“Provision of public education of good quality is the core function of the state, and abandoning this to commercial benefit of private company constitute a gross violation of the right to education”, Kishore Singh, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education
Monrovia – The Ministry of Education ongoing plan to hand over the management of the primary education program of Liberia to a private entity, Bridge International Academies (BIA), a private education service provider in Uganda and Kenya for an initial period of five years where the government will provide US$65 million to be managed by a private company continues to be criticized locally and at the international level.
The Private, public partnership deal will see Bridge Academies, which runs education projects in Kenya and Uganda, managing the primary education program of the country after the completion of a pilot project.
As part of the project, the PPP providers will design their programmes (curriculum materials, etc., from 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.
Eventually the Ministry of Education is aiming to contract out all primary and early childhood education schools to private providers who meet the required standards over 5 year period.
According to the tentative timeline by February/March 2016, the memorandum of Understanding for the pilot 50 schools will be signed and by September 2016, the first 50 schools launch, with baselines and performance measures.
UN official slams initiative
While local civil society organizations are raising their voices in criticizing the deal, an official of the United Nations, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Kishore Singh, has described the initiative as gross violation of the human rights of Liberian children to education.
“Outsourcing Liberia’s primary school system to a private company would be a “violation of the right to education”, said Singh on United Nations radio. Singh said there is no need for the Government of Liberia to hand over the management of its education to a private entity.
“This is unprecedented at the scale currently being proposed and violates Liberia’s legal and moral obligation,” said Singh. “Provision of public education of good quality is the core function of the state, and abandoning this to commercial benefit of private company constitute a gross violation of the right to education”, Singh added.
A local civil society group, the United Civil Society for Education Dialogue (UNICED) has also criticized the planned decision by the Ministry of Education to outsource primary education through a Public Private Partnership (PPP), calling on the Ministry to abandon its PPP and redirect its focus to adequately funding and effectively implementing and monitoring relevant policies and laws on education.
Speaking on behalf of the civil society organization, the acting executive director of the Center for Transparency and Accountability (CENTAL), Anderson D. Miamen said ongoing developments to establish public private partnership in Liberia’s educational sector has the proclivity to undermine the minimal progress made over the years in building a sustainable system.
“We are concerned about the implications of the proposed PPP on Liberia’s already messy educational sector,” he said. The CENTAL Executive Director maintained that the proposed PPP will overburden the government by bringing in groups with parallel functions as referenced in Chapter 6.3.5 of the Education Reform Act of 2011. Miamen has emphasized the need for sound policies to be put in place in ensuring the provision of inclusive and quality education.
Under the Bridge Academies project, the notes and other lectures materials are stored on an android mobile phone and the teachers use the phones to teach, a method where the teacher does not have to be sophisticated to teach. The institution charges US$6 per student per month in Uganda and Kenya as part of its project and also charges other fees for feeding and others.
Some in Kenya and Uganda believe that $6 plus other charges by Bridge Academies is a lot of money for the millions in the two countries. In Uganda, many say the amount requires poor Ugandan families with many children to borrow in order to keep all their children in school or to choose which child goes to school.
Despite charging fees, the World Bank through its sector investment arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) invested US$10 million in bridge Academies in 2014 in order to increase the number of bridge schools in the country and expand to three countries including Uganda. The IFC also approved a loan of $4.1 million to Merryland High School, a private, fee-charging secondary school in Entebbe, Uganda in December 2014.
Bridge continues to get criticisms from the Governments of both Kenya and Uganda for its method of using Android mobile phones to teach students where most of the teachers use only what is placed on the phone as Bridge resulted to using teachers who are not qualified to teach since the teaching materials are placed on a phone and the teacher only needs to teach what is available. The entity teaching method is seen in the two countries as discouraging the employment of qualified teachers who will interact with the students while teaching instead of using fixed materials downloaded on a mobile phone.
Current Education Minister Werner whom many described as reformer, instead of working to revamp the education sector, took off time visiting East Africa mainly Kenya and Uganda recently where he started negotiations for Bridge to come to Liberia and manage the primary education sector on a private-public partnership program.
As part of the project, the PPP providers will design their programmes (curriculum materials, etc from 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. Eventually the Ministry of Education is aiming to contract out all primary and early childhood education schools to private providers who meet the required standards over 5 year period.
Reporting: Samwar S. Fallah, firstname.lastname@example.org