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Why Bridge Academies irritates teachers’ unions

By using innovative teaching methods such as tablets, ICT and mostly untrained teachers, the fast growing Bridge International Academies has struck fear in the hearts of trade union leaders.

Most of the teachers in these academies are not members of the unions.  Yet, after launching its pioneer school in 2009, Bridge has opened more than 400 nursery and primary schools in Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria, which now serve 100,000 children. “In 2016, Bridge will partner with the government of Andhra Pradesh in India to deliver high-quality education and strengthen the state’s school system,” says Bridge’s communications manager, Lucy Bradlow.

The use of “strange” teaching methods, rapid growth and charging of cheap school fees (compared to private academies) is worrying education stakeholders in both the private and public sectors. The academies charge approximately $100 (Sh10,200) per year per child while private academies charge at least Sh100,000  per year.

Early this week, the teachers’ and university academic staff unions and a number of civil society organisations including Transparency International (TI) and Action Aid Kenya asked the government to crack down on schools commercialising education rather than bringing in quality to the sector.

The stakeholders, in a statement read by Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) Secretary General Wilson Sossion, urged the government to fix the legislative and regulatory loopholes to ensure all schools in the country adhere to the minimum set standards including the hiring of qualified teachers.

“There is need to close existing legislative and regulatory loopholes and ensure compliance in relation to the minimum national standards with respect to the provision of education. Registration of schools must be conditional on full compliance with the minimum standards,” they said.

Sossion decrired a growing privatisation of education and fee charging for profit schools in and gave the example of Bridge International Academies.

However, Bridge has denied these allegations, insisting that it exists for the sole purpose of ensuring that every child, regardless of the location of her birth or income of her parents, receives quality education. “Bridge is an education innovation company – developing high-quality teacher and learner resource materials aligned with each country’s standards,” Bradlow said in a statement.

Bradlow said all their innovations are designed to continuously improve quality of education while reducing cost. “Bridge works with families, governments, and donors to ensure that every girl and boy can attend a high-performing nursery and primary school. This lays the foundation for every girl and boy to succeed throughout life,”  she added.

According to Sossion, their campaign is based on a November 2015 report by the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) that queried how Kenya has regulated and monitored informal private schools, or low-cost private schools to ensure quality education. He said the government has a mandate to ensure all children attend basic education by adequately funding free quality education regardless of the background.

He said that according to Article 53 of the Constitution, every child has the immediate right to free and compulsory Basic Education as per section 28 of the Basic education Act 2013 and Section 7 of the Children’s Act 2001.

The mushrooming of private schools in the country has largely been informed by the government’s failure to provide access to education to all the children in need, especially in urban informal settlements (slums) and rural areas.  Slums such as Kibera, Mathare, Kariobangi all in Nairobi and other sprawling slums in various urban centres across the country have few, if any public schools.

Mathare MP Stephen Kariuki said at the forum that there are not enough public schools for every Kenyan child to attend. The Deputy Director of Quality Assurance in the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, Susan Njau has also stated that 1.9m children in Kenya aged six to 13 years old are out of school.

The thousands of children living in these places have a Constitutional right to get education and the government shouldn’t punish individuals and organisations that have pooled resources to establish schools in such places. Ends

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