Introducing its pilot program, Partnership Schools for Liberia, the Liberian government has used inspirational language to describe the opportunities of outsourcing some of Liberia’s primary and early childhood educational system to private companies. From ensuring quality to improving the education system, from acting as innovation hubs to leading to way into the future, the benefits seem endless.
If this government program sounds too good to be true, it is. To say that the plan has been oversold is putting it gently.
When it comes to quality and improvement of Liberia’s education system, the outsourcing plan is a non-starter. Bridge International Academies, a private company which has been awarded a huge contract, uses an instructional model based on direct instruction with carefully prepared scripts for teachers to follow. Of course use of computers and cell phones with internet connections is a requirement.
One of the most obvious drawbacks of this approach, as highlighted by experts, is that it creates a non-dynamic learning environment for kids. Since teachers are taught to teach by reading to children from a script, the method does not stimulate discussion; and as such, the essential ingredient of critical thinking is abandoned.
Supporters of the Bridge-style model also admit that the standard of education at a Bridge school is going to be far below that of more expensive schools. In other words, the Bridge approach only becomes attractive when compared with alternatives such as schools offering little in-house teacher training.
Even if the Bridge-style model is implemented to perfection, experts say, it might win on scale, but by compromising the quality of that education. Clearly, given the inadequate research and planning, this partnership plan will have no impact on quality, little impact on innovation, and it will certainly do little to improve Liberia’s education system.
What about the future? The Liberian government has claimed that its program offers the chance to make meaningful change to the future of the country. Essentially, for the future to hold any promise, feasibility and sustainability must first be ensured, otherwise, the government is over-touting these benefits to make the partnership program seem better than it is.
First, everyone knows that Liberia’s IT and internet system now suffers one of the most devastating infrastructural gaps in the whole of Africa, and therefore, makes full implementation of the outsourcing plan less probable.
Second and perhaps most importantly, the critical question to be answered is: if a government lacks the ability to properly implement its domestic programs, for whatever reasons, will it have the expertise on administration and monitoring of a partnership program to levels that would ensure optimal results? Whew! You are left to take the government’s word for it.
And here’s the kicker: Instead of embarking on a strong, dedicated and tenacious commitment to ensure its own expertise in running a school and building a system that works, our government easily resorts to a foreign private company for a quick solution of short-term gains that doesn’t solve. Again, you are left to believe the government on its claims that the outsourcing project leads a sustainable path towards the future.
If there are little to future prospects for education, then the government is effectively throwing a wrench in Liberia’s ‘already bad’ school workings for no good reason. This forced retooling not only favors a for-profit private company, but also creates a more severe long-term problem, as that of Liberia’s inability to run a public school system. It will be costly, both from an access standpoint as well as from a sustainability standpoint.
After stripping the layers of ineffectiveness from the partnership program, all that remains is the government’s desire for its legacy to be defined by “doing something” about education. But increasing access to education by breaking windows is a readily falsifiable economic premise. So what’s left in store is a dim future for posterity. A big loss for Liberia and a solution that proves worse than the problem itself.
Presley K. Wesseh, Jr., Ph.D.