Low-fee private schools are a hot topic in educational research. What happens when public schooling is provided by for-profit companies that charge families monthly user fees? What happens when those companies receive government funds? Researchers around the world have been exploring various issues around for-profit public schooling.

One company has been of particular interest. Bridge International Academies operates schools in Africa and Asia and is supported by people such as Bill Gates and Mark Zukerburg. Bridge International uses a standard curriculum that is read off of a tablet computer. This low-cost model of schooling relies on paying small wages to instructors, who simply read the curriculum, and fees paid by students to attend (or government subsidies). This type of schooling can be extremely profitable when delivered to scale. In the most extreme case, in Liberia, the Ministry of education is trying to outsource its entire primary education system to Bridge International.Curtis_Riep_Arrest_Sheet

Given Bridge international’s work, it’s no wonder that researchers are interested in exploring what’s happening at the policy level and at the school level when it comes to low-fee private schools.

In May this year, Canadian Researcher Curtis Riep was in Uganda researching Bridge International’s work. At one of his meetings, held at a local café, he was arrested for impersonation and criminal trespass
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while collecting data. These charges were later proven to be baseless and he was released and not charged (see image on right).

The interesting thing, however, is that Bridge International seems to have played a role in Curtis’ arrest. Before he was arrested, for instance, Bridge International took out a public notice in New Vision, a local newspaper (see image below), warning the general public of Dr. Riep’s presence.

Impersonation by Micheal EI claimant staff - Press 1

My guest today takes us through this odd case and explores the larger issues around Bridge International. Angelo Gavrielatos is a project director at Education International, the Global federation of teacher unions and the organization that funded Curtis Riep’s research.

After recording the show with Angelo, new developments unfolded in Uganda. Below the fold, you can read the latest updates.

The Ugandan ministry of education has recently closed many schools that did not meet minimum standards, including schools operated by Bridge International. Although the connection between Curtis Riep’s research and the recent closures are unknown, these events  suggest Curtis was likely on to something important:

Bridge International Academies appears to be losing its foothold in Uganda following a government decision to close 87 for-profit primary schools, including those belonging to Bridge, after failing to comply with minimum standards and regulations. (Link)

UPATE: The research Curtis was working on has finally been published. From  Education International’s (EI’s) press release:

EI’s analysis of Bridge’s curriculum and pedagogy reveals serious implications for teachers and students that fundamentally alters the nature and practice of education itself. The company has created a business plan based on strict standardisations, automated technology, cheap school structures, and internet-enabled devices that are used to carry out all instructional and non-instructional activities that make up an education system.

You can download the full report here.

Citation: Gavrielatos, Angelo, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 36, podcast audio, August 8, 2016. https://www.freshedpodcast.com/angelogavrielatos/

Transcript, translation, and resources: