Liberia: Education Stakeholders, CSOs Want Pres. Weah Disengage Outsourcing Public Schools

A group of civil society organizations (CSOs), under the auspices of the National Teachers Association of Liberia (NTAL) in collaboration with the Consortium of Education Defenders of Liberia (COEDEL), has called on President George Weah to disengage in any arrangement or plan in the outsourcing of public schools to Bridge International Academies (BIA) or any other party of the same nature.

BIA is a social enterprise that runs a network of schools, beginning in Kenya in 2007. It aims to ensure more children have increased access to quality education. To achieve this, BIA supports government schools and also run community schools.

But the CSO group, in their petition presented on Thursday, October 17, 2019 to the Minister of Education Ansu D. Sonii, calls for the immediate departure of BIA from Liberia, or that they should build, fund and manage their own model schools.

NTAL President Mary Mulbah Nyumah, who read the petition on behalf of the group, said that the outsourcing of more than 250 public schools to BIA is an example of a government shying away from accountability to its citizens and their right to quality education.

She continued, "We, the CSOs, our partners in education, and concerned Liberians will do all in our reach, affirmative with the laws and all other international instruments to resist this creeping monster, which intent is to destroy the agenda for quality public education."

This new phenomenon in "our considered view is a violation of international and regional laws and protocols signed by the government and violation of the Constitution, as well as the education laws of Liberia."

She recalled that on January 2016, the government made a controversial move by announcing its intention to outsource its primary and pre-primary education system to a US-based for-profit corporate actor BIA.

Mrs. Nyumah said following considerable opposition to the unprecedented move, the government conceived the PSL now LEAP program, were liked actors would operate 93 schools in the first year as a pilot project.

She said despite claiming that the PSL now LEAP would be subject to a rigorous evaluation through a Randomized Control Trial (RCT), six months into the pilot, the MOE under the leadership of George K. Werner then Minister, decided to increase the number of schools to 202 in the project's second year.

He indicated that unlike Uganda and Kenya where BIA constructed some schools, the government continues to hand over the already insufficient public schools to for-profit private providers with BIA taking the lead.

Mrs. Nyumah added that what is most disturbing and unimaginable is that instead of BIA empowering existing Teachers Training Institutions in the country; the MOE is allowing BIA to train, coach and support 3, 000 teachers, vice principals for instruction, principals, and county education office staff.

She said that the foreign-based providers have exhibited no respect for the trade union rights of teachers in the schools they administer as some of the teachers are being dismissed and transferred at will.

Mrs. Nyumah further said that the working hours of these teachers have been extended from an earlier shift of fewer than four-and-one-half hours (7:40 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.) to the current eight-hour shift (7:30 a.m. to 3: 30 p.m.), without incentives and feeding for some of the young students.

NTAL and partners are calling for the immediate departure of Bridge International Academies from Liberia, or that they should build, fund and manage their own model schools.

Mrs. Nyumah said that instead of BIA empowering existing teachers training institutions, the Ministry of Education (MoE) is allowing BIA to train, coach and support, about 3,000 teachers, among them, vice-principals for instruction, principal and County Education Office staffs.

"It was shocking to note that the government is providing more funding for BIA or LEAP than to the normal public schools managed by Liberians.

"Mr. Minister, we also noticed a decline in enrollment in some of the Liberian Education Advancement Programme (LEAP) schools due principally to the many unfulfilled promises made by the providers such as school feeding, which should have been done three times a day, the dissatisfaction of parents, students and teachers due to delays in placing volunteer teachers on the payroll; and the inability of BIA to regularly provide the promised stipend of US$25 monthly, while teachers are yet to get on the payroll," said Mrs. Nyumah.

She said it is an undeniable fact that the education of a nation's citizens is a prime responsibility for the state, adding: "Our government must, therefore, not abdicate its responsibilities under the guise of austerity. It is also a truism that public education breeds national social cohesion and an equalizing force in society."

Mrs. Nyumah added that the teaching and learning conditions can best be described as deplorable, as evidenced by broken infrastructure and furniture as well as poor sanitary conditions in most of the schools.

In response, Minister Sonii expressed delight over the manner in which the NTAL and CSOs organized themselves to present their petition to the government through the MoE.

He added "Your interest is my interest and we have a single responsibility to transition the education of this country from where we found it to where we shall leave it. And so, I receive this petition and we will ensure that we act upon it in due course."

Sonii also promised to adequately view their petition to find a way for the betterment of the country and its people.

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