ almost 7,000 people across the country.

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The schools are run on a unique model of putting in place basic infrastructure which allows them charge fair tuition fees from pupils.

In Uganda, the Bridge Schools charge between Shs50, 000 to Shs80, 000, a far lower rate compared to private schools.

The Bridge Schools say they use well-trained teachers and follow the curriculum of the countries in which they operate. The lessons are developed through close collaboration between world leading academics and country-based education ministries.

By leveraging the power of connected devices, the schools say they deliver professionally developed, up-to-the-minute lesson plans that provide every teacher with the core foundation needed for a successful learning experience in each subject, each day.

Their handheld, wireless “teacher guides” record attendance – of both pupils and teachers – assess scores, allows tracking of lesson pacing and measure pupil comprehension.

This technology frees Bridge teachers from the time-intensive planning and administrative tasks, creating more time for them to focus on teaching and their pupils, giving them time to identify where they are learning and where they need support.

Despite possessing these special abilities, the Education Ministry says the Bridge Schools operate in dilapidated facilities and remain unlicensed.

Protests

Kakooza says since April 2016, the Ministry has severally engaged with Bridge International Academies’ (BIA) representatives over public outcry on the state of these schools in Uganda.

The Permanent Secretary said these concerns, together with the Resolution of Parliament to halt BIA’s activities pending comprehensive investigations, included failure to meet the requirements for Bridge Schools to be licensed as International Schools.

To obtain a license, the Schools needed a letter of accreditation from an international examining body confirming the curriculum to be offered; inspection reports from the international body/Local Government where the schools are located and from the Directorate of Education Standards (DES); the letter of protocol from the relevant Embassy; and a list of qualified teachers; which they did not provide.

He further said normal/ordinary schools cannot be licensed as academies.

However, ChimpReports has seen several documents where local governments, NEMA and Inspectors of School have endorsed the operations of Bridge Schools.

On his part, Kakooza says engagements culminated into face-to-face discussions with the Ministry on 8 August 2017 when preliminary findings on the concerns were shared with Bridge representatives.

“Consequently, and consistent with the Ministry’s decision on the matter of all unlicensed schools, I wrote to BIA on 6th November 2017 stating that: … all unlicensed schools, including Bridge International Academies, will not be allowed to open and/or operate for school year 2018. This position is in line with my Circular/Press Release No. DES/50/14 of 22nd September 2017 captioned Unlicensed/Unregistered Schools,” said Kakooza.

“As the long December 2017-January 2018 holiday was coming to an end, and in response to correspondence from BIA, I again wrote to Mr. Morrison Rwakakamba, BIA Country Director, on 19th January 2018 as follows: … no unlicensed school will be allowed to operate in the coming school year, which begins on Monday 5th February 2018. This position was clearly put to you vide mine of 6th November 2017 and has not changed.”

Contacted, Rwakakamba said he was yet to see Kakooza’s letter.

Nevertheless, the Permanent Secretary says his letter served to “eliminate any doubt and accordingly advise that you (Rwakakamba) follow up your application(s) for licensing with the relevant Ministry authorities, to wit Commissioner Basic Education, who if satisfied that your schools comply with the Basic Minimum Requirements and Standards, will do the needful.”

He added: “My letter was reinforced by Dr. Daniel Nkaada, Commissioner Basic Education, on 29th January 2018 in response to letters by Mr. Rwakakamba dated 22nd and 24th January 2018. Dr. Nkaada cautioned BIA not to feed its clients with “false hope”, because the numerous discussions with the Ministry remained inconclusive to the extent the minimum licensing requirements had not yet been met by the 63 Bridge Schools. Besides, incomplete files had been received for only 48 Schools.’”

In its April 2017 Report to Parliament, the Committee on Education and Sports presented findings of its investigation of schools that the Ministry earmarked for closure for contravention of the Law, including the Bridge Schools.

The Education and Sports Committee of Parliament concurred with the Ministry’s decision to close the affected schools.

Kakooza said this same position was re-confirmed last week in a Ruling by Speaker of Parliament on when attempts were made to block the closure of the targeted 1,300 schools that do not meet the minimum operating standards by the Ministry.

“This attempt was made notwithstanding the fact that the proprietors of these kind of schools have now had over a year to address the identified gaps,” said Kakooza, adding, “In view of the above, and specifically of the engagement between the Ministry of Education and Sports and Management of Bridge Schools, parents and indeed all concerned authorities are accordingly notified that Bridge Schools remain unlicensed and like all the others in this category, will not be permitted to open/operate this school year (2018).”

He said failure to comply with the requirements of the Law, implies that “parents and Management of the Bridge Schools take full responsibility for the consequences of non-compliance.”

Interestingly, the Bridge Schools’ pupils outperformed their peers across Uganda with nearly 93% achieving top scores in Division 1 and 2.

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