The Liberian Government’s School Privatisation Program Exposed

Mrs. Mary W. Mulbah Nyumah, Acting President/NTAL

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

According to press release quoting a leaked copy of a draft confidential summary of the Government commissioned Midline report investigating the  Partnership Schools  for Liberia (PSL) program concludes that the program has not demonstrate[d] that it can work in average Liberian schools, with sustainable budgets and staffing levels, and without negative side effects on other schools.

In January 2016, in a controversial move, the Government of Liberia announced its intention to outsource its primary and pre-primary education system to a US-based for-profit corporate actor, Bridge International Academies (BIA). Following considerable opposition to this unprecedented move the Government conceived a pilot program, Partnership Schools for Liberia (PSL), where eight actors would operate 93 schools in the first year.

Despite claiming that PSL would be subject to a rigorous evaluation through a Randomized Control Trial (RCT), six months into the trial, the Ministry of Education (MoE) decided to increase the number of schools to 202 in the project’s second year.

“The negative findings of this report may explain the minister’s rush to expand the privatization program, by more than doubling it, six months into the ‘trial’ and prior to the release of the report contrary to assurances that he would not do so” said Mary Mulbah, President of the National Teachers Association of Liberia (NTAL).
Commenting on the report’s findings of some improvements in student outcomes, Mary Mulbah said “whilst improvements in student learning outcomes are always welcome, the report shows that these “improvements” were achieved on the back of increased funding ranging between 100% to 2000% more than public schools, including 37% more teachers.”

“The improvement in student outcomes is due to the increased investment. We didn’t need an expensive trial to tell us there would be an increase in student outcomes given such an increase in resources. We have been calling on the government to increase its investment in education for years. The Liberian government’s investment in education of 3.96% of GDP and 14.36% of the national budget falls well short of recommended levels of 6% of GDP and 20% of the national budget.”

“What is most disturbing is that in many instances the improved student outcomes were achieved by pushing out students from schools on the “trial” denying children access to their local schools. In some cases, this has resulted in children being left out of school” added Mary Mulbah.

Bridge International Academies, the government’s preferred private operator, is the subject of particular criticism in the report.

As one of eight actors participating in the pilot program, Bridge International Academies was desperate to show that its model for school management is the future of education. Unfortunately for Bridge, the facts and figures are in and it doesn’t look good for the company bankrolled by the likes of Pearson, the World Bank, DfID, Bill Gates and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.

The report, detailing the progress of the PSL, pulls few punches when taking a closer look at Bridge’s financial operations, behaviour and lack of sustainability.

Under the PSL, the Liberian Government matches its investment per pupil, which is currently $50 USD, and hands it over to the private contractor to independently manage its public schools to see if this model presents a sustainable method to improving its education system. However, when it comes to Bridge the numbers just don’t add up.

According to the report, Bridge has spent an average of $1,052 USD per pupil, shattering any possibility that its own financial model is sustainable. With its billionaire funders footing the bill, Bridge has gone to any length to try and convince the public that it has the answer to quality education.  Yet, compared to other providers, student gains at Bridge managed schools were not as cost effective.

Bridge also saw a decrease in enrolments. When it came to ensuring education for all students, Bridge found a way to skirt the rules. Not having to abide by the same contractual obligations as the other pilot participants, Bridge quickly moved to cap class sizes in its schools, pushing out thousands of students. In addition to pushing out students, Bridge also purged 74% of existing teachers from classrooms.

This behaviour, all under the supervision of Minister Werner, reveals the desperate unethical measures that Bridge is prepared to undertake in order to sell its failed ideology to unsuspecting students, parents and business partners.

The government report vindicates the demand of National Teachers’ Association of Liberia (NTAL) and civil society organisations that the government immediately abandon the PSL program.

The study has shown that Liberia must look within to improve its education system rather than selling it off to highest bidder who does not have free, quality public education at its core. If sustainability and a quality education system that serves all children is the goal, then Minister Werner and Bridge have failed its most important test.

“Outsourcing our most sacred duty to unaccountable for-profit education companies like Bridge has been exposed as a very costly private experiment” said Fred van Leeuwen, General Secretary, Education International.

Some Background:

In January 2016, in a controversial move, the Government of Liberia announced its intention to outsource its primary and pre-primary education system to a US-based for-profit corporate actor, Bridge International Academies (BIA). Following considerable opposition to this unprecedented move the Government conceived a pilot program, Partnership Schools for Liberia (PSL), where eight actors would operate 93 schools in the first year.

Despite claiming that PSL would be subject to a rigorous evaluation through a Randomized Control Trial (RCT), six months into the trial, the Ministry of Education (MoE) decided to increase the number of schools to 202 in the project’s second year. Serious unanswered concerns, including children being denied access to their local schools, have not been enough for the government to pause and reflect. This rush to expand the pilot before independent research is available has been rightly criticized by the international academic and research community and the appointed RCT team who questioned the government’s capacity to hold providers accountable.

In addition to lack of independent evidence supporting the government’s actions, the PSL is also plagued with a lack of transparency. To date not one of the eight current Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) between the service providers and the MoE have been made public. Despite the secrecy surrounding the PSL, information that has entered the public domain thus far gives rise to serious concerns about the sustainability of the program.

This lack of independent evidences, transparency and resultant lack of accountability does not make for good policy nor good governance. Furthermore, the increased power put into the hands of undemocratic, often foreign private institutions that make decisions with little community input and accountability undermines our voice and sovereignty over our education system and our nation as a whole.

We fear, once having outsourced our schools through this PSL arrangement we will never be able to get them back. We will be at the mercy of large corporate operators who will seek to maximize profit at the expense of Liberia’s children and their future.

The many unanswered questions give rise to genuine concern about the future direction in the provision of quality education for all.

Considering:

  • Liberia’s 2011 Education Law which guarantees free and compulsory education for all.
  • The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education Kishore Singh’s words which describe the intended outsourcing of Liberia schools as “violating Liberia’s legal and moral obligations,” and that “such arrangements are a blatant violation of Liberia’s international obligations under the right to education.”
  • The absence of clear, independent, and public research supporting the PSL program.
  • Serious ongoing issues including the lack of community input, transparency, and accountability of the program.

We call on the government to immediately abandon the PSL program.

The children of Liberia deserve evidence based, sustainable improvements in public education, including:

  • Free, quality, early childhood education
  • Free, compulsory, quality primary and secondary education
  • A focus on gender equality and girls’ education
  • Quality teaching and learning environments and resources
  • Quality alternative education for over-age children.
  • Policies focusing on the most marginalized children.
  • Effective, negotiated school and system monitoring and supervision.

We need:

  • Quality teacher training and on-going professional development; and
  • Our teachers to be properly supported and remunerated, on time, and respected.

Acknowledging the challenges that continue to impact on the provision of education, we reiterate our preparedness now, as we have in the past, to work constructively with the government and any other interested parties to develop a sustainable Liberian plan leading to the ongoing improvement in the provision of quality education for all Liberian children.

Signed:

National Teachers’ Association of Liberia (NTAL)

Civil Society and Trade Union Institutions of Liberia (CTIL)

National Health Workers Association of Liberia (NAHWAL)

Roberts International Airport Workers Union (RIAWU)

Coalition for Transparency and Accountability in Education (COTAE)

Diversified Educators Empowerment Project (DEEP)

National Christian Council of Liberia (NCCL)

Union of Islamic Citizens of Liberia (UICL) Monrovia Consolidated School System Teachers’ Association (MCSSTA) Liberia Education for All Technical Committee (LETCOM)

Concern Universities Students of the Ministry of Education Local Scholarship Program (CUSMOP)

United Methodist Church Human Rights Monitor (UMCHRM)

National Association of Liberian School Principals (NALSP)

With the support of:

Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT)

Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT)

South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU)

Uganda National Teachers Union (UNATU)

Education International (EI)

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About Cholo Brooks 4707 Articles
Joel Cholo Brooks is a Liberian journalist who previously worked for several international news outlets including the BBC African Service. He is the CEO of the Global News Network which publishes two local weeklies, The Star and The GNN-Liberia Newspapers. He is a member of the Press Union Of Liberia (PUL) since 1986, and several other international organizations of journalists.