Teachers unions, NGOs call for closure of Bridge schools


Kenya National Union of Teachers secretary-general Wilson Sossion addresses a education sector stakeholders at the Stanley Hotel in Nairobi on January 26, 2016. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL

Teachers unions have joined hands with civil society groups in demanding the closure of Bridge International Academies for flouting quality standards, shining the spotlight on slum-based institutions as the government proposed strict rules for informal schools.

In a joint statement read by Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) secretary-general Wilson Sossion, sector players accused Bridge International, which operates 405 nursery and primary schools in slums, of failing to follow set guidelines.

“The expansion of Bridge schools is a manifestation of the growing commercialisation and privatisation of education in Kenya, which are the greatest threat to the achievement of the UN sustainable development goals,” said Mr Sossion.

The low-cost Bridge Academies boast a population of 100,000 pupils. The organisation buys land in slums like Mathare and Kibera where it sets up schools. A typical Bridge school sits on a half-acre plot.

They currently employ about 5,000 teachers, a third of them licensed by the Teachers Service Commission.

On Tuesday, the government proposed strict guidelines that, among other things, require informal schools to employ at least 30 per cent of trained and registered teachers.

The draft rules state that untrained teachers in such schools will also be required to have a minimum of C plain in Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education exam and will have to undergo an in-service training within the first three years.

Draft regulations require that at least half of teachers in informal schools have a practising licence.

Teachers at Bridge earn a monthly pay of Sh12,000 which is lower than the average Sh16,000 paid to primary school tutors in public schools.

The Bridge schools are supported by high-profile organisations, among them the World Bank Group, the Commonwealth Development Corporation and Omidyar Network.

Mr Sossion argued that despite the schools receiving support from top philanthropists like Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg it still charges parents about Sh1,326 ($13) and was even advertising for more pupils to join.

READ: Ministry stops expansion of low-cost schools

The joint statement read by Mr Sossion was signed by Knut, East Africa Centre for Human Rights, Economic and Social Rights Centre and ActionAid-Kenya.

Others are Kenya Union of Post Primary Education, Universities Academic Staff Union, Katiba Institute, International Commission of Jurists-Kenya chapter, Transparency International, Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and Education International.

Bridge International Academies co-founder Shannon May, dismissed the allegations saying that the schools are serving needy Kenyans.

“We only charge about Sh600-700 per month and not Sh1,300 as it is being alleged,” said Dr May.

She maintained that the institution is not out to make profits but to support Kenyan children who are affected by poverty in slum areas.

In Nairobi, Kibra Constituency has three public schools while Mathare has two despite the huge population in those constituencies.