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Education privatisation in Liberia

 

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Picture taken at at Bridge International Academy in Kenya

In January 2016 Liberia announced its intention to entirely outsource, and therefore privatise, its public pre-primary and primary schools to private actors through the pilot public-private partnership (PPP), “Partnership Schools for Liberia” (PSL).

Launched in September 2016, PSL consist of 93 schools with 27,000 children, which are operated by eight private actors. Another 93 schools which remain under government management form the comparison group. Partnership schools have been allocated to private school chains Bridge International Academies (25), Omega Schools (17), and Rising Academies (5), the NGOs BRAC Liberia (20), Street Child (12), More Than Me (6) and Liberian organisations Liberian Youth Network (4) and Stella Maris (4).

Initially Bridge was to be the only private operator to run 120 schools under the PPP after the Minister of Education George Werner and President Sirleaf visited Bridge schools in Uganda and Kenya. This was subject to public outcry and international criticisms, leading to adjustments with an additional seven providers included and a reduction in the number of schools in the pilot. These seven providers were chosen after submitting expressions of interest to a selection committee chaired by the Minister of Education with two representatives from the Ministry of Education, two advisers from Absolute Return for Kids (ARK), an educational charity, and one representative of civil society. A process Bridge was not subject to.

The pilot is to run for three years and is externally evaluated through a randomised controlled trial conducted by Innovations for Poverty Action, measuring the performance of schools run by the private partners against the control schools which remain under government management. The results of the evaluation should inform the government decision to expand PSL however the government has announced its intentions to allocate further schools before the results of the evaluation. In February 2017 the Minister of Education announced 100 new PSL schools will be opened in September 2017. This decision has concerned PSL advisers to the government who are reluctant to see a scale up in year two,  evidence from the evaluation will not be available until August 2017 ruling out a dramatic scale up in year two.

For up to date media coverage on PSL see: http://bit.ly/PSLinMedia 

The aim of this web page is to gather facts and arguments on the issue. It will be regularly updated with additional information as it comes. You can also follow #DontSellLiberianSchools. The information is up to date and accurate to the best of our knowledge. If you want to share more information, or want to correct a fact below, please contact us at globalinitiative@globalinitiative-escr.org

 

Key facts on “Partnership Schools for Liberia”

  • Under PSL the government has contracted eight private actors to manage 93 pre-primary and primary public schools, another 93 schools which remain under government management form the comparison group.
  • The schools managed by private actors will remain fee-free and  non-selective.
  • The PSL has been allocated $15 million over three years in the Education Sector Plan and budget.
  • The PSL budget is $100 per student. The government provides $50 to cover staff salaries, the same amount spent in non-PSL government schools. The remaining $50 is funded by philanthropy. PSL schools spend at least twice as much per student than non-PSL government schools. The $100 per student spend is said to be acceptable by the government as by 2020 it expects to increase its spend to $101 per child.
  • There are concerns on financial sustainability as PSL schools receive twice as much as non-PSL government schools, additionally private operators have independently secured funding. In total, the private operators’ cost per pupil ranges between $50 – $1, 100.
  • PSL is funded by foundations and philanthropies, the identity of donors has not been made public.
  • PSL will be externally evaluated through a randomised controlled trial (RCT) conducted by Innovations for Poverty Action, this will measure the performance of schools run by the private partners against the control schools which remain under government management. The evaluation should be taken into account by the government before a decision to expand PSL is made.
  • The PSL has not been receptive to further independent research. Education International and ActionAid commissioned an independent research team from the University of Wisconsin to conduct qualitative research to complement the RCT. Initially the Minister of Education supported this but later this was withdrawn, preventing researchers from accessing pilot schools. Academics have expressed their concerns at the Minister’s position.
  • ARK, a well-known proponent of PPPs worldwide, is one of the government’s advisers.

Bridge International Academies 

  • The position of Bridge in the PSL raises particular concerns. Originally the Minister of Education  Werner and President Sirleaf decided to launch a one year pilot program with Bridge alone. This attracted criticism and the pilot was changed with Bridge operating 50 out of 120 schools under the PPP. Eventually Bridge were allocated 25 schools out of 93, alongside other private operators.
  • The process suggests Bridge had an advantage early in the PPP, with previous government correspondence and more time than any other provider to prepare for the opening of schools in September 2016.
  • Bridge may also enjoy financial advantage over other providers as it’s investors include Bill Gates and the Zuckerberg Education Ventures.
  • Bridge will supply the curriculum.
  • All teachers currently employed should remain on the civil service payroll, but “teachers who don’t perform well according to Bridge assessments may be removed from their classrooms and given other civil service jobs in the government”.
  • For more information on Bridge see our page on commercial schools: http://bit.ly/commerceduc.

it is ironic that Liberia does not have resources to meet its core obligations to provide a free primary education to every child, but it can find huge sums of money to subcontract a private company to do so on its behalf,
Kishore Singh, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education.

Key documents 

  • June 2017, An open letter to George Werner, Minster of Education, Liberia (academics raise concerns on Minister of Education’s position on independent research): http://bit.ly/2tnzDY1 
  • Ministry of Education, PSL school allocation: Decision Points: http://bit.ly/2szC5hF
  • April 2017, The future of Partnership Schools for Liberia (open letter to Minister of Education from PSL evaluators  and advisors): http://bit.ly/2oBDBtU 
  • March 2017, Coalition for Transparency and Accountability in Education, Public Private Partnership in Education: Monitoring Report: http://bit.ly/2njVQWL 
  • February 2017, Government of Liberia, Partnership Schools for Liberia: http://bit.ly/2nLneOn  
  • April 2016, Bridge, Fact sheet on PSL:  http://bit.ly/1T1722v
  • January 2016, ARK’s presentation on Public Private Partnerships in Education: http://bit.ly/1TOIWK

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