American Teachers’ Unions Even Criticize African Private Schools
By Olivia Grady
On March 9, 2017, the Wall Street Journal published an article by Eric Hanushek, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. The article was titled “American Teachers Unions Oppose Innovative Schools – in Africa.”
The article was mostly about Bridge International Academies, a for-profit company that runs a group of private schools in the poor areas of Kenya and Uganda.
Bridge was started as a Silicon Valley–style startup using Tesla and Uber as models. Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, the World Bank’s International Finance Corp and Learn Capital have invested $100 million in the project.
Bridge teachers work 8 hour days, and their attendance is monitored. In addition, they are given lesson plans, and student performance is analyzed.
As a result, 59 percent of Bridge students after two years at the school pass the national primary school exam. In 56 communities, the students had a 100 percent pass rate.
These results are at least 15 percentage points higher than the results of the public school children.
It is likely in part due to the fact that teachers in the public schools are not monitored. They were absent 47 percent of the time in 2013 according to the World Bank, only teaching an average of two hours and 19 minutes per day. In addition, 80 percent of the teachers could not read or do math at a primary-school level themselves according to a 2016 government audit.
Despite these good results, Lily Eskelsen García, the president of the National Education Association (NEA), condemned the schools in a press release on October 6, 2016, citing a 2016 report by Education International, “a global federation of teacher unions”:
"Bridge has been undermining the right to quality public education for all students in Uganda. Bridges for-profit educational model is robbing students of a good education and depriving them of their natural curiosity to imagine and learn. This is morally wrong, and professionally reprehensible. We stand in solidarity with our education union sisters and brothers in Uganda and Education International. We join them to demand an end to this ill-advised profits-over-students' practice.”
The president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Randi Weingarten, also has spoken out against Bridge. She criticized World Bank President Jim Yong Kim when he praised Bridge in 2015: “The World Bank’s promotion of the fee-charging, for-profit Bridge International Academies in Kenya and Uganda is not an appropriate role for the institution.”
Maybe a literacy rate among second- and third- graders in Kenya of 32 percent is okay with the NEA and the AFT, but it is not okay with us.
Keep up the good work, Bridge!