Parents, Teachers Weigh Progress of Partnership Schools Outside Monrovia
Buchanan, Grand Bassa County – Hannah Diggs wears a bright smile while cutting dough of flour into shapes to be baked into cokies. It’s a bright Monday morning in the port city of Buchanan – 83 miles away from Liberia’s capital – Monrovia and she is certain pupils of the Sarah Sampson George Elementary School, few meters away, would be her customers.
By Alpha Daffae Senkpeni, [email protected]
Amongst the 391 students in the school, Hannah has a son, a nephew and a niece.
The 38 –year-old is expecting her eighth child and that means additional economic burden on her family. Her husband is jobless, so selling cookies and other snacks helps cater to the family.
Also, paying school fees for quality education for the children was a challenge until Bridge International Academies took over the school in her community. The three kids enrolled at the beginning of the 2017/2018 school year, after the Liberian government approved additional schools for the pilot stage of the Partnership School for Liberia (PSL).
Hannah was sceptical about the Bridge module of teaching, but as the school year progresses, her misperception dwindled.
“They are improving; and I think they are picking up good,” she said of the three kids while keeping her eyes on the dough of flour spread across the wooden table.
“It looks like their teaching system is good because my son was slow in learning but he is picking up now.”
Back in 2016, the Liberian government opted for a public private partnership for schools, inviting Bridge to support the education reform program by raising learning outcomes to fix the country’s messy education.
Bridge was clothed with a massive task, assuming overall management responsibility for the PSL schools assigned to it.
Under the Bridge module, teachers use technology to instruct students from a mini computer empowered by a synchronized centralized system. It is also powered with features to ensure teachers do not skip classes.
Textbooks and other instructional materials are regularly supplied, but it is the extensive time pupils spend in school that is attracting many parents of kids attending the Sarah Sampson George Elementary School.
In the port city of Buchanan, few blocks away from Hannah’s makeshift booth, Ricks Boland prepares to return to work as his wife performs household chores.
As Boland chats with visiting journalists about the progress of his six-year old son in the school, his wife interrupted – citing the advantage of keeping kids in school for eight hours.
“I am so happy he spends almost the whole day in school,” Lucy said. “For me, it gives me time to do a lot of other things while my son is in school and I am not worry about looking after her.”
The PSL requires students stay in school from 7:30 Am to 3:30 Pm, three hours more than the regular public schools, which closes at 1:00 Pm daily.
Like Boland’s wife, the chair of the parents teachers association (PTA) reckons that the Bridge module is vital for the young students.
“Every day, I come here to check and I see that teachers are regular in class,” says Prince Nyei, the PTA chair. Nyei’s seven-year-old son is also gradually adapting to the new module of teaching since he switched school.
“The boy was attending one private school, but since he moved here, he’s trying his best and now writes and does other things,” Nyei explains.
Matthew Morris, vice principal for instruction at the school, ensures the automated system curbs the frequent absence of teachers. As a ‘super teacher’, Morris fills-in for absent teachers as part of a system to curtail delays at all Bridge schools across the country.
“Every teacher must log into the system every day, so it makes it difficult for the teacher to stay away from school,” says Morris. “The system that Bridge brought in is very important for our students, because it is making them learn better and keeps teacher in school.”
Across the boundary of Grand Bassa County, in Rivercess County, Samuel Garjaye is preparing his students for the local spelling bee competition.
His team is upbeat after winning three games. They are ready for the grand finale venue in the commercially thriving Yarpah Town, located couple of miles away.
Garjaye has been the principal of the Togar McIntosh Elementary School since 2015 – a year before Bridge began managing the school.
“Since Bridge took over some changes have been made. There were insufficient school materials like books and desk – we were not using technology before but we know how to use technology now to teach our students,” Garjaye said.
Like all principals, he uses the technology to track teachers’ attendance and evaluate their daily performances.
“In the morning when I get on campus, I receive the lesson on my smart phone and the teachers sync their tablets with my phone to get the lesson for the day. When they start teaching, I move from class to class to check on them,” he said.
It’s a system that cuts across all Bridge PSL schools regardless the location. But such a system is not shy of hiccups in rural communities. And Garjay says one challenge is the poor mobile internet connectivity.
“Sometimes the network used to be bad and to get the lesson on time used to be a problem, but it is getting alright now,” he said.
As the network is now improving thanks to a new cellular phone towel in the area, according Garjay, the students are adjusting to the new teaching system and are becoming a trailblazer for Bridge schools in the county.
“To my expectation, my school is different from several other public schools in this area,” he continued. “Because the way we teach is different from the way they can teach.”
It’s an education revolution for public schools in rural Liberia, and despite the several challenges parents and teacher alike are showing optimism.
Like Hannah in Buchanan City, Principal Garjaye in Rivercess County also has his eyes on the future expecting Bridge to expand its network schools across the county to provide free and high quality education for children.
“It will make our country improves in the learning process, because I can see the improvement of these students,” he said.