The government of Liberia has announced a radical proposal to convert its failing primary schools into American style charter schools. The new schools will be run by private companies which have developed their own curricula and already run hundreds of schools in other countries. The project has attracted heavy criticism, but the government insists it will raise educational standards
Results & Impact
90 schools will be put in the hands of private firms in September. The latest figures indicate there are around 6,000 primary and secondary schools in Liberia, and only 40% of children attend one
The Ministry of Education, the World Bank, Bridge International Academies, Omega Schools, Rising Academies, the NGO BRAC Liberia, Street Child, More Than Me and the Liberian organisations Liberian Youth Network and Stella Maris
The Ministry of Education is contracting private companies to run schools on its behalf. The firms, such as Bridge International Academies, have developed their own curricula and operate hundreds of schools in other countries. Bridge operates on a "school in a box" model, where teachers read standardised lessons from hand-held tablet computers
Cost & Value
$2 million for the consultation
A pilot launches in September 2017
The Ministry of Education initially picked one company, Bridge International Academies, to run all its schools. International outcry led the Ministry to include seven other private partners
The main private partner, Bridge International Academies, already has 100,000 students in more than 400 schools in Asia and Africa. Uganda recently forced it to close its schools there after deeming the teaching to be sub-standard
In a country where more than 40 percent of children don’t attend school, the government of Liberia has announced a radical proposal to convert its failing primary schools into American style charter schools.
The new schools will be run by private companies, such as Bridge International Academies, which have developed their own curricula and already run hundreds of schools in other countries. The initial announcement, that Liberia would outsource all its primary schools to the company, met with widespread condemnation.
The project could possibly be the largest and most ambitious privatisation attempt in Africa’s recent history. Liberia’s schools, which have been acutely hit by years of civil war and the 2014 Ebola epidemic, have some of the worst records of achievement in the world. Only 20% of children enrolled in primary school will complete secondary school; 50% of children are joining school three to six years late and 63% of girls between the ages of 15-24 are illiterate.
“A country as poor as Liberia faces all kinds of challenges,” said Susannah Hares, international director at Ark, a London based education charity which worked on an implementation plan with the ministry and which has one member of staff permanently embedded at the ministry. “The government is instituting a number of programs to increase system efficiency like a payroll vetting programme, which is removing ghost teachers, who don’t show up, are unquallified or are even dead. The country’s school system is in need of strengthening at all levels.”
The new schools will charge no fees, and have no selective admissions process. They will also be staffed by qualified teachers who are ultimately paid by central government. Bridge operates on a “school in a box” model, where teachers read standardised lessons from hand-held tablet computers.
Because teachers do not need college degrees and are given only five weeks training in how to deliver the script, critics argue that the system discourages pupil interaction and encourages rote learning at the expense of critical thinking. Bridge says its pupils have better maths and reading skills than their peers and that, unlike many present schools, it offers an education that’s accountable and subject to rigorous review. Bridge is the world’s largest education company, with 100,000 students in more than 400 schools, mostly in Kenya and Uganda.
The Ministry of Education does not have the resources to run the national school network. Teachers are often not paid for months and unmotivated to attend class. More than 60 percent of school aged children in Liberia don’t attend school. The overstretched education system is also unable to provide basic literacy skills: only one in five adults women who reached fifth grade can read a single sentence.
The UN’s Special Rapporteur for the right to education described Liberia’s original plan to outsource its primary education entirely to Bridge as “completely unacceptable” and “a blatant violation of Liberia’s international obligations under the right to education”.
Over the next six months, the Ministry of Education refined the strategy and created a more robust plan for implementing it. The Ministry has now set up a fund of $2 million to renovate existing schools and improve facilities, and the project, “Partnership Schools for Liberia”, which starts in September with 90 participating schools, will start with fewer schools but more partners.
The schools are being run by eight organisations in addition to the government’s original agreement with Bridge International Academies and large international non-profit development organisations like BRAC, who have a reputation for scaling up fast in countries lacking infrastructure. Other providers include private schools group Rising Academies, which already runs schools in neighbouring Sierra Leone. In all, the eight providers bring experience from Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, India, Bangladesh and Ghana.