Millions of pounds of British aid has been handed to a chain of private schools in Africa where teachers read out scripted lessons from tablet computers.
MPs on the international development committee are demanding that officials examine whether investing large sums in Bridge International Academies was a good use of taxpayers’ money.
The firm, which MPs branded a ‘contentious partner’, has opened hundreds of schools in Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria and Liberia, attended by around 100,000 fee-paying pupils.
Aid given to Bridge International Academies to open private schools in Africa has come under scrutiny amid concerns over the quality of teaching
Teachers read scripted lessons from tablets that are also used to record student attendance and test results.
Critics have questioned the quality of schooling and issued warnings about the use of unqualified staff.
The Department for International Development’s private investment arm CDC put £4.5million into BIA in 2014, while the World’s Bank’s International Finance Corporation, in which the UK holds shares, invested £7.6million.
DfID has also invested £11.3million in Ventures, a venture capital fund that has invested in BIA, and provided grant funding of £3.45million to BIA in Nigeria.
MPs who inspected the chain’s schools in Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda said: ‘It was clear from our visits that there was certainly a demand for Bridge schools from parents who could afford to pay.’
But they warned the quality of teaching was ‘variable’ and ‘notably poor’ in the Ugandan school visited.
In a report, the MPs said: ‘DfID should take further steps to satisfy itself that the model of educational provision offered by Bridge International Academies offers an effective educational return on the ODA [overseas development assistance] committed to it.
The company has been criticised for providing low-quality schooling to impoverished communities after several of its institutions in Uganda and Kenya were shuttered
‘This should include assessment of whether the model is sustainable, cost-effective and scalable but also whether it could be modified or adapted to improve outcomes.’
Uganda’s high court ordered the closure of the chain’s 63 schools in the country last November for providing unsanitary learning conditions and using unqualified teachers.
In February, a court in Kenya upheld a decision to close ten schools there for not meeting basic educational standards.
Between 2012 and 2015, the UK spent an average of £966million a year of the aid budget on education.
The committee of MPs said this should be significantly increased. Around 5 per cent of the cash was spent on private schools.
A spokesman for BIA said: ‘It is absolutely right that we partner with governments to help them quickly improve education access and quality for some of the most marginalised children in the world.’
A DfID spokesman said: ‘As this report recognises, the UK is giving millions of children in the poorest and most fragile countries the vital education they need to get jobs and have a brighter future.
‘Many of the world’s poorest countries rely on privately run schools to provide education where state provision is failing. Without privately run school millions of children would be denied an education.’