While delivering her final state of the nation address last month, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was not short of praise for Partnership Schools of Liberia (PSL), which came into effect last year as a pilot project.
“Liberia needed to adopt a more radical approach, because we know that education is a long-term endeavor and more rapid results can only be achieved by departing from traditional structures,” the President said.
For that reason, she said, “we adopted the Partnership School System with direct support from private partners—domestic and international.”
PSL is a public-private partnership between the Liberian government and several private operators, who have assumed the management of about 100 public primary schools since September 2016.
The partnership has been met with some stiff resistance since it started, but President Sirleaf was quick to stave off the criticisms with a wave of the hand, insisting on the importance of ‘innovation’ in the education sector.
“This system aims at rapid educational transformation. In addressing the concerns from vested parties who criticize the participation of private partners in the sector, I remind you that, except for technology, there is little difference, because we have had a system of longstanding partnerships with inter-religious bodies and other private entities in the schooling of our children,” the President said.
The partnership looks positive for Liberian children, the President said, adding, “Preliminary results from the partnership are encouraging.”
“The children and their families are the program’s strongest advocates, and that, to me says it all. This will be done as the economy improves, working with partners in line with international requirements,” she told the nation.
One of the PSL providers working hard with the government is Bridge Partnership Schools for Liberia. Bridge currently manages 25 schools and has enrolled over 8,100 students since the launch of the pilot program.
Moreover, Bridge is using technology to enhance and support traditional methods of teaching. Teachers at Bridge Schools teach from an e-reader (known as teacher computer), while the students follow from books in the various subjects supplied by Bridge. The students also use e-readers when it is the reading hour. Recent analysis in ‘The Economist’ showed that the organization used it to keep standards high.
Darren Wilkins, Liberian IT expert and columnist for the Daily Observer says e-learning is important to Liberia, because it unshackles the barriers that are imposed by the “typical brick and mortar learning institutions.”
For example, Wilkins said, to build a university will require a lot of resources: money, teachers, etc., “but with e-learning you need a lab that is connected to the internet and you will have access to the best instructors,” he added.
“E-learning also allows access and up-to-date educational materials. E-learning will also benefit the rural areas where there are bad roads that can prevent students from commuting to brick and mortar schools for education. Instead of getting to class, you get to class through your mobile phone or your computer lab,” Wilkins said.
A 2013 report by the US-based international research company Ambient Insight, titled, “The Africa Market for Self-paced e-Learning Products and Services: 2011-2016 Forecast and Analysis” found out that the overall growth rate for self-paced e-learning in Africa is 15.2 percent.
Restoring hope in education one teacher at a time
Etta M. Geliah knows that if the children of the Bridge operated Barclayville Public School are to venture into the world and accomplish incredible feats beyond the world of their little town in Compound One, Grand Bassa County, it is incumbent upon her to show up every day to teach her students.
“Children have to learn—I have to be punctual every day. When the students and teachers show up every day, by itself, it is motivational,” Teacher Geliah said.
Etta started teaching on October 21, 1998. Then, she said, she was not on the government payroll, but that did not deter her from showing up every day to do what she loves best: teaching. For eight years, she taught pro bono at the Barclayville School, anticipating the day she would be paid and recognized by the government.
Today, she says she enjoys the model of extended time in the classroom introduced to partnership schools.
“The students are learning and we are trying with the teacher computers. When it is time for reading, the students are really fascinated with the stories,” Mrs. Geliah told the Daily Observer in a brief interview over the weekend.
To scale up on education will not be easy, but teachers like Mrs. Geliah understands the dedication and responsibility that comes with being a teacher.
“Here, Bridge makes us accountable. I am to be in the classroom teaching and guiding students. When I’m not there, the students know and it makes me care even more for them,” she noted.
President Sirleaf’s comments show that if school authorities gather the courage to innovate in the world of education and challenge the status quo, then change can come to benefit the families and communities.
With the pilot program still in its infancy in Liberia, it is far too early to assess its success until independent monitoring and test results validate that this education model is effective for and should remain in the country.
In Uganda, for example, although the program introduced a new teaching model, including the teaching of English, Math, and Science in the partner primary schools to ‘improve’ the education of Ugandan pupils and inspire a generation of learners, it received mixed reactions. This almost brought the program to an abrupt end.