Is Bridge Bullying Liberia Into Submission? Liberia’s Education Outsource Plan Dilemma

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Monrovia – Liberia’s much-heralded and far-reaching plan to outsource its entire pre-primary and primary education system to Bridge International Academies appears to have hit a snag.

Report by: Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]


FrontPageAfrica has learnt from reliable sources and briefing notes from a confidential meeting held this week, that Minister George Werner appears to be expressing concerns over Bridge’s method amid reports that education partners may be contemplating walking away if the Minister insists on the Randomized Control Trial, which Bridge does not want to agree to.

“Until we know whether Bridge is going to step out of the RCT, we cannot proceed with randomization, and thus, finalizing school lists. If Bridge opt to submit their own list of schools, we may need to remove some these schools from the lists allocated on Friday and this morning.

Bridge were speaking with their board today and we hope to have a decision imminently. As soon as we hear back, we will notify providers affected by the reallocation and we hope to proceed with randomization tomorrow – as planned (provided we all agree the rejection criteria).” – Mr. George Werner, Minister of Education, in a meeting with Partnership Schools for Liberia Stakeholders

One source suggested that the move could prompt Bridge to take the Liberian government to court over what is building up to be a potential breach of the Memorandum of Understanding between the heralded academy management group and the Liberian government.

Under the public-private arrangement, Bridge was expected to pilot the programme in 50 public schools in 2016, as well as design curriculum materials, while phase two could have the company rollout mass implementation over five years, “with government exit possible each year dependent on provided performance from September 2017 onwards.

The MoE is said to be aiming to contract out all primary and early childhood education schools to private providers who meet the required standards over five-year period.

The controversial program resulted into a heated public war-of-words between Minister Werner and the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Kishore Singh, who described the plan as “unprecedented at the scale currently being proposed and violates Liberia’s legal and moral obligations.”

The UN official and human rights expert noted that provision of public education of good quality is a core function of the State. “Abandoning this to the commercial benefit of a private company constitutes a gross violation of the right to education,” said Singh.

Mr. Werner who is an avid Facebook blogger, when contacted by FrontPageAfrica for comment on the report this week did not return emails and Facebook messages.

But the Minister, according to notes from a meeting with Partnership Schools for Liberia Team at the Ministry of Education
3rd Avenue and Tubman Ave., Sinkor office, dated July 11, 2016 wrote:

“Until we know whether Bridge is going to step out of the RCT, we cannot proceed with randomization, and thus, finalizing school lists. If Bridge opt to submit their own list of schools, we may need to remove some these schools from the lists allocated on Friday and this morning.

Bridge were speaking with their board today and we hope to have a decision imminently. As soon as we hear back, we will notify providers affected by the reallocation and we hope to proceed with randomization tomorrow – as planned (provided we all agree the rejection criteria).”

Some members of the team expressed disgust at Bridge’s attempt to bully the Liberian government into following their terms regarding Randomized Control Trial.

During the meeting, members of the Partnership Schools for Liberia team wrote:

“Firstly – we want to thank you again for all your timely responses on school allocation and rejection criteria. Until we know whether Bridge is going to step out of the RCT, we cannot proceed with randomization, and thus, finalizing school lists.

If Bridge opt to submit their own list of schools, we may need to remove some these schools from the lists allocated on Friday and this morning. Bridge were speaking with their board today and we hope to have a decision imminently.

As soon as we hear back, we will notify providers affected by the reallocation and we hope to proceed with randomization tomorrow – as planned (provided we all agree the rejection criteria). The Ministry thanks our PSL partners for their continued patience and cooperation through this process.

In another communication, the ministry makes it clear that it wants a gold standard evaluation in order to ensure the program is sufficiently evidenced to expand and benefit more Liberian children in future years.

“International experts have advised us that a randomized control trial is the best and most credible way to get that evidence – quasi experimental approaches are still being disputed.

The competitive program will be evaluated through a randomized control trial (RCT). However, the Minister recognizes that an MOU was signed in advance with Bridge.  Therefore, Bridge can submit their own list of schools if they feel this better honours the agreement. They will then be evaluated as a separate program,” the communication stated.

During the meeting, FrontPageAfrica has learned that all providers except one agreed to the list of schools, subject to rejection criteria.

“The criteria will need to be objective so more qualitative measures will be rejected or alternatives suggested,” the communication noted.

The ministry added that all providers wishing to be part of the Random Control Trial must submit their approval of the criteria, or proposed alterations.

“The sooner you can propose alterations the sooner we can address these and share with other providers. We will not wait for late responses as it will hold everyone else up.”

It is unclear how much leverage the ministry will allow Bridge to have over the program the MoE has touted as the saviour of Liberia’s education system which has been dubbed as messy by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. More importantly, many are wondering why the Ministry failed to raise a red flag over the Random Control Trial – prior to signing an MoU of enormous proportion to Liberia’s sagging education program – outside the approval of the national legislature.

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