–Wants Gov’t terminate outsourcing agreement with BIA
The Consortium of Education Defenders of Liberia (COEDEL) has called for the blocking of the government’s intention to outsource its primary and pre-primary education system to a United States (US)-based for-profit corporate actor, Bridge International Academies (BIA).
The organization’s call was made at the climax of a two-day workshop that brought together media practitioners and Civil Society Organizations (CSO) in Monrovia. Journalists were admonished to do more robust coverage on halting the commercialization and privatization of education, while CSOs were urged to join the campaign for the same cause.
At the two-day event, which took place from the 17th to the 18th of December, the group said following considerable opposition to this unprecedented move by the Government, which conceived the Partnership Schools for Liberia (PSL) program, where eight actors would operate 93 schools in the first year as a pilot project, the Ministry of Education has decided to increase the number of schools to 202 in the project’s second year.
Speaking at the end of the training, the Chairman of COEDEL, Rev. Joseph Kwiwalazu, told participants that COEDEL opposed the move to outsource education and therefore the proposal must be blocked, not just as a matter of principle; but must be opposed because it is based on faulty logic and provides no evidence to support their radical and disruptive experiment with the nation’s school system.
“We, therefore, reject this threat and menace that may not only affect our fragile education system but also affect teachers, civil servants, students, parents and the image of our country in the compliance of international conventions/protocols,” he said.
He noted that they made their position known in a statement issued recently, saying that in January 2016, in a controversial move, the Government of Liberia announced its intention to privatize and commercialize the primary and elementary school system of the country, which Mr. Kwiwalazu said the group considered as woeful and that the government has intended to renege on its responsibility to the people, knowing that providing education is an important function.
Referencing Article 26, Sub Section 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), he said: “Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit,” he added.
At the same time, the group stressed the need to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all,” as provided for under the sustainable development goals, whereby every goal in the 2030 Agenda of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) requires education to empower people with the knowledge, skills and values to live in dignity, build their lives and contribute to their societies as SDG 4.
Rev. Kwiwalazu, who also served as the lead facilitator at the two days event, also argued that the Liberian Education Law also recognizes the important role of the state in ensuring quality and inclusivity of all in the national education agenda, as captured by Pillar One of the Government’s Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD).
He also acknowledged that the PAPD Section 2.1 states that, reducing out-of-school rates, and increasing retention and completion rates for girls, raising minimum infrastructure standard, the provision of lifelong learning opportunities on an equitable and inclusive basis will be a special emphasis under the PAPD, among others.
But contrary to the aforementioned concepts and global objectives, which are supported by the Constitution of Liberia and the Education Law, the Government of Liberia has been taking steps to run away from one of her core responsibilities, he added.
COEDEL further said despite claiming that Partnership Schools for Liberia would be subject to a rigorous evaluation through a Randomized Control Trial (RCT), six months into the trial, the former Minister of Education, George Werner, decided to increase the number of schools to 202 in the project’s second year.
The long-term cost of the program “remains high compared to programs yielding comparable effects elsewhere”, including Uganda and Kenya. Unlike Uganda and Kenya where BIA constructed its own schools, the Government of Liberia continues to deliver the already insufficient public schools to private providers, with BIA taking the lead.
This action on the part of the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf administration and now George M. Weah administration is seriously affecting public education in Liberia, the group indicated.
COEDEL stressed that several pieces of research pointed out huge discrepancies in the provision of education in the pilot Partnership Schools for Liberia (PSL), now rebranded as the Liberia Education Advancement Program (LEAP), saying that Bridge Academies, the biggest provider, is still striving to entirely take over almost all public schools in Liberia.
“Most disturbing and unimaginable is that, instead of BIA empowering existing Teacher Training Institutions in the country, the MOE is allowing BIA to train, coach and support, according to them, 3000 teachers, vice-principal for instruction, principals and county education office staff County Education Officers (CEOs), District Education Officers (DEOs), Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) Officers.
“Provision of the curriculum through tablets and cell phones is untenable in Liberia, where electricity is unstable and not available in all the rural schools,” COEDEL noted.
The consortium said if this proposal is allowed continuity, it will be the beginning of the end for universal public education, a concept with ancestry dating back to 1847.
“If this government is permitted to outsource the entire elementary school system, and even the Junior High Division, Liberia will enter the records of notoriety once again,” COEDEL maintained, saying “At stake is the future schooling of children around the world. Liberia will suffer another shameful international scandal.”
Consequently the group observed that the proposal of privatization and commercialization of public schools amounts to the GOL is negating or shying away from her core responsibility; to outsourcing more than 250 public schools to private providers which is a form of government shying away from accountability to their citizens on the provision of education.
“It is a violation of international and regional laws and protocols signed by the Government of Liberia; and violation of Liberia Constitution/ Education Law” and “it also is a threat to the composition of our national education curricula and education policy,” they added.