Local and international experts have planned to fight tooth and nails to ensure that a plan by the Government of Liberia to outsource all primary education here to a private company do not push through.
Liberia’s plan is to privatise all primary and pre-primary schools over the next five years. Public funding will support services subcontracted to a private company – the Bridge International Academies, a company incorporated in the United States under the name New Globe School Inc.
Already the Liberian Government through Education Minister George Werner has signed a Memorandum of Understanding or MOU with the Bridge International Academies to kick start the process-a pilot project is said to be ongoing with 70 schools.
The cash scrap government of Liberia is expected to spend around US430 million over the five years period. There is also a question as to whether the PPCC rules were followed in awarding such contract to Bridge International Academies.
International and local experts say such arrangement is not only a blatant violation of Liberia’s international obligations under the right to education, and have no justification under Liberia’s constitution, but will also deny indigents and poor access to quality education.
Mrs. Hester Williams Katakaw is the Proprietress of the Levi Williams School System and a former deputy education minister for instruction under President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s first term. She says education stakeholders here will not allow such arrangement to push through.
“We will resist it and make sure that it does not go through at the National Legislature”, Mrs. Williams Katakaw told this paper Wednesday. She says government has a responsibility to ensure that all children here are educated and that pushing such responsibility on a foreign firm is not in the best interest of Liberian children.
Mrs. Katakaw questions the performance of Bridge International in other countries saying, “they have failed miserably in other countries and we are not going to allow them to come do the same here”. She says Liberian children at those tender ages should be educated by Liberian teachers and not foreigners.
Education Minister Werner appears very defensive on this arrangement. In his letter dated March 3, 2016 addressed to the Secretary General of the National Teachers’ Association of Liberia or NTAL, Mr. Samuel Y. Johnson, Sr. following the launched of a pilot project involving 70 schools, he said the pilot project is a private partnership and not privatization.
“…I must correct your characterization of the pilot as privatization, and somehow threatening the provision of free education. As we have communicated to your members including at the January meeting, the pilot will not involve any privatization of education…”
However, following this communication an agreement was entered into with Bridge International. When this paper contacted officials at the Ministry of Information Wednesday, its Communications Director Maxim Bleteen handed copies of the minister’s letter to the NTAL saying the minister had requested him to give a copy to any reporter seeking information on the privatization deal.
He claimed that the letter addressed the issue of the Public Procurement Concession Commission rules but nothing of such was mentioned. “It is completely unacceptable for Liberia to outsource its primary education system to a private company”, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Kishore Singh said Tuesday in Geneva.
“This is unprecedented at the scale currently being proposed and violates Liberia’s legal and moral obligations,” he said. “Such arrangements are a blatant violation of Liberia’s international obligations under the right to education, and have no justification under Liberia’s constitution,” the Special Rapporteur stated.
“This also contradicts political commitments made by Liberia and the international community to the fourth UN Sustainable Development Goal which is on education and related targets.” He cautions that public schools and their teachers, and the concept of education as a public good, are under attack with such arrangements.
“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,” Mr. Singh emphasized.
The human rights expert noted that “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.”
“These sums could be much better spent on improving the existing system of public education and supporting the educational needs of the poor and marginalized,” the Special Rapporteur suggested. Mr. Singh called on the Government of Liberia to approach the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for technical assistance and capacity building, instead of entering into such partnerships with for-profit providers in education, “devoid of any legal or moral justification.”
“Before any partnership is entered into, the Government of Liberia must first put into place legislation and policies on public private partnerships in education, which among other things, protect every child’s right to education,” Mr. Singh said.
“There also needs to be an independent body or institution established to receive complaints of potential violations of the right to education that might result from this development,” he added. The Special Rapporteur emphasized that “education is an essential public service and instead of supporting business in education, governments should increase the money they spend on public educational services to make them better.”
In a letter addressed to President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf dated March 21, 2016, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC-Africa) called on president Sirleaf to halt the planned outsourcing of primary education here.
“…this policy will seriously undermine the right to educate and eclipse opportunities for indigent and poor individuals, families and communities to use education to claw out of poverty and hardship,” the letter signed by Kwasi Adu -Amankwah, ITUC-Africa General Secretary said .
The ITUC-Africa (www.ituc-africa.org) is a Pan African trade union organisation representing over 17 million workers in 49 African countries, including Liberia. In its letter ITUC-Africa further stated “ITUC-Africa is supporting and strongly reiterating the calls by the National Teachers’ Association of Liberia (NTAL) and the Educational International (EI) urging your government to halt the proposed measure to outsource Liberia’s primary education system to private for-profit actors.”
“ITUC-Africa therefore urges Madam President to use her good offices and goodwill to stay action on the implementation of this policy,” the union added. The PPCC Director of Communications Nathan Bangu promised to return a call requesting information on as to whether Minister Werner got the PPCC barking before signing an MOU with Bridge International Academies.