Commercial Schools and the Right to Education

Among different types of private actors involved in education, commercial schools raise specific challenges. The following page is a resource page to reflect on the development of these types of schools through a human rights standards lens.

Bridge International Academies (BIA)

Bridge International Academies Ltd (BIA) is an American based company registered in Delaware under its parent company NewGlobe Schools Inc. The company runs a commercial, private chain of nursery and primary schools. According to the World Bank, in 2022 NewGlobe Schools, Inc. was reaching 750,000 children. Now NewGlobe is reaching more than one million children. It is the largest chain of commercial private primary schools worldwide.

BIA opened its first school in the Mukuru kwa Njenga slum in Kenya in 2009, by 2015 the company had 405 schools across the country. The company expanded further with two schools opening in Nigeria in 2015, its first school launching in India in 2016 and 63 schools operating in Uganda by 2016. In 2016, BIA became one of the major providers in the Liberia Education Advancement Program (LEAP), a public-private partnership implemented with the government of Liberia. NewGlobe is also “the technical partner” for RwandaEQUIP, a Rwandan government initiative, which aims to cover more than 750 schools by 2024. More recently, the Kwara State Government in Nigeria has started to work with NewGlobe. BIA/NewGlobe remains active in Uganda and Kenya. BIA/NewGlobe seeks to grow further with the aim of reaching 10 million students across 12+ countries by 2025.

Key background information

Since 2015, civil society groups have been mobilising to raise awareness on the impact of commercial schools such as Bridge International Academies. For instance, civil society shared its concerns about the World Bank’s investments in the expansion of fee-charging primary schools. A month before the Speech by World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim: Ending Extreme Poverty by 2030: The Final Push, several members from civil society organisations across the world met with senior education officials of the World Bank to specifically discuss the rise of fee-charging, private primary schools, the World Bank’s support to them, in particular, Bridge International Academies (BIA). Multiple reports examining BIA schools and their impact have been launched including: 


A number of media reports also commented on commercial schools. Notably, on 27 June 2017 a New York Times Magazine feature titled ‘Can a Tech Start-Up Successfully Educate Children in the Developing World?’ discussed BIA.

In 2018, civil society groups published an open letter to investors in BIA, outlining concerns and urging them to cease support. Since then, additional concerns and scandals have been highlighted in the media, including the reported electrocution death of a child in a BIA school in Kenya, major teacher pay cuts in Liberia and Kenya during COVID-19, and charges of fraud and theft brought against a former Bridge director in a previous role.

In 2019, more than 170 civil society organisations from 64 countries called on the World Bank Group to end support to for-profit private education

In 2020, the IFC committed to freeze investments in for-profit K-12 schools

Similar policy shifts have included the Global Partnership for Education’s decision in its 2019 Private Sector Strategy to prohibit funding to for-profit provision of core education services, and a 2018 resolution by the European Parliament declared the European Union and its Member States must not use development aid money to fund commercial private schools.

In March 2022, the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) divested from BIA. The IFC invested a total of $13.5 million in BIA since 2014, with the intention of supporting the company’s expansion to other countries. In June 2022, the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) decided to extend the 2020 freeze indefinitely when it announced that it will not resume its investments in K-12 private schools, following the release of an independent evaluation by the World Bank Independent Evaluation Group (IEG) on the IFC’s investments in this area.

Summary of CAO cases on IFC’s investment in BIA

  • BIA-01/Kenya case: In April 2018, 10 parents and former and current teachers at BIA submitted a complaint highlighting BIA’s negative impacts, especially on the right to education, health and safety, and on labour rights. In its Appraisal Report published in October 2019, the CAO announced its decision to carry out a full compliance investigation into the adequacy of the IFC’s due diligence and supervision of its client. The compliance investigation is ongoing. 
  • BIA-02/Kenya and BIA 03/Kenya cases: In June 2020, the CAO confirmed acceptance of two new cases on BIA, filed by the parents of two children who were electrocuted while in a BIA school in Nairobi, Kenya. The electrocution caused the death of one child and injuries to the other. The Complainants and the Company agreed to engage in dispute resolution to try to arrive at a mediated settlement. BIA 2 has been closed and the dispute resolution process is still ongoing for BIA 03.
  • BIA-04/Kenya case: In the course of the BIA-01/Kenya investigation, CAO staff and experts travelled to Nairobi in February 2020. The investigation team spoke to community members who raised concerns regarding instances of child sexual abuse at Bridge schools. In December 2020, the CAO concluded in its appraisal report that there are “substantial concerns regarding the child safeguarding and protection outcomes of IFC’s investment in Bridge considering: (a) specific allegations of child sexual abuse involving Bridge staff and students; (b) the child safeguarding and protection risks of the schools in light of their number, their student body (coming from low-income families), and the young age of students.” The Compliance Investigation Report has been published as well as the IFC’s Management Action Plan. The report makes clear that IFC’s failures in due diligence and supervision resulted in irrevocable harm to students including “acute and long-term damage to [survivors’] physical, cognitive, social, and emotional development, in addition to economic disadvantage due to lost productivity, disability, and reduced quality of life”.

PEHRC advocacy letters

Research and resources on NewGlobe/BIA:

Country-specific information

BIA in Kenya

BIA in Uganda

BIA Liberia