Liberia Has An Unusual Plan To Privatize Primary Schools, The Question Is Why?

In 2013, after all the 25,000 high school graduates in Liberia who failed to pass the University of Liberia’s entrance examination, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf branded the country’s education system a mess.

Education Minister George Werner subsequently began looking for a way to make a dramatic change in order to put the country’s schools on a par with others in West Africa. He admits that the education system has worsened in three decades mostly as a result of conflict and the recent Ebola epidemic, adding; “this doesn’t mean that our children are not bright; [rather] the system is failing them”. In answer to these problems, the country now has a plan to privatize primary schools.

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They plan to hand over the running of all primary and nursery schools to private companies and charities. The plan stems in part from George Werner’s realization that a long-term gradual plan with the government in charge was not going to solve the problems.

A pilot project will start in September as 50 of the country’s 5,000 primary schools are going to be taken over by the Kenya-based company Bridge International Academies.

privatize primary schools

Bridge International Academies which runs 359 schools in Kenya and 7 in Uganda has published a raft of charts showing how in Kenya its schools out-perform government schools in maths and reading on nearly every measure. The teachers who are employed by the government are however unhappy about the plan to privatize primary schools. They decry the fact that their salaries need to be raised before the expectations for a better school system can be met.

As the plan stands, the government will still be in charge of paying the teachers salaries but the teachers will instead have to be vetted by Bridge International Academies. The company has said that it will look for funding to take on the 50 schools elsewhere. The plan to hand Liberia’s education over to private hands has also, along with the teachers, angered the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Kishore Singh.

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In March, in reference to the plan to privatize primary schools, Kishore Singh said “the concept of education as a public good is under attack”. He added that; “Provision of public education of good quality is a core function of the state…Abandoning this to the commercial benefit of a private company constitutes a gross violation of the right to education.” As the teachers and everyone else continue to pitch in, the real determination will be made in September when Bridge International Academies starts teaching its first batch of Liberian pupils. If that goes well then the government will be looking for a host of private providers to radically change the country’s education system.