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Uganda's First Lady says Bridge Schools Uganda must close
Uganda’s First Lady and Minister of Education Janet Museveni hits back at Bridge Schools Uganda, who has defied ministry edicts not to re-open its 63 schools across the country. Unlicenced Bridge Schools will not be allowed to operate for the 2018 school year, states Minister Museveni in an op-ed piece in Uganda daily New Vision on Friday.
“I should, however, add that the impunity being exhibited by Bridge Management, and its likes, will not be tolerated and that Government will spare no effort to use all legal means to enforce the requirements of the Law to protect our children and our future, as a country,” writes Minister Museveni.
She is referring to the Bridge Schools Uganda, who are not in receipt of licences for their 63 schools, but opened to begin the school year.
“Uganda’s Permanent Secretary of Education [ed: Alex Kakooza]…clearly stated recently that all those schools that have evidence, have submitted their files to the ministry of education for purposes of licensing, shall not be closed,” said Morrison Rwakabamba, the Kampala-based head of Bridge Schools Uganda.
He said Bridge Schools is in that category because over 42 files have been approved by districts in the country, and they are now sitting in the office of the Ministry of Education awaiting processing.
The controversy erupted on 5 February, the first day of school in Uganda. The Ministry of Education had ordered all schools that had not been licensed by the state to remain shut.
Bridge Schools is severely failing on several points, according to Uganda State Minister for Education, MP Rosemary Nansubuga Senide.
“First of all, they don’t follow our curriculum. Secondly, they don’t have qualified teachers. Thirdly, they don’t have qualified head teachers. The entire system under which they are teaching is entirely different,” said Minister Senide.
Schools are decentralized in Uganda, so the local education authority in each district makes educational curriculum, security and sanitation checks, prepares a report and sends this report to the ministry, according to Senide. This report is reviewed, and if approved, the license is given.
The Ministry of Education issued a press release on 6 February, the day after the schools were opened, entitled “Bridge Schools are unlicensed and not authorized to operate”.
The press release says that the management of Bridge Schools “has embarked on an aggressive public and social media campaign aimed at hoodwinking unsuspecting parents about the status of 63 Bridge Schools in Uganda,” noting that the schools “have not yet met the requirements to merit being licensed to operate in Uganda.”
The two-page ministry press release gives a timeline of the correspondence and meetings between the ministry and Bridge Schools, dating back from April, 2016.
“What is happening here is lack of respect for national regulations as far as standards of schools are concerned. What you might notice from the different communications that the ministry of communications has had with Bridge Schools, that there’s been a lot of non-compliance,” Saphina Nakulima, Right to Education programs manager at the Initiative for Social and Economic Rights (ISER) in Kampala, told RFI.
“What is happening is not something that started yesterday. There’s been a series of communications, a series of circulars, from all the different arms of government, but Bridge has remained adamant as far as respecting the municipal law is concerned,” she added.
Rwakabamba, of Bridge Schools, said that the issue is not of non-compliance, but of a slow and bureaucratic process, noting that the remaining 21 files not at the ministry have already been received at the local level and need to be submitted.
He further stated that Bridge Schools should have the right to be given explanations if there is a problem with a file.
“If you disagree with one file you can get back to us and say, ‘You don’t have this document. You need to go back and verify a,b,c,d. You need to still do some more things.’ You reject the file on its merits or demerits, and then you give us the opportunity to respond, or even update you on what you could have done,” he added.
Minister Senide told RFI that the ministry is not targeting Bridge Schools Uganda, but that any school without a license would be closed throughout the country, which would be followed up with law enforcement.
“Our focus now is to improve the quality of education,” said Senide. “We are responsible. Whether it is a private school, or a government-aided school, we are in charge,” she said.