Over 174 civil society organizations from 50 countries, have called on investors and donors to cease support to Bridge International Academies for allegedly failing to reach the disadvantaged it claimed to serve.
Bridge is a large-scale network of private pre-primary and primary schools that operates over 500 schools in India, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, and Uganda.
The company received investments from major international investors including the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, the Omidyar Network, the United Kingdom, the United States, the World Bank, Pearson, and Bill Gates, for a total amount estimated to be over 100 million US dollars.
An independent rigorous study published, has confirmed that the American large-scale commercial chain of pre-premier and premier school academies is not living up to its promises, while violating ethical principles.
When the Liberian government launched the Partnership Schools for Liberia (PSL) pilot project in 2016, it handed over 93 schools to eight private service providers, Bridge International Academies or ‘Bridge’ being one of its partners.
The partnership schools enrolled approximately 27,000 students through a Public Private Partnership (PPP) initiative, and some proponents, as well as education enthusiasts, thought that the much-needed redemption in the country’s education sector was finally at hand.
But an independent survey has shown that, the 23 schools run by Bridge under the Partnership Schools for Liberia (PSL) program, dismissed teachers on a large-scale, more than any other provider; pushing 74 percent of the teachers previously employed in those schools onto other schools.
The investigation also confirmed that Bridge has removed thousands of students from their schools by capping class sizes; thus confirming previously report that children who had been enrolled the previous year in their local school were turned away.
The research further acknowledged the long-standing worry of civil society that Bridge tries to skew results by pouring in large sums of money in an unsustainable way, picking better schools, and that the company is ultimately based on a flawed business model.
According to the finding, the cost per child in Bridge schools is 663 – 1,050 USD per child per annum, as opposed to the government’s existing $50 per student budget, and the average 275 USD spent in developing countries, per child.
Despite pushing out teachers, the mass-expulsion of children, and spending much larger sums of money than any other school, the survey shows that Bridge schools did not do significantly better than three other providers, including a local non-profit provider (Youth Movement for Collective Action).
This new study confirms a range of other independent studies conducted by civil society and journalists on Bridge performance in Kenya, Uganda, and Nigeria, which all showed similar practices, poor learning gains and an unsustainable business model in addition to violations of the rule of law.
A statement signed by 174 organizations published, last month, called on investors to cease all investments in Bridge and take immediate steps to address the issues identified.
The signatory call on the Liberian government to radically review whether it is worth pursuing this pilot project, when there are so many other more effective ways to improve the quality of education for all children
- call on the Liberian government to immediately revoke the contract of providers that are not cost-effective, limit access, try to manipulate the pilot, or undermine the system as whole reaffirm civil society organizations’ recent global request to investors to immediately cease support to Bridge
- call on all concerned governments, where Bridge operates (India, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Uganda) to immediately take all necessary measures to ensure that the rights and integrity of children affected by Bridge are safeguarded and that all schools not respecting minimum educational standards be closed
“Clearly, the PPP approach was the wrong option in Liberia. It opened door for dodgy providers such as Bridge to profit from the system, while not providing sustainable solutions.
Huge investment in Bridge under the pilot, with woeful results, shows it ineffectiveness. Therefore, we urge the Liberian government to abandon the PSL program and redirect its energy to pursuing more holistic and sustainable reforms that protect the rights of all children and improve learning outcomes across all levels of the education system.
The government should start by immediately revoking the contract with Bridge, which only does not improve the learning more than any other school, but weakens the system as a whole by pushing out children and teachers onto other schools,” Anderson Miamen, of Liberian Coalition on Transparency in Education or COTAE.
“We know that Bridge has been using various techniques in Kenya to raise its results such as organizing extra lessons for its students, with foreign teachers or pushing out low-achieving children.
It is disturbing to see the high cost of schooling per child in Liberia, which is low value-for-money, and it’s once again saddening to observe that the company would resort to the expulsion of children and the destabilization of a whole education system to achieve its objectives,” Linda Oduor-Noah, from the Kenyan East African Centre for Human Rights.
“This research demonstrates once again that the internal studies conducted by Bridge are completely biased, and constitute a marketing tool to attract investors rather than a reliable source of data.
Even looking at narrow measurements of reading and counting, learning gains in Bridge schools are extremely low and unsustainable, when looking at the amount of money invested.
If there’s one lesson from this research, it’s that, contrary to the popular belief, and despite all its flaws, increasing resources for public providers remains the most effective way to improve education.
The Liberia experience shows that PPPs are rarely justified, and certainly cannot work where governments do not have the necessary regulatory capacities,” Salima Namusobya, from the Ugandan Initiative for Economic and Social Rights added.
“With this study, we now have all possible evidence one may need to come to a final conclusion. Added to the extensive evidence that has been collected for years, there can only be one outcome: investors need to withdraw their funds, and Bridge schools need to be closed in Liberia and across the continent,” rejoined Teopista, from ANCEFA, the African Network Campaign on Education For All.
“The UN Special reporter on the right to education warned Liberia last year that abandoning the provision of education to the commercial benefit of a private company could constitute a gross violation of the right to education.
This new research clearly shows that these concerns were founded: expelling thousands of children and destabilizing the whole education system by pushing out teachers is not a small act, it is dramatic and unacceptable, especially for a country like Liberia recovering from several disasters.
It also shows that there’s no need for for-profit providers in education: should there be any private provider, the Liberia experience demonstrates that local non-profit can deliver at least as well,” said Sylvain Aubry, from the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
“We welcome these initial findings from the evaluation. It is clear that the learning gains are very modest. And in my view, even these gains are largely attributable to the extra-financing. The evaluation does not help us understand causality, we need independent qualitative research,’ concluded David Archer, from ActionAid International.
African Network Campaign on Education For All
Civil Society Action Coalition on Education For All (Nigeria)
Coalition on Transparency in Education (Liberia)
East African Centre for Human Rights (Kenya)
Global Campaign for Education
Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
Initiative for Economic and Social Rights (Uganda)
Right to Education Initiative