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Understanding commercial low-fee private schools: looking at available data on Bridge International Academies’ operations in three countries

Mon, March 6, 5:00 to 6:30pm, Sheraton Atlanta, Floor: 1, Georgia 7 (South Tower)

Session Submission Type: Group Panel

Description of Session

The development, role, and impact of low-fee private primary schools have been at the center of debates on education and inequalities for at least the last fifteen years (e.g., Srivastava, 2013; MacPherson, Robertson and Walford, 2014). During the “first wave” of low-fee private schooling development, small, individually owned and operated schools emerged (Srivastava, 2016). More recently, low-fee private schooling is experiencing a “second wave” (Srivastava, 2016) wherein corporate-backed school chains and service providers are capitalizing this still-nascent market space. This second wave comprises part of what is described as the burgeoning ‘global education industry’ (Verger, Lubienski, & Steiner-Khamsi, 2016).

At the core of this second wave of low-fee private schooling is the growth of commercial large-scale private school providers, such as Bridge International Academies and Omega Schools. While the definition of commercial private schools remains debated, a group of civil society organizations has defined such schools by the fact that they conceive of “education as a tradable good, which entails in particular that they seek to expand their activities and their model by competing with other establishments, to increase their turnover, or to increase their profits” (Coalition Education et. al., 2016).

This rapid growth of commercial actors in low-fee private schooling could, on one hand, seems to present a potential “solution” to the problems confronting so-called developing countries. On the other hand, commercial models have been criticized for being incompatible with the realization of human rights (e.g. UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education 2015: 21). However, there are little data available about these commercial schools operate, limiting the possibilities for nuanced analysis and debate. While some authors, such as Tooley and Dixon (2005) have argued that there is no contradiction between the “motivation of commercial gain” and supporting the poor, their research focused primarily on small-scale, “mom-and-pop” schools that correspond to Srivastava’s “first wave” theory.

This panel will seek to support a transparent and informed discussion on commercial low-fee schools by sharing essential data on Bridge International Academies (BIA), which have been collected over the last two years. BIA is probably the most well-known commercial chain of nursery and primary low-fee schools. This for-profit company based in the USA counts more than 460 schools and seeks to reach 10 million children by 2025, using a ‘school in a box model’ premised on the use of scale, technology, and vertical integration to reduce costs. It therefore offers a unique and important site through which to reflect on the rise of commercial private schooling.

This panel will build upon a discussion opened up by last year’s CIES panel that focused on the delivery of schooling by multinational corporate actors. The papers will present data that have been collected on Bride International Academies in four separate qualitative and investigative research conducted in three countries where Bridge operates: Kenya, Liberia, and Uganda. Clarifying the logic and practices of BIA will provide the ground for a broader preliminary analyses and discussions of BIA and commercial schooling from an equality and right to education lens.

Coalition Éducation, CSFEF, Ficeméa, GI-ESCR, Right to Education Project & Solidarité Laïque. (2016). Appel de la société civile francophone contre la marchandisation de l’éducation [online]. Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Retrieved from: [accessed 28 September 2016].

Srivastava, P., ed. (2013). Low-fee private schooling. Didcot: Symposium Books.
A. Verger, C. Lubienski, & G. Steiner-Khamsi (Eds.) (2016). The global
education industry—World yearbook of education 2016. New York: Routledge.
A. Verger, C. Lubienski, & G. Steiner-Khamsi (Eds.) (2016). The global
education industry—World yearbook of education 2016. New York: Routledge.

Srivastava, P. (2016). Questioning the global scaling-up of low-fee private schooling: The nexus between business, philanthropy and PPPs. In A. Verger, C.Lubienski, & G. Steiner-Khamsi, eds., The 2016 world yearbook on education: The global education industry. New York, NY: Routledge.

UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education (Kishore Singh). (2015). Protecting education against commercialization. A/HRC/29/30. Retrieved from: [accessed 28 September 2016].

Verger, A., C. Lubienski, G. Steiner-Khamsi, eds). (2016). World Yearbook of Education 2016: The Global Education Industry. New York: Routledge.

Structure of the Panel
Chair : Prachi Srivastava Associate Professor, School of International Development and Global Studies, University of Ottawa
Overview of BIA and Kenya: Sylvain Aubry, Research and Legal Advisor, Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
Uganda: Salima Namusobya, Executive Director, Initiative for Economic and Social Rights
Liberia: Anderson Miamen, Program Manager and Coordinator, PPP Advocacy and Engagement Project, Center for Transparency and Accountability – Liberia
IFC support (7’): Milagros Lechleiter, Global Education Associate, RESULTS Educational Fund
Respondents: Chris Kirchgasler, University of Wisconsin-Madison

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