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What Happened When Liberia Outsourced Education to Private Sector Educators?

By Wayan Vota on August 13, 2018

liberia schools technology ict4edu

The Partnership Schools for Liberia (PSL) program is a public-private partnership for school management between the Government of Liberia and nine education contractors: Bridge International Academies, BRAC, Omega Schools, Street Child, More than Me, Rising Academies, Youth Movement for Collective Action, and Stella Maris.

As digital development practitioners, we should care about this experiment because Bridge International Academies is a leader in using ICT in education. Bridge uses a custom educational management information system (EMIS) to lead teachers through set lesson plans, assess and test students, and manage student attendance.

How Did Bridge International Academies Perform in Liberia?

In Kenya, Bridge International Academies are well known for training people from the school’s community to be teachers in their schools, bypassing government teaching and accreditation systems and relying on their ICT4Edu solutions to help their recruits become accomplished teachers.

In Liberia they followed this same model, immediately rejecting half of the assigned government teachers and hiring their own. Bridge also capped class sizes, rejecting an average of 20 students per class to get class sizes down to manageable levels.

Neither actions were well received, yet their results are impressive. According to preliminary RCT results from the Center for Global Development, student test scores in English increased by .25 standard deviations, and in Math by .33 standard deviations, representing almost a year in additional schooling. Based on this metric, there is success in Bridge International Academies’ management process and technology usage.

What Was Their Relative Performance?

Of the nine educational service providers hired by the Liberian Ministry of Education, Bridge International Academies did have the highest test scores. However, Rising Academies was close behind, with student test scores in English increased by .25 standard deviations, and in Math by .24 standard deviations.

Even more importantly for a poor country like Liberia, Rising Academies achieved these results while spending just $270 per student vs. Bridge spending $663 per student. Rising achieved almost the same result at almost 1/3 of the cost. This matters when Liberia only spends an average of $50 per student at present.

Teachers Matter More Than Technology

The preliminary results found that roughly half of the overall increase in learning came from improving teacher activity. The number of teachers per school increased by 37% and teachers were 20% more likely to be in school and 16% more likely to be engaged in instruction during class time.

That translates into students in partnership schools spending twice as much time learning each week than in government schools.

This gain in teacher interactions didn’t require technology, just old-fashioned teacher training, resourcing, and management. And these results can scale too. Students in Rising Academies Sierra Leone schools make 3 times as much progress as students in comparable private and government schools year after year.

A stark lesson on what really matters in education, even to committed technologists like myself.

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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of his employer, any of its entities, or any ICTWorks sponsor.
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3 Comments to “What Happened When Liberia Outsourced Education to Private Sector Educators?”

  1. Tasawer Masih says:

    Dear Brothers and Sister in Christ!

    Blessed is he who considers the poor. Yahweh will deliver him in the day of evil. (Psalm 41:1)

    Hosiah Welfare Foundation is register with Social Welfare Department, Sialkot Government of Punjab Pakistan under the Social Services Act 1961 since 2017 and since then we are working with complete dedication, devotion and determination for the uplift of the exploited and marginalized community members living in adverse conditions due to poverty.

    Hosiah Welfare Foundation is managing a School with the name of Hosiah Public School in Sialkot Pakistan and it is working according on the vision of our Lord Savior Jesus Christ! Our Foundation is struggling to provide education to orphan children who are helpless and living in extreme difficult condition.

    Our Foundation main vision and focus is to provide education and moral character building of orphan children so that they could become good Christians and God fearing human beings. Our Foundation has planned to provide education i.e. formal and non formal to 400 orphan children as they are unable to get education on their own and we also have plan to provide them resident facility as well.

    Hosiah Welfare Foundation would like to request you to please join hands with us so that we could provide education and other useful facilities to these orphan children and prepare a force to spread the word of God among the unreached people on this world and to Glorify His Name.

    We will welcome all of you to help us by donations and contributions so that we could provide proper education facilities to orphan children.

    God bless you all abundantly in Jesus Christ name.

    Pastor Boota

  2. Kelly says:

    Impressive results! But what happened to the teachers who were all “rejected” – were they offered any training programs to improve performance or help them meet the required credentials? And what happened to the 20 students per class that were also rejected – were additional teachers hired or classrooms added to accommodate? I’ve worked in rural Liberia and understand the limited resources, and if this model works it would be great to understand if any unintended consequences came along with it.

    • Sandman says:

      Hi Kelly,

      To your questions, the teacher who were rejected were placed in non-Partnership schools. The Partnership chose a few schools based on some predefined criteria and distributed them to partners. The teachers who couldn’t make the cut were essentially the ones whose decided to opt-out, or didn’t have the foundational skills to teach.So the partners recruited teachers who were interested in this program and had the foundation literacy/numeracy skills . The teachers who didn’t make the cut for partnership schools got placed in other public schools. Same for the 20 students per class, if they didn’t get into a partnership school, they went to a neighbourhood school. If you closely look at the data, it was only a small percentage of school where the class sizes were capped( data which doesn’t appear in the report) . The partnership aims to help the ministry define the best practices for improving education system, so it’s not surprising that the partnership essentially screened for teachers with growth mindset and basic skills, provided them with detailed lesson guides, trained them on effective pedagogical techniques and brought in accountability through rigorous monitoring. All cornerstones for great learning in any part of the world!