WHEN PRESIDENT GEORGE Manneh Weah mounted the podium on Monday January 29 to deliver—as per the dictates of the Constitution—his first state of the nation address and revealed the legislative agenda of his administration going forward, the moment was solemn.
PRESIDENT WEAH KNOWS all too well the importance of education after being subjected to comments during both the 2005 and 2011 elections about his own educational achievements. It was in light of this, using the same determination that had seen him succeed on the soccer pitch, that he pursued both an Undergraduate and Graduate degrees at Devry University and ran for the 2017 election with both under his belt.
AND SO, PERHAPS, IT WAS against that backdrop the President, quoting his idol and mentor, Nelson Mandela that he called for ongoing reform in the country’s tattered education system. In Liberia, Mandela is revered as he was an asylum seeker in Liberia during the South African struggle.
“WE SHALL FOCUS on reviews and revision of our education system…,” the President said. “As Nelson Mandela once said, ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.’ The improvement of our education system is and shall remain a constant and major priorit y during my administration.”
AND PRESIDENT WEAH IS RIGHT. Education must remain the “constant and major priority” of his administration. The future of Liberia depends on an educated population. The work has already been started and his predecessor, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, has left him the beginnings of one of the most innovative education reform programs in the world -- Partnership Schools for Liberia. It waits to be seen whether the new President will turn it into a truly transformative initiative across Liberia.
ACCORDING TO THE MINISTRY of Education, only 20% of children enrolled in primary complete secondary school and 42% of children who should be enrolled in primary schools are not attending. By age 18, girls in Liberia are more likely to be married than literate.
PARTNERSHIP SCHOOLS FOR LIBERIA (PSL), was created to turn around these statistics and see whether with a new approach, learning could be improved in Liberian Primary schools.
THE NEW 2011 EDUCATION Act of 2011 enabled the MoE to venture further afield into the private sector for partnership in the education sector. Chapter 9.1 © states: “The Ministry shall encourage public private partnerships so that competition in the market for education becomes competitive.” The Act, in chapter 1.4 subsection (j) “supports any education philosophy and education development goals the ministry may set.”. And so the idea of PSL began.
THE PSL PROGRAM, ALREADY in year 2 of its operation, has shown that there is hope. PSL consists of eight educational providers – some with tried, tested and proven experience at improving learning elsewhere on the continent.
IN SEPTEMBER 2017, an independent study was released by the U.S. Center for Global Development (CGD) and Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA). The study was designed to test whether Liberia’s radical approach to education is working, and the results were conclusive—YES. Across 93 public schools in the program, learning increased by 60% compared to their peers.
IN SCHOOLS UNDER THE PSL program year 1, averaged teacher attendance rate was at 90%; and in the case of one provider, it’s at 98%. Generally PSL teachers were 20% more likely to be in school and 16% more likely to be engaged in actual teaching. This is a radical improvement in areas where teacher absenteeism is at 60%. This is no small feat and must be commended.
IN THE FIRST YEAR OF THE Program, providers managed 93 schools but following the evidence of success in CDG and IPA’s report, the program was upped with additional 101 schools, now numbering nearly 200 and expanded out into South East Liberia.
CRITICS HAVE ARGUED THAT IN PSL the government of Liberia is absolving itself from the responsibility of educating its citizens. However, it is conversely the opposite with the public school system in disarray the Government is taking bold action to create meaningful change, NOW. The learning outcomes, speak for themselves. The effect size is large, and statistically significant.
YET CRITICS OF PSL WOULD PREFER those children languish in schools where they are not learning or wait for some unknown date in the future when the existing public system will suddenly be transformed overnight. Alternatively Liberia could wait decades for small interventions funded by aid and watch another generation of children miss out.
NOW, A NEW MINISTER OF EDUCATION has been appointed, Prof. Ansu D. Sonii. No doubt, he comes to the sector with a wealth of experience as former vice president for administration of the University of Liberia and we are confident that under the leadership of the new President he will rise to the challenge of delivering education reform for Liberia's’ children.