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Uganda orders schools funded by Mark Zuckererg, Bill Gates to close

By Allen Cone
Uganda orders schools funded by Mark Zuckererg, Bill Gates to close
More than 100,000 students attend Bridge International Academies' more than 400 nursery and primary schools across emerging markets in Africa, including 12,000 students in Uganda. Photo by Bridge International Academies

KAMPALA, Uganda, Nov. 29 (UPI) -- Uganda's high court has ordered the closure of schools funded in part by billionaires Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg by Dec. 8 because they are "unsanitary and unqualified."

In a Nov. 4 ruling by Uganda's top court, Bridge International Academies was ordered to close because they risk the "life and safety" of its 12,000 students. The chain in a subsequent court order was allowed to stay open until the third term ends.

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The court upheld a July 25 directive from the Ministry of Education and Sports.

"We are extremely disappointed for our pupils and disagree with this ruling that affects the 12,000 Ugandan children in our schools, who have just finished their mid-term exams," said Godwin Matsiko, the liasion officer for Bridge International Academies Uganda in a release. "We plan to appeal, on behalf of the more the 20,000 Ugandans who have decided to send their children to our schools. They do this because they want an affordable quality education. They want the best for their children, and this court ruling throws that into doubt. "

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The Bridge Academy is a chain of private schools in Uganda, Kenya and Nigeria. The schools provide a western education with tablets and computers for about $6 per month in tuition.

The chain also runs about 400 nurseries across Africa.

BIA has denied the allegations by Uganda's government.

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In a statement, BIA listed eights points to "set the record straiight." It said the sanitation is good at all of the schools, and the majority of their teachers are certified and registered. And those who are not are in-service training.

"There's a lot of miscommunication and a lot of very serious, unfounded allegations. We would like to be given the opportunity to explain ourselves ... The ministry has been unwilling to give us an audience to set the record straight," Uganda's BIA director, Andrew White, told CNN.

White said he suspects the schools are being targeted because they compete against local state-run and private schools.

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"I don't think the government is threatened by Bridge, but I think lobby groups are trying to make the government and ministry feel like they should be," White said.

The schools also were accused of teaching pornography by a Uganda official.

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"We could not allow teaching sexual matters in public. Why teach pornography in Bridge schools? This moral decay couldn't be tolerated," Uganda's Minister of Finance, Planning, and Economic Development, Matia Kasaija, said during the convocation ceremony of Uganda's Martyrs University.

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Bridge Solomon Sserwanja called the comments "unfortunate" and asked him to "come out with proof over the matter in question."

In the statement, it says, "We do not teach any foreign or non-Ugandan cultural values, nor do we have sexual education curriculum in our schools."

Global Campaign for Education, an educational advocacy group, backs the Ugandan court's decision.

"They are profit making enormously," Camilla Croso, president of the organization, told CNN. "It's very indecent because they are looking at poor people as a profitable market.

"It really is incompatible to have human rights and profit making because you are motivated and act in completely different ways."

White said BIA uses technology to assist teachers.

"Bridge does not believe technology can replace a teacher ... We've spent millions of dollars to ensure our teachers have the resources and skills to make sure they can provide our pupils with the highest possible education."

The first Bridge school opened in the Mukuru slum in Nairobi, Kenya in 2009, according to its website.

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Investors have put more than $100 million in the company, according to a 2015 report in The Wall Street Journal. Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, invested $10 million in the company last year.

Greg Mauro, a partner at California-based venture-capital firm Learn Capital LLC, is the largest shareholder in Bridge at 15 percent. Gates, the Microsoft co-founder, has invested along with e-Bay Inc. founder Pierre Omidyar's Omidyar Network, textbook publisher Pearson PLC.

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