On Friday 4 May 2018, the National Education Union demonstrated outside the Pearson Annual General Meeting (AGM) to protest against the corporation’s investment in so-called Low-Fee Private Schools provider Bridge.
Bridge is one of the largest education for-profit companies in the world, with plans to sell basic education services directly to 10 million fee-paying students throughout Africa and Asia by 2025. Bridge’s business plan is predicated on the employment of unqualified staff delivering a highly scripted, standardised curriculum in substandard facilities. These are cost-cutting techniques aimed at minimising operational costs in order to maximise profit. In both Uganda and Kenya Bridge schools have been ordered to shut because of the company’s neglect and disregard for national legal and educational requirements.
In 2017, Bridge commenced legal proceedings against the Kenyan National Union of Teachers (KNUT) and its General Secretary, Wilson Sossion, in an attempt to silence an international campaign aimed at exposing their business practices. In 2016, Bridge fabricated allegations against a researcher in Uganda, Curtis Riep, resulting in his arrest.
In addition to Pearson, Bridge is also supported by, among others, the World Bank, UK Government’s CDC, US Government’s OPIC and billionaires Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates.
The National Education Union is protesting against Pearson’s investment in Bridge, condemning the corporation’s support for a company that exploits the aspirations of some of the world’s poorest parents and their children for profit. The National Education Union is asking Pearson shareholders to ensure that the company stops backing Bridge.
Commenting on the demonstration, Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:
“Every child has the right to a free, high quality education, with trained teachers and a safe learning environment. Bridge exploits this right for profit, and in the process delivers a sub-standard education that deepens inequality in the communities it ‘serves’. Pearson’s investment in this exploitative business model is wholly indefensible.”
The National Education Union is an amalgamation of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) and National Union of Teachers (NUT), formed on 1 September 2017. Both unions have a history of opposing the privatisation of education both nationally and internationally.
The National Education Union was joined at the demonstration by Education International, the global teacher trade union federation representing more than 32 million educators, the Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT), and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).