The Country Is Pulling Together to Tackle COVID-19; Falsely Attacking Long-Term Government Partners Is Unhelpful

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Statement by Bridge International Academies

Five years ago, the Government of Liberia introduced an innovative education programme – the Liberian Education Advancement Programme (LEAP) – within its government schools. The programme was designed to close the learning gap and improve education outcomes for Liberia’s youth. It has been welcomed by communities; Representatives and District Education Officials in counties across the country.

At the end of 2019, LEAP was proven to increase learning outcomes by an independent three year study. Overall, the study found that learning increased by 0.26 standard deviations (SD’s) in English and 0.35 SD’s in maths; combined equating to more than a year of additional learning for students over this time compared to their peers. For one government partner this increased even further to an equivalent of 2.5 years of additional learning. Now, LEAP serves as a model for other public sector transformation programmes running in Africa. Liberia is leading the way.

Despite these successes, The Ministry of Education (MOE) has been continually challenged for its decision to partner with the private sector to deliver LEAP, even though the results have been transformative for Liberia’s youth. The MOE has shown and continues to show both leadership and strength in following a path that has been proven to improve the country’s path to prosperity and growth.

LEAP was continuing well in its fourth year, with an increased number of public schools placed in the programme. Then, COVID-19 came to Liberia and work was suspended. Sadly, on the 23rd March 2020; schools closed across the country at the direction of the MOE in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19 and keep children safe. Like many organizations across Liberia affected by the pandemic, when schools closed work in those schools stopped. At this time, Bridge Liberia – a Government LEAP partner – came to the difficult decision that it would keep a number of staff working to deliver continuity and support the government’s home learning programme; and furlough the rest of its staff – furloughing is keeping staff employed by an organisation 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; despite not working. Sadly, there are thousands of people across the country in many industries who are suffering, who have lost their jobs and their livelihoods because of the economic toll that COVID has taken. The decisions that Bridge has been able to take means that thankfully their employees are not among them. When the government decides that schools are safe to open again, all furloughed staff will be able to return to their full-time employment at Bridge.

These are very difficult times for everyone. There are some employees who are understandably angry that the pandemic is impacting their jobs and; although there have been no direct complaints to Bridge; some employees have aired their frustrations at the Ministry of Labour. Frustrations which the Ministry and Bridge have discussed and resolved. As long term partners of the Ministry of Labor, and the Ministry of Education – as both an employer and an education partner supporting hundreds of staff and ‘volunteer teachers’ – there is a close and respectful working relationship forged over many years. As with all employers, Bridge carefully follows all guidelines from the Ministry of Labor, including one published at the start of May 2020 guiding organizations to pay staff deemed ‘non-essential’ – according to the government – at least 50% of their pay. In addition, Bridge continues to financially support its hundreds of ‘Volunteer teachers’ during this period of school closure. Bridge has always provided a monthly stipend to ‘volunteer teachers’, while they await being put on the government payroll, the closure of schools does not change this. The vast majority at Bridge support the organisation in its effort to safeguard jobs for the long term while ensuring that employees can still support their families as the pandemic rages.

Separate to actions taken as a result of COVID-19, there have been several malicious and unfounded allegations about employee activity at Bridge reported in a section of the Liberian media. It is believed this smear campaign is orchestrated by two former members of staff, who were sacked by the organisation at the beginning of June for ‘breach of contract’ following a month-long investigation. The smear campaign began after the investigation began into their behaviour and activities and intensified after they were removed from the organisation.

The allegations that are being circulated are categorically denied.

All appointments at Bridge are made on merit, following a clear interview process, and based upon published job descriptions. All staff are promoted on the basis of merit and success in prior roles, and the claim that women have been promoted for any reason other than that, is malicious and untrue.

Bridge has a zero-tolerance policy and takes any allegations of impropriety extremely seriously. The organisation actively promotes an anonymous whistleblowing system and thoroughly investigates any allegations. There is no evidence at all to support the claims now being asserted publically.

Liberia is a nation with a proud history, founded by freed slaves; welcoming and supportive of outsiders from across the continent – ongoing reports that a Kenyan is unwelcome as an organisational leader in Liberia is not one that the vast majority of Liberians would agree with.

It can only be concluded that these false claims are being circulated in an effort to damage the Government’s education programme and its largest partner. There is seemingly little regard for the hundreds of employees and teachers or the hundreds of communities who could be affected by these malicious smear campaign.

Bridge, the government and its partners remain committed to transforming the Liberian education system and continuing to improve learning outcomes. Even while schools are closed the Ministry has implemented an @home remote learning programme designed to ensure that the progress made in the last few years does not stop. Thanks to Ministry of Education efforts, thousands of children are continuing to receive education through radio lessons, daily learning materials, WhatsAPP and SMS – it is a national effort from all partners. All partners are working to ensure that schools can re-open safely and that the achievements that have been made by the Liberian government in the education sector will continue to grow.

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