Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates have been funding schools in Uganda to help poor children get the education that they need, but a conflict in perspective with the government and some people has dampened their efforts and resulted in a shutdown of their facilities.
The Bridge International Academies, otherwise known as BIA, was founded by Harvard University students Shannon May, Jay Kimmelman, and Phil Frei who were all looking for a way to solve problems with the education system in some countries in Africa.
The BIA received funding from Mark Zuckerberg through his Zuckerberg Education Ventures, Bill Gates, and other high-profile investors. But their efforts may be in vain now that the Ugandan government decided to close down their schools for a number of reasons.
According to CNN, the Ugandan government has deemed Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates’ schools as “unsanitary and unqualified,” which prompted them to close its doors on December 8.
The government said that the BIA did not abide by the standards required of a school in Uganda. According to the government, not only are the BIA’s facilities dirty, but their teachers are also unqualified to instruct pupils.
Huzaifa Mutazindwa, the director of Uganda’s Education Standards, told CNN that to start with, BIA’s curriculum hasn’t even been approved by their department and yet they pushed forward and opened up their schools.
Mutazindwa said that the Ugandan government is deeply concerned with Zuckerberg and Gates’ schools because they are not aware of what they’re teaching the students.
At least two other groups have voiced their support to close down Zuckerberg and Gates’ schools. The Global Campaign for Education is supporting Uganda’s decision to close down BIA because they too believe that the schools are inadequate and unqualified.
Also, the group says that humanitarian efforts and profit-making could not go hand-in-hand because of the conflict in interest.
Camilla Croso, the president of GCE, accused Zuckerberg and Gates’ schools of profiting from poverty-stricken countries.
She said, “It really is incompatible to have human rights and profit making because you are motivated and act in completely different ways.”
Croso also said that BIA’s method of teaching hinders students from learning because it’s so structured and scripted, leaving no room for discussion and individual reasoning.
She spoke of the schools that Zuckerberg and Gates are funding and said, “You have technology — like tablets — often standing in place of teachers and you have very scripted classes that tell the teachers exactly what to do and when — so you don’t have any sort of autonomy and you can’t improvise.”
According to Croso, learning through improvisation is much more important than just simply giving all the facts to the students, which is why she doesn’t believe that BIA is helping Uganda’s students.
Another group agrees with Uganda’s decision to shut down BIA. The Initiative for Society and Economic Rights (ISER) said that the decision to close down the schools that Zuckerberg and Gates are funding is right because they believe that the organization was “insincere” when it came to Uganda with the intention of educating the poor.
Salima Namusobya, the executive director of ISER, said that the privatization of education is technically in direct opposition to human rights principles especially when the group that is behind it is targeting poor families.
Namusobya believes that the BIA is more interested in making a profit rather than helping poor children get the education they need, and with a $6 a month tuition fee it’s hard for some people to counter the director’s accusation.
In most developed countries, $6 a month is a small pinch in a family’s annual budget, but according to NGOs it’s a huge deal for those living in poverty in Uganda.
In light of their critics’ accusations, the schools that Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates are funding is trying to fight back, although they admit it’s a tough battle to win.
Andrew White, the BIA director in Uganda, said that the accusations hurled at them are unfounded and they are more than eager to set the record straight, but, unfortunately, Uganda’s government seems unwilling to hear them out.
White said that they have already addressed eight allegations thrown at them and they were able to provide evidence that the schools that Zuckerberg and Gates are funding are clean and safe for children.
Also, the curriculum they provide is in accordance with the Ugandan curriculum and their teachers are certified educators. Those who are not yet certified are currently undergoing training in preparation for their certification.
White explained that they are under heavy fire right now because they’re in direct competition with local state-run schools and private schools.
But despite their current predicament, White is hopeful that the schools that Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates are funding will rise above this because he believes that they’re helping Uganda’s children look forward to a brighter future.
[Featured Image by Eric Risberg/AP Images]