“We wish to inform you about our stern opposition to plans by the Liberian Government, chiefly the Ministry of Education to establish Public Private Partnership in Education, which essentially seeks to outsource public basic and primary schools to private and for-profit multi-national institutions”- United Civil Society for Education Dialogue (UNICED)
Monrovia - The proposed plan by the Government of Liberia through the Ministry of Education to outsource basic and primary schools to a private and for-profit institution Bridge International continues to get rejection from stakeholders in the education sector of Liberia including civil society organizations and teachers, describing the initiative as an attempt to undermine the minimal gains made in the already below par educational system of the country. The proposed Public Private Partnership (PPP) in Education with Bridge International Academies is accordingly at the verge of conclusion following a trip to East Africa by Education Minister George Werner followed by a team from Bridge that also visited Liberia to conclude arrangements for a memorandum of understanding, MOU for the for profit institution to manage the basic primary school program of Liberia. After a failed free and compulsory primary education program introduced by the government to which program donors provided millions of dollars in support, the government has now opted to outsource the responsibility to manage its basic primary education program to a private institution, which is being heavily criticized. Under the proposed deal which is expected to have a duration of five years, the Liberia program will see Bridge Academies running the primary education system of Liberia by designing its own program including curriculum materials. The pilot project comes into full this April according to the tentative plan by both the Ministry of Education and the private entity spanning April to September 2017 while phase two will rollout contracting out the remaining schools over 5 years, with government exit possible each year dependent on provided performance—September 2017 onwards. As part of the proposed deal, the Ministry of Education will eventually contract out all primary and early childhood education schools to private providers who meet the required standards over 5 year period. But even before the deal comes into force, there are criticisms against the plan with civil society organizations and stakeholders in the education sector including teachers describing the plan as an attempt to undermine the minimal gains made by the current regime in the sector. In expressing their oppositions to the proposed plan, the civil society organizations have written letters to the President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, House of Representatives Speaker Alex Tyler and the head of Public Procurement and Concession Commission against the proposed plan. Stern opposition In a communication dated March 17, 2016 addressed to President Sirleaf, the civil society coalition expressed stern opposition to the proposed plan calling on the President to intervene in preventing the success of such plan. Stated the letter to President Sirleaf “We, the consortium of education-focused civil society organizations under the banner: United Civil Society for Education Dialogue (UNICED), wish to bring to your to attention ongoing developments in the sector, which tend to undermine minimal gains made over the years and efforts to build systems and controls to address numerous challenges faced in Education”. The group clearly stated its opposition to the proposed plan, indicating “Moreover, we wish to inform you about our stern opposition to plans by the Liberian Government, chiefly the Ministry of Education to establish Public Private Partnership in Education, which essentially seeks to outsource public basic and primary schools to private and for-profit multi-national institutions. UNICED comprises of several organizations and platforms including the Coalition for Transparency and Accountability in Education (COTAE), Liberia Education for All Technical Committee (LETCOM), Liberia Education Monitor (LEM), National Teachers Association of Liberia (NTAL) and YOCEL”. In a seven count position, the organizations listed several issues against the proposed plan including the burden the plan will bring to the government by bringing in groups/individuals with parallel functions referenced in Chapter 6.3.5 of the Education Reform Act of 2011, the lack of clarity on how communities will actively participate in the running and operation of these partnership schools. The group specifically noted that the Parents Teachers Association (PTAs) and communities have played very critical roles in the running of schools across the country and they are concerned and wonder how a private provider having leverage to hire and fire teachers will be more responsive to the needs of communities and seek their opinions on key decisions and processes. The coalition is also citing the qualification and past performance of Bridge International due to its track records in Kenya and Uganda to manage the primary education sector of Liberia. Bridge Barred in Kenya UNICED informed President Sirleaf that Bridge International Academies scripted teaching and learning method, which is being pursued by the ministry, does not require the services of trained and qualified teachers. Accordingly, the scripted materials are placed on tablets/electronic devices and given to unqualified teachers as seen in Kenya and Uganda where bridge International Academy operates, something the group stated has led to the government of Kenya barring Bridge from opening new schools in that country. “Due to the above, we are reliably informed that the Kenyan government has barred them from opening new schools until they ensure that at least 50% of their teachers are trained and qualified”, the letter added. The ministry’s handling of the PPP process, the coalition says violates relevant provisions of the Public Procurement and Concession Commission’s law, especially parts IV and V, which provide for open, transparent and competitive bidding processes in the award of public contracts. “Instead, we are reliably informed that without any open and competitive bidding, the ministry has selected and drafted an MOU with Bridge International Academies, a private and for-profit education service provider with reported poor performance records in Kenya and Uganda” portion of the letter to the President stated. In another letter to House Speaker Alex Tyler, the group is seeking the intervention of the Legislature to prevent the Minister of Education from finalizing the deal with Bridge. Stated portion of the letter to Speaker Tyler “In view of the above, we seek the intervention of the Legislature to ensure that decisions reached by the Ministry do not violate key provisions of relevant laws as well as compound numerous problems already faced in education. While we do not detest innovation and genuine efforts to improve the quality of education and learning outcomes in Liberia, we are vehemently opposed to opaque and non-competitive processes as well as non-holistic approaches to improving Liberia’s messy education sector, like the Private Public Partnership being proposed for Public Primary and Basic Education in the country. The PPP is not holistic, sustainable and will have dire consequences for the educational sector in the future”. PPCC Act Violation The civil society coalition is also citing that Minister Werner is violating requirements of the Public Procurement and Concession Act in the attempts to award the contract to Bridge International without going through the provision of the PPCC act that requires competitive bidding process. In a separate communication to Dorbor Jallah, Chairman of the Public Procurement and Concession Commission, the group described the ongoing arrangements with bridge as a flagrant violation of relevant provisions of the PPCC act. Stated the letter dated March 17, 2016 “In flagrant disregard of the objectives and relevant provisions of the Public Procurement and Concession Commission’s Act, which among other things require transparent and competitive bidding processes in the award of public contracts, we are reliably informed that the Ministry of Education has unilaterally selected and drafted an MOU with Bridge International Academies (BIA) to manage select public primary and basic schools in the country”. The group in the letter is inquiring from the PPCC about any bidding process that led to the selection of Bridge by the Ministry of Education. “In view of the above, we wish to inquire if your institution is/was fully aware and involved with any procurement processes relating to the selection of Bridge International Academies to provide educational services in the country. Additionally, if aware, we would like to know the names of companies/institutions that participated in such bidding processes as well as other relevant communications from your institution to the Ministry of Education on the matter”, the stated the communication. The National Teachers Association of Liberia in a February 25 letter to Minister Werner opposed the proposed plan calling on the Education to abandon such plan. Minister Werner in defending the proposed plan says change is not easy, stressing that public sector alone cannot address the challenges. “Change is not easy. The public system alone cannot address these challenges singlehandedly. We have some great public schools in Liberia but we have far too few of them. And we already have a diverse set of school operators from government and non-government sectors in our education system”, said Werner. On the Bridge Academies records in east Africa, Minister Werner asserts that the project he aims to launch in September, will bring lessons from elsewhere in the world, including South Africa, Kenya, the US and UK, to Liberia. “We have learned from these models and are adapting them to our own unique context. The project is called Partnership Schools for Liberia. The Ministry of Education will contract operators from within and outside of Liberia to run public primary schools. The schools will remain within the public sector, owned, financed, regulated and quality assured by government, with support from external donors. Together, we will bring new ideas, new capacity, new systems and new expertise to a system that is struggling to deliver.