At least two civil society organizations, Coalition for Transparency and Accountability in Education (COTAE) and the National Teachers Association of Liberia (NTAL) have called on the Ministry of Education to terminate its partnership with Bridge International Academies (BIA), accusing the education sector partner of causing more harm than good for the sector.
The CSO group’s call follows recent media reports and complaints about bad Labor Practices that exist at the Bridge International Academies in Liberia.
Speaking at a joint press conference held on June 8, 2020, in Monrovia, COTAE’s National Coordinator, Anderson D. Miamen, said BIA is noted to be a company that prioritizes profit over quality and fulfillment of the right to education of all Liberian children; such company, he said, should have no place in the Liberian Education sector.
Mr. Miamen, who read the pressed statement on behalf of the CSO groups, warned that anything to the contrary will suggest that MOE sanctions poor treatment of Liberians by BIA and its largely profit-oriented operation in the country, which is at the expense of the already struggling education sector of Liberia.
BIA is a for-profit company in the educational sector and rose to controversial prominence when the Government of Liberia outsourced 170 public schools to the company under the Liberia Educational Advancement Program (LEAP), formerly Partnership Schools for Liberia (PSL).
Miamen also called on the Ministry of Education to ensure that its current and future policies and programs meet human rights standards, including the recently adopted Abidjan Principles on the right to education.
“The Abidjan Principles require that the Government focuses on strengthening public education and, should a partnership be developed, it must be done without commercial actors and in accordance with the rule of law,” he noted.
Meanwhile, he called on the public (parents, students, teachers, journalists, civil society actors and other groups) to independently monitor and timely report on respect for the right to education at all private and public schools across the country, especially those awarded to BIA and other groups making business out of public education in Liberia, thus undermining the right to education of all citizens.
“COTAE and NTAL remain committed to supporting holistic and sustainable efforts to improve the Liberian Education system and not one that commercializes public education and creates more mess in the sector,” he stated.
According to him, Information published recently alleges that staff salaries in the company were reduced by 80-90 percent, while employees still work from home, something which Mr. Miamen said contravenes the Labor Ministry’s COVID-19 Preparedness Guide for Workplaces.
He mentioned that the report also alleges poor labor conditions and illegal dismissal and suspension among other issues, and the Ministry of Labor announced on 25 May it was opening an inquiry into these concerns.
“We wish to applaud the Ministry for launching an independent investigation into these reported excesses, which have characterized BIA’s operation since 2016. Also, we wish to express our solidarity with former and current BIA staffs who are mustering the courage to speak out against unfavorable treatment they are being subjected to by the company.”
The group also noted that BIA’s involvement in Liberia has been debated since its onset, as the company initially intended to singlehandedly take over all public primary schools in the country, which generated local, regional and global outcry, including from civil society organizations, teachers, parents, and the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education.
Meanwhile, the National President of the NTAL, Mary W. Mulbah, acknowledged that her institution along with other CSO groups has been in the fight against the bad labor practices at BIA since 2015 and has been engaging the relevant educational authorities, especially the MoE, but to no avail.
She recalled that the NTAL few months ago presented a petition to the Ministry of Education which has yet to yield positive results. “We at the NTAL will not get tired until we get a result from the government through the MoE,” Madam Mulbah added.
She noted that it is disturbing that, while other companies are finding ways to address the plight of their workers, especially during COVID-19 which has affected all facets of society, BIA will choose to, among other things, “cut the salaries of its essential staff by over 80%”, prompting some employees to file a complaint of bad labor practices to the Ministry of Labor.
However, the American company also operates in Kenya and Uganda, where it has similarly been denounced for its poor labor practices and lack of respect for the rule of law, which led a group of Kenyan citizens to complain to the World Bank’s accountability body, Compliance Advisory Ombudsman (CAO) in 2018.
The latest development, according to COTAE, validates longstanding stakeholders’ concerns about the dangers of outsourcing public schools to a group whose foremast interest is profit and not the fulfillment and protection of the right to education of all children/students, as provided for by the Abidjan Principles on the right to education, the Sustainable Development Goal 4, Article 6 of the 1986 Liberian constitution, and other international and regional frameworks.
Furthermore, when the Daily Observer contacted an authority of BIA via text message, he replied as saying, “Bridge should be releasing a statement tomorrow on the matter. We have got also several media outlets asking. So, we want to release a general statement to all, could you please hold?”
Meanwhile, reacting to allegations, Bridge International Academies (BIA) said the information is far from the truth.
“It can only be concluded that these false claims are being circulated in an effort to damage the Government’s education program and its largest partner. “There is no evidence at all to support the claims now being asserted publicly,” BIA said in a release issued on June 10, 2020.
“Bridge Liberia – a Government LEAP partner – came to the difficult decision to keep staff working to deliver continuity and support the government’s home learning program, and furlough the rest of its staff. Furloughing is keeping staff employed by an organization but placing them on a leave of absence.
“Alongside this action, Bridge Liberia committed to ensuring that all furloughed staff would continue to receive a monthly payment; there is seemingly little regard for the hundreds of employees and teachers or the hundreds of communities who could be affected by this malicious smear campaign.
“However, Bridges’ authority said the government and its partners remain committed to transforming the Liberian education system and continuing to improve learning outcomes,” the statement said.