For much of the past year, Bridge International Academies has faced tough criticism of its operations and business model in Africa. With its scripted teaching plans, Bridge offers standardized education in developing countries through its chain of low-cost private schools. But critics contend that the startup, which is backed by investors including Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and the World Bank, hired cheap teachers and ran its schools amid poor sanitary conditions. Both of these claims were cited in a ruling from the Ugandan high court this month ordering the closure of more than 60 schools run by Bridge in Uganda.
And then there are the allegations that the company engaged in “teaching pornography” and “conveying the gospel of homosexuality” as part of a sex-education program at its schools.
Matia Kasaija, Uganda’s minister of finance, planning and economic development, played a key role in spreading the rumors.
“We could not allow teaching sexual matters in public. Why teaching pornography in Bridge schools? This moral decay couldn’t be tolerated,” Kasaija is quoted as saying during the convocation ceremony of Uganda Martyrs’ University, a private university in central Uganda. Kasaija also accused Bridge of “using schools to apply and promote sexual education” and said the company was “conveying the gospel of homosexuality to our children.”
In recent years, Uganda’s government has gained an international reputation for anti-gay attitudes, especially since the passing of the anti-homosexuality act of 2014 (which was later ruled invalid by a local court).
The school, meanwhile, denies even having a sex-ed curriculum in its schools (pdf) and denies teaching “any foreign or non-Ugandan cultural values.”
A spokesman for Bridge, Solomon Sserwanja, described the minister’s comments as “unfortunate” and asked him to “come out with proof over the matter in question.” He said the company “will explore all alternatives” to make the minister prove the allegations.