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Education privatisation in Liberia

 

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Picture taken at at Bridge International Academy in Kenya

Partnerships Schools for Liberia
Year Two allocations
Key facts on Partnerships for Liberia
Bridge International Academies
Key Resources
Organisations

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).

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

Partnership Schools for Liberia

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.

Evaluation and scale-up

The pilot is to run for three years and is externally evaluated through a randomised controlled trial (RCT) 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. A decision to expand the PSL should not be made until the results of the RCT, this has been the position of the government and of PSL advisers. In February 2017 however, the Minister of education announced 100 new PSL schools will open in Year Two of the PSL in September 2017. This has concerned PSL advisers to the government, who have warned against a decision to scale up  before evidence from the evaluation is released in August 2017.

Of concern has also been the government’s reluctance to welcome independent research. When ActionAid and Education International commissioned the University of Wisconsin to conduct complementary research, the Ministry of Education refused to grant access to schools. Citing concerns on a lack of objectivity due to ActionAid and Education International’s work on public-private-partnerships, the Ministry however has welcomed the assessments released by PSL providers themselves.

Year Two Allocations

The government has announced the following allocations for PSL providers in Year 2 (2017/18):

Provider Year One New schools Year Two
BRAC 20 13 33
Bridge 25 43 68
LIYONET 4 2 6
More Than Me 6 12 18
Omega Schools 17 2 19
Street Child 12 11 23
Stella Maris 4 2 6
Rising Academies 5 24 29
Total 93 109 202


Key facts on Partnership Schools for Liberia

  • In Year One of PSL the government  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 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 

For more information on Bridge see our page on commercial schools: http://bit.ly/commerceduc.

  • 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 year two Bridge have been allocated an additional 43 schools in the PSL, at 63 schools Bridge is the provider with most schools.

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 resources 

PSL documents

Reports and statements

  • July 2017, National Teachers’ Association of Liberia (NTAL) and partners reject the Partnership Schools for Liberia (PSL) program: http://bit.ly/2vphga9
  • July 2017, ActionAid and Education International commissioned report, Partnership Schools for Liberia: A critical review: http://tinyurl.com/PSLresearch
  • 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 
  • 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 
  • January 2016, ARK’s presentation on Public Private Partnerships in Education: http://bit.ly/1TOIWK

Organisations

 

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