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Commercial schools and the right to education


Among different type of private actors involved in education, commercial schools raise specific challenges. Commercial schools have been defined as schools “whose one of the main objectives (though not necessarily unique) is to develop commercial activities out of education services and to defend their own interest to the detriment of the general interest. They consider education as a tradable good, which involves in particular that they intend to extend their activities and model by entering in competition with other education establishments, to increase their turnover, and to increase their profit.” The following page is meant as a monitoring resource page to critically reflect on the development of this type of schools against human rights standards.

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Bridge International Academies

Bridge International Academies Ltd (BIA) is an American based company registered in Delaware. Operating for-profit the company runs a commercial, private chain of nursery and primary schools. With over 400 institutions and 100,000 children in enrolled BIA schools, it is the largest chain of commercial private schools worldwide.

BIA has received funding from several large corporations, investors and development partners including the Omidyar Network founded by the billionaire creator of eBay, Pearson (the world’s largest educational business), Novastar Ventures, Kholsa Ventures, philanthropist Bill Gates, Facebook founder’s Zuckerberg Education Ventures, the International Finance Corporation (a branch of the World Bank Group), the UK’s Commonwealth Development Corporation (with funds from the Department for International Development - DFID) and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation.

BIA opened its first school in Mukuru kwa Njenga slum in Kenya in 2009, by 2015 the company had 405 schools in Kenya. The company expanded further with 2 schools opened in Nigeria in 2015 and 63 schools opened in Uganda by 2016, and has made plans to open schools in India. Most recently BIA has entered a pilot public-private partnership with the government of Liberia. Through the program “Partnership Schools for Liberia” the government has outsourced 92 of its public pre-primary and primary school. BIA is running 25 primary schools in the pilot. BIA seeks to grow further with the aim of reaching 10 million students by 2025.

 BIA in  Kenya

  • 16 April 2018: Kenyan citizens, parents and teachers file complaint against the World Bank for it funding to Bridge International Academics:
  • 23 February 2018: Kenyan court prevents attempts by Bridge International Academies to muzzle critics:
  • 13 November 2017: African Commission raises concerns about lack of regulation of Bridge International Academies:
  • Concluding Observations on Kenya by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights:
  • Education International and Kenya National Union of Teachers report, ‘Bridge vs. Reality: a study of Bridge International Academies’  for-profit schooling in Kenya’:
  • 19 July 2017: Leaked letter from Ministry of Education finds Bridge in breach of education standards:
  • 17 February 2017: Kenyan court upholds closure of Bridge International Academies in Busia county: 

 BIA in Uganda 

  • 16 March 2018: the High Court of Uganda at Kampala denied Bridge International Academies’ (Bridge) interim injunction application seeking to maintain operations while the company’s licensing is under review.
  • 7 February 2018: Press release - Bridge International Academies must respect the right to education and comply with Ugandan Government order to close its schools
  • Education International report, ‘Schooling the poor profitably: The innovations and deprivations of Bridge International Academies in Uganda’:
  • April 2017, Report by Ugandan parliament states Bridge schools were listed as operating illegally in Jinja district:
  • 10 November 2016: Press release - Uganda judgement on the closure of Bridge International Academies must signal a move towards fulfilling the right to education in Uganda and other countries 
  • 9 November 2016: Statement from the Ministry of Education and Sports on the closure of BIA:
  • 4 November 2016: [regularly updated], High Court orders closure of BIA in Uganda : 
  • 4 November 2016: High Court ruling upholding the Minister of Education’s order to close BIA schools in Uganda:
  • 12 August 2016: Press release - Uganda to close the largest chain of commercial private schools over non-respect of basic education standards :
    • Transcript of the Ministry of Education’s statement on the operations of the Uganda Bridge International Academies before the Ugandan Parliament :
    • Audio of the Ministry of Education’s statement on the operations of the Uganda Bridge International Academies before the Ugandan Parliament :
    • Interim Order on closure of BIA in Uganda :
  • Media coverage on the closure of Bridge International Academies in Uganda :

BIA in Liberia

Key documents concerning BIA

  • April 2018, Blog post: Evidence before marketing - recalling the known, independently verified factors about Bridge International Academies:
  • March 2018, Joint letter by 88 Organisations urging investors to cease support for Bridge International Academies:
  • February 2018, Brief on Bridge International Academies investors: 
  • February 2018, Brief on 10 key findings on BIA from three articles from the New York Times, Africa is a Country and Quartz: (updated)
  • November 2017, New UK Parliament report finds Bridge’s model problematic and raises questions about UK’s funding:
  • November 2017, Report by the UK International Development Committee, DFID’s work on education: Leaving no one behind?:
  • October 2017, ActionAid, Whose Children go to Bridge International Schools? A School of Choice for the Middle Class in Ijegun, Lagos:
  • September, 2017, Center for Global Development, Working Paper 462, Can Outsourcing Improve Liberia’s Schools?:
  • August 2017, Civil society call on investors to cease support to Bridge International Academies: 2016, Brief providing information on known pending legal proceedings involving BIA in Uganda and Kenya: March 2017, Results Education Fund release report ‘From fee to free: Are for-profit, fee-charging private schools the solution for the world’s poor?’ :
  • March 2017, EACHRights release report ‘Low Cost Private Schools: School Choice for the poor at the expense of Quality?’: 
  • February 2017, Devex, Education experts square off on the public versus private school debate in Africa. :  
  • December 2016, GI-ESCR, EACHRights and ISER-Uganda statement, ‘What do the new data on Bridge International Academies tell us about their impact on human rights? A five-point analysis.’ :
  • November 2016,  Education International and Kenya National Union of Teachers release new report, ‘Bridge vs. Reality: a study of Bridge International Academies’  for-profit schooling in Kenya’:
  • November 2016, summary of human rights treaty bodies statements related to BIA:
  • October 2016, Interview with Angelo Gavrielatos, Project Director at Education International and Tanvir Muntasmin, International Policy Manger at ActionAid on BIA’s business model:
  • September 2016, Education International release new report, ‘Schooling the poor profitably: The innovations and deprivations of Bridge International Academies in Uganda’:
  • Video from Education International

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