Monday November 7 2016

Pupils, parents of Bridge International schools storm parliament over closure

Tears as pupils of Bridge International marched
Tears as pupils of Bridge International marched to parliament on Monday in protest of government closure of their schools. PHOTO BY RACHEL MABALA
By Rachel Mabala

Parents and pupils of Bridge International Academies on Monday stormed parliament protesting against government’s decision to close the schools.
Uganda's High Court on Friday ordered the closure of 63 Bridge International Academies on grounds that the private schools provided unsanitary learning conditions, used unqualified teachers and were not properly licensed.
Hours after Judge Patricia Basaza Wasswa’s ruling, the ministry of education said they would move to enforce the directive today (Monday).

Pupils and parents marched to parliament demanding for Speaker Rebecca Kadaga and President Yoweri Museveni’s intervention.

However, the group was intercepted by police led by Central Police Station DPC Joseph Bakaleke advising them to first report to the police station if they want to be helped.
Mr Bakaleke also advised parents and school owners to take the children home and cautioned them on engaging children in such struggles although urged the parents to come to central police station to be helped in case they want to access the parliament.

The DPC Joseph Bakaleke talks to the pupils at

The DPC Joseph Bakaleke talks to the pupils at parliament where they had gone to petition the speaker. PHOTO BY RACHEL MABALA

Some of the parents said they were caught off guard by the government’s order and begged that the government allows their children to sit their final exams before they can be transferred to other schools since this is their last term.
“I had already paid fees for my two children and therefore if the school is to close before the term ends, it will be challenging for me. I wish government could allow the pupils to finish this term before closing the schools,” said one of the parents, Ms Mary Lukomwa.

The ruling is a blow to Bridge International which has expanded rapidly since its inception in 2008 offering cheap, standardised, technology-driven education in developing countries in Africa and Asia.
Under the Bridge International model teachers read scripted lessons word-for-word from a tablet computer that also records student attendance and assessments. Gates' and Zuckerberg's foundations are among the company's high-profile backers.
But Bridge International has courted controversy with Liberian teachers threatening to strike earlier this year over government plans to outsource all primary education to the private US-owned company.

In Uganda, government inspectors said children were being taught in sub-standard facilities and unsanitary conditions.
Another parent who preferred not to be named said he chose Bridge International for his six children because he appreciated the low fees of around $28 per term, or a third of what he used to pay, and disagreed with government’s decision to close the schools which are backed by Microsoft and Facebook founders Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.
"The government says that the facilities are not clean but when I visit the school I look at the kitchen and latrines and they are fine," he said.

According to him, Bridge schools are mushrooming and many of the officials in the Ministry own private schools.
“I think they are scared that they will lose pupils and their fees," he added.
Bridge International, which claims to have 12,000 students in Uganda, said it would challenge the High Court ruling.
"We are extremely disappointed for our pupils and disagree with this ruling," said liaison officer Godwin Matsiko.
"We plan to appeal, on behalf of the more than 20,000 Ugandans who have decided to send their children to our schools."