‘Out-sourcing of Liberian Education to Public Private Partnerships?

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Education Minister George Werner, at an Education conference in Monrovia last week, made the alarming revelation that he was about to “out-source” Liberian education to so-called “public-private partnerships”. The out-sourcing will begin with nursery and primary schools.

For those who may think this a joke, think again: Among the “education stakeholders” who participated in the conference was the President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Several very serious questions immediately arise. First, which “education stakeholders” attended the meeting? Most certainly the President, our national leader, who in February 2013 described Liberian education as being “in a mess.”

But who else was there besides the international partners—the European Union, the educational NGO “More Than Me,” UNESCO, UNICEF, USAID and the World Bank? We understand that most or all of the universities were represented, though only few by their presidents.

How many former Education Ministers besides Etmonia Tarpeh were there? Surely they could have been invited to give their reflections on the problems and the new proposal. Former Education Minister Dr. Evelyn Kandakai was invited, perhaps more so as Interim President of Cuttington University, but she was represented since she is currently on mission in Ghana. But no one saw former Education Ministers Othello Gongar and
Dr. Joseph Korto.

Was Moses Blokanjay Jackson there? Trained in Math and Science education at three of America’s top 10 universities, he is considered an expert in that field.

Was Liberia’s most accomplished and most prominent primary education entrepreneur there? Early in this administration she played a dynamic role in education reform as Chair of the Montserrado County School System (MCSS) and later also served as a Deputy at Education and once again currently chairs MCSS. But more important, she is the founder of several nursery, primary and middle schools in the greater Monrovia area. These include the Mary Laurene School of Excellence, a leading middle school near 15th Street, Sinkor.

This educational entrepreneur, who is also a textbook writer and novelist, is a highly talented Liberian woman named Hesta Williams Katakaw. We think it was most unfortunate that she was not invited to the education stakeholders meeting, for she has a wealth of educational experience, especially where it really matters—nursery and primary—the foundation of education.

But maybe the Education Minister did not need people like Hesta Kakataw, because the conference was probably not in search of new ideas on to how to fix Liberian education. The decision to “out-source” our schools had already been made; and the “stakeholders” invited were those who may have already been sold on the idea.

Who might these ‘private partners’ be? What experience do they have with our educational system?

What kind of textbooks would they introduce? Foreign, or local ones? The Ministry seems to have over the decades had very serious difficulty mobilizing and putting to work a committed and competent team of textbook writers. But surely this should not be that difficult. And what are the subjects for which we could create textbooks? They include English and Literature, Geography, History, Math, Science and Social Studies.

The MOE has perennially had three main problems with textbook preparation, writing and production: first, the lack of a real and serious commitment to get the job done; second, the lack of a determination to recruit and seriously engage a committed crew of writers; and third, a persistent unwillingness to find the money and put it on the table to make it happen.

Has MOE ever developed a program to train textbook writers?

The Daily Observer has since the 1980s been urging MOE to bring back Civics into our schools to enable our young ones to learn a little more about their country, government, culture and languages. Do the stakeholders know anything about Liberian civics?

We think it would be a grave mistake to outsource our education. Nothing would bring more confusion to the system than that. Who will be the teachers and what would they bring to the table? A lot of foreign stuff, written in foreign textbooks that are unrelated to the Liberian reality.

Until our Education Ministry shakes off this inertia (apathy, lethargy) and gets down on the work it has to do, surrendering our education system to foreigners or so-called ‘public-private partners’ would, we are afraid, do us, our children and future generations far more harm than good.

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