Liberia giving school oversight to American group

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) — Liberia plans to outsource the oversight of its entire primary education sector to a U.S.-based, for-profit company that is linked to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, education officials say.

Bridge International Academies, which has received $10 million from Zuckerberg and his wife, will be responsible for monitoring and evaluation, though Liberian teachers will remain in the country's classrooms.

Education Minister George Werner said "radical" steps are needed to improve schools in Liberia, which struggled with the legacy of civil war even before Ebola left nearly 5,000 dead here and forced schools to close for months.

"Our country is not competitive educationally," Werner told "New Dawn," a popular Monrovia radio talk show. "This doesn't mean that our children are not bright; the system is failing them."

A few years back President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf went so far as to describe the educational system in Liberia as "a mess" after all 25,000 students failed the entrance exams for the University of Liberia.

Under the new program, Liberian teachers will have to be properly vetted and deemed qualified to justify their inclusion to teach, Werner said.

Bridge International Academies says a girl in Liberia currently is more likely to get married than to be able to read by the age of 18. Their program will "give good teachers the support and resources they need to become great teachers.

"The only aim of the partnership is to provide Liberian children with the quality education they deserve. An education that engages their hearts and minds, that enables them to gain employment, start Liberian businesses and to be the successful leaders that the Liberian people need," the group said in a statement.

Some educators, though, say the government should focus on improving salaries and other improvements before handing over responsibilities for monitoring and evaluation to a for-profit group.

Teacher Joseph Komoreah, a teacher called the move "a shame," and said more incentives should be provided to educators.

"Liberians need to take ownership of our own education," he said.

Werner counters that working with Bridge is the best way to obtain the objectives.

"The people who are giving Bridge money to do this pilot in Liberia will not give the money to the Liberian government," he says.

A pilot program for the first year will focus on 3 percent of the more than 5,000 government primary schools. If it is successful, officials say the entire school system would be covered within five years' time.

Bridge International Academies launched in Kenya in 2009, and also is working with schools in Uganda and Nigeria.