Liberia leads the way in fighting pandemic learning loss

Teachers of Bridge Liberia supported School in Buchanan after a training section

The scale of learning loss caused by the Covid pandemic is staggering. The World Bank estimates that the impact of school closures has increased the proportion of 10-year-olds unable to read or understand a simple text – so-called “learning poverty” – to 70% in low and middle-income countries.

In sub-Saharan Africa, where the figure stood at 90% even before the impact of Covid, the situation is even worse. One academic study suggests learning loss of between six months and one year of schooling, multiplying if not addressed to lost learning of 2.8 years for a child in Grade Three by the time they reach Grade 10.

Not surprisingly, UNESCO, UNICEF, and the World Bank are united in calling on all governments to act with urgency by mapping a “path to recovery” to tackle the education crisis. The Liberian Government is one of those which has responded quickly, with a clear action plan, based on a proven solution.

In December the Ministry of Education announced the expansion of the Liberia Education Advancement Program (LEAP), specifically as a key measure in tackling Covid-related learning loss.

Launched in 2016 by the Government of Liberia as the Partnership Schools for Liberia, LEAP started as a three-year pilot scheme to test if a PPP model could accelerate improvements in the country’s primary public education system after it had been decimated by 14 years of civil war and the Ebola health pandemic.

Bridge Liberia, a NewGlobe program, has been a major partner in LEAP from the beginning. And from the beginning, LEAP has focussed on results. Its goals include the need to:

”Establish evidence-based interventions to increase optimal student

  • learning outcomes.”

Improvements have been clear. In Bridge Liberia-supported schools, 81 percent of students who joined in the first grade and have now spent 2½ years in a Bridge Liberia-supported classroom are proficient or basic readers, compared to only 33% of students in traditional public schools.

So it made perfect sense for the Liberian Government to take a program that was already a success and expand it further to combat the impact of covid.

The expanded LEAP now covers 525 public primary schools in all of Liberia’s 15 counties, giving an additional 60,000 students – 130,000 in all – access to quality education and the opportunity to build a better future. Some 70% of LEAP schools are now supported by Bridge Liberia.

Making the expansion announcement, The Minister of  Education, Professor D. Ansu Sonii, said:

“We are proud of the decision we have made to expand our public education partnership program across the country.  Liberia has many challenges and we believe that it is only with an educated population now, not in generations to come, that we will overcome them and build a safer and more prosperous future for our people.”

The Education Ministry has now gone further. In February it launched an Education Sector Analysis, which will lead on to an Education Sector Plan, due in August. That Plan will govern and manage Liberian education for the next 5 years.

LEAP is among the key programs forming part of the sector review and plan development process.

For Liberian President George Weah, the work is part of his Government’s commitment to building a post-pandemic education system that will improve learning for all children.

As he told fellow Liberians in his State of the Nation Address:

Providing quality education to our future leaders has remained a paramount priority of my Administration.  I am pleased to report that we have made great strides in improving literacy and other learning outcomes in the educational sector, with milestone achievements in the areas of Access, Quality and System Transformation”.

Strikingly, the drive by Liberia’s Government to use an expanded LEAP in tackling learning loss fits perfectly with the priority solutions promoted by the World Bank, UNESCO, and UNICEF report.

It starts by highlighting the need for accurate data.

“To tackle the learning crisis, countries must first address the learning data crisis. Improving systems to generate timely and reliable data is critical to evaluate policy responses.”

Such data-gathering and analysis has been at the center of LEAP and the work of Bridge Liberia from the beginning.

All teachers and school leaders are equipped with a specially-designed tablet which provides LEAP leaders with an enormous amount of real-time data, from attendance to lesson completion and students’ exam results. Progress is monitored and recorded.

Other “proven techniques” for promoting foundational learning which governments are urged to adopt include extending instructional time, making learning more efficient through targeted instruction and the use of structured pedagogy. All are features of LEAP.

LEAP schools were the first in Liberia to teach a full school day and LEAP students spend nearly an hour a day longer on academic learning than their peers in other schools.

Ahead of the expansion of LEAP, Bridge Liberia worked with the Education Ministry to retrain nearly 1,500 government teachers to use modern child-centered pedagogy and technology.

The retraining priorities the need for teachers to check on every child’s learning, helping those who are struggling through one-to-one guidance and responding with feedback which accelerates learning.

Liberia’s Government has responded to the challenge of covid-related learning loss by focusing on solutions already proven to work, driven by data and with a focus on student outcomes, all supported by scientifically-developed pedagogy and thorough teacher training.

It is a blueprint not just for recovering learning loss, but for the transformation of schools and of educational outcomes for Liberian children.

As the World Bank, UNESCO and UNICEF make clear, the pandemic must be the point at which governments change education for the better, forever.

“Now is the time to shift from crisis to recovery— and beyond recovery, to resilient and transformative education systems that truly deliver learning and wellbeing for all children and youth.”

With its commitment to an expanded LEAP and determination to develop and launch a new Education Sector Plan, supported by Bridge Liberia, Liberia’s Government is showing what can and must be done.

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