Overview

In January 2016, the Government of Liberia announced its intention to entirely outsource, and therefore privatise, its public pre-primary and primary schools to private actors through the pilot public-private partnership (PPP), “Partnership Schools for Liberia” (PSL), later renamed Liberia Education Advancement Program (LEAP).

The first phase of the three-year LEAP (formerly PSL) pilot project consisted of 93 schools with 27,000 children, which were operated by eight private actors. Another 93 schools which remained under government management formed the comparison group. Partnership schools were allocated to private school chains Bridge International Academies (25), Omega Schools (17), and Rising Academies (5), to NGOs BRAC Liberia (20), Street Child (12), More Than Me (6) and to Liberian organisations Liberian Youth Network (4) and Stella Maris (4).

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Initially, BIA was to be the only private operator to run 120 schools under the PPP after the Minister of Education George Werner and President Sirleaf visited Bridge schools in Uganda and Kenya. This was subject to public outcry and international criticisms, leading to adjustments with an additional seven providers included and a reduction in the number of schools in the pilot. These seven providers were chosen after submitting expressions of interest to a selection committee chaired by the Minister of Education with two representatives from the Ministry of Education, two advisers from Absolute Return for Kids (ARK), an educational charity, and one representative of civil society. A process Bridge was not required to undergo.

The pilot is externally evaluated annually through a randomised controlled trial (RCT) the performance of the partnership schools to the public schools selected as control schools. The decision on whether to expand the pilot was initially dependent on the findings of the first RCT. However, in February 2017 the Liberian Minister of Education announced the expansion of the second phase of the pilot by 109 new PPP schools. Technical advisors and evaluators of the LEAP (formerly PSL) pilot warned against a decision to scale up before evidence from the evaluation is released in August 2017.

Key Updates

We regularly monitor and update information on the situation in Liberia, as it becomes available. Follow #DontSellLiberianSchools for more information.

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  • 08/04/2016, Standford Social Innovation Review, A Big Problem, a Small Experiment, and a Lot Of Noise: http://bit.ly/1XsHUCU

...it is ironic that Liberia does not have resources to meet its core obligations to provide a free primary education to every child, but it can find huge sums of money to subcontract a private company to do so on its behalf.
— Kishore Singh, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education.

Evaluation and Scale-up

The pilot is to run for three years and is externally evaluated through a randomised controlled trial (RCT) measuring the performance of schools run by the private partners against the control schools which remain under government management. While the Liberian Government maintained that a decision to expand the PSL would not be made without the results of the RCT, in February 2017, the Minister of education announced 109 new PSL schools will open in Year Two of the PSL in September 2017. This has concerned PSL advisers to the government, who have warned against a decision to scale up before evidence from the evaluation is released in August 2017.

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The government’s reluctance to welcome independent research has also raised concern. When ActionAid and Education International commissioned the University of Wisconsin to conduct complementary research, the Ministry of Education refused to grant access to schools, citing concerns on a lack of objectivity due to ActionAid and Education International’s work on public-private-partnerships. The Ministry, however, has welcomed the assessments released by PSL providers themselves.

Results from the first year of a three year evaluation of the LEAP (formerly PSL) pilot reveal that even though the level of student learning has increased, this model was not a cost-efficient means to raise learning outcomes. Evaluators have also observed that in its current form, the PPP would be difficult to replicate in average Liberian schools “with sustainable budgets and staffing levels and without negative side-effects on other schools”. Additionally, the evaluators concluded that the improved performance of the schools would also be difficult to sustain owing to the preferential treatment some partnership schools received and the severe shortage of trained teachers in Liberia. The nature of the contracts also emerged questionable with Bridge International Academies, the largest contractor, being allowed to push out excess students or under-performing teachers from their schools. According to the evaluation report, 74% of teachers at Bridge schools were fired and limitations on class size saw reduced enrollment by up to 20 pupils per class.

Our response on these findings shows that this piece of research complements several other independent studies on Bridge that point to its failure. The review elaborates that the results from the evaluation concur with studies on Bridge schools in Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria. In the case of Liberia, Bridge academies achieved limited learning gains despite the fact that they spent much greater sums of money than any other contractors. Also included in the review is a statement with 174 signatories urging investors to halt sponsoring the academies but instead take action in addressing the issues brought forth.


Year Two Allocations

The government has announced the following allocations for PSL providers in Year 2 (2017/18):

Provider Year One New Schools Year Two
Brac 20 13 33
Bridge 25 43 68
LIYONET 4 2 6
More Than Me 6 12 18
Omega Schools 17 2 19
Street Child 12 11 23
Stella Maris 4 2 6
Rising Academies 5 24 29
Total 93 109 202

Key facts on Partnership Schools for Liberia

In Year One of LEAP (formerly PSL) the government contracted eight private actors to manage 93 pre-primary and primary public schools, another 93 schools which remained under government management formed the comparison group.

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  • The schools managed by private actors remain fee-free and non-selective.

  • The LEAP (formerly PSL) has been allocated $15 million over three years in the Education Sector Plan and budget.

  • The LEAP (formerly PSL) budget is $100 per student. The government provides $50 to cover staff salaries, the same amount spent in non-PSL government schools. The remaining $50 is funded by philanthropy. PSL schools spend at least twice as much per student than non-PSL government schools. The $100 per student spend is said to be acceptable by the government as by 2020 it expects to increase its spend to $110 per child.

  • There are concerns on financial sustainability as LEAP schools receive twice as much as non-PSL government schools, additionally private operators have independently secured funding. In total, the private operators’ cost per pupil ranges between $50 – $1, 100.

  • LEAP is funded by foundations and philanthropies, the identity of donors has not been made public.

  • LEAP (formerly PSL) will be externally evaluated through a randomised controlled trial (RCT) which will measure the performance of schools run by the private partners against the control schools which remain under government management.

  • The Government of Liberia has not been receptive to further independent research on the LEAP pilot. Education International and ActionAid commissioned an independent research team from the University of Wisconsin to conduct qualitative research to complement the RCT. Initially the Minister of Education supported this but later support this was withdrawn, preventing researchers from accessing pilot schools. Academics have expressed their concerns at the Minister’s position.

  • ARK, a well-known proponent of PPPs worldwide, is one of the government’s advisers.


Bridge International Academies in Liberia

For more information on BIA, visit:

The position of Bridge in the LEAP (formerly PSL) pilot raises particular concerns. Originally, the Minister of Education, Hon Werner, and President Sirleaf decided to launch a one-year pilot program with Bridge alone. This attracted criticism and the pilot was changed with Bridge operating 50 out of 120 schools under the PPP. Eventually Bridge were allocated 25 schools out of 93, alongside other private operators.

The process suggests Bridge had an advantage early in the PPP, with previous government correspondence and more time than any other provider to prepare for the opening of schools in September 2016.

Bridge may also enjoy financial advantage over other providers as its investors include the International Finance Corporation (IFC), Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the UK Commonwealth Development Corporation, Bill Gates and the Zuckerberg Education Ventures.

Bridge will supply the curriculum.

All teachers currently employed should remain on the civil service payroll, but “teachers who don’t perform well according to Bridge assessments may be removed from their classrooms and given other civil service jobs in the government”.

For the second year of the pilot Bridge has been allocated an additional 43 schools in the LEAP; at 68 schools Bridge is the provider with most schools.

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