Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Schools - 'Technically, We're Breaking the Law': News

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Schools - 'Technically, We're Breaking the Law': News

Article excerpt

African academy chain founder speaks up for bending the rules.

Low-cost private schools in Africa are forced to operate illegally, in breach of "restrictive" laws that stifle innovation, the founder of one of the continent's largest chains has claimed.

Bridge International Academies, which educates 65,000 children in 200 primary and nursery schools across Kenya, routinely flouts the legal requirement to hire government-trained teachers, chief strategy officer Shannon May told TES.

The official state-run teacher training system failed to provide high- quality teachers, she claimed, prompting the company - which aims to educate 500,000 children across four African countries within three years - to establish its own alternative training programmes.

In recent years, a number of for-profit providers have opened chains of schools across Africa, charging low fees to attract the lowest-paid families. Bridge International Academies' fees range from $4.50 to $7 (Pounds 2.80 to Pounds 4.40) per month.

James Tooley, professor of education policy at Newcastle University in north-east England, has carried out extensive research into low-cost private education in developing countries and is chairman of Omega Schools, which currently operates 40 institutions in Ghana.

Recent research in parts of Liberia and Ghana revealed that 71 per cent of students attended private primary schools, with the majority being from families living on or below the poverty line, Mr Tooley told TES. "This is a grass-roots phenomenon, caused by growing demand by the majority of poor families. It's not just in Africa, it's across the world; it's been an incredible success story.

"The growth of these schools has been caused by the inadequacy of government education, which leads to poor parents wanting to send their children to private school. However, in some countries the local laws inhibit this sort of school."

Ms May also argued that the conservative policies of governments in developing countries often deterred private sector providers from establishing new schools. "Technically, we're breaking the law," she said. "But so are thousands of other schools who are operating like this in these environments, and millions of children go to the types of schools where things like this are happening.

"You have to be extreme, you have to take real risks to work in those environments. …

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