Ark’s Education Partnerships Group (EPG) is partnering with the Liberian Ministry of Education to design and implement an innovative academy style programme. Partnership Schools for Liberia aims to bring expertise from the non-state sector into the public system to dramatically improve numeracy and literacy outcomes in this fragile post-Ebola post-war West African nation. With 11 organisations applying to take part in the pilot, this programme has the potential to kick start a thriving, competitive education ecosystem in Liberia.
It’s a hot day in Montserrado County, Liberia. Outside a government primary school 30km from Monrovia, the capital city, six-year-old Angelica is sheltering under a tree, protecting herself from the blazing sun. It’s 1pm and school has ended for the day. She has a long walk home but she’s hungry and thirsty, so she is waiting around hoping one of the local eateries will give her leftover food.
Angelica’s attendance at school is good. Her mother wants her daughter to have better life chances than she did, and she knows that education is the best route out of poverty. So she makes sure that Angelica arrives at school on time every day, dressed in her uniform and ready to learn.
But sadly her aspirations for her young daughter are unlikely to be realised. Angelica’s grade two classroom is overcrowded, with more than 70 children crammed on to wooden benches. Her teacher’s attendance is poor: she doesn’t get paid her salary regularly so at least one day a week she takes on other paid work instead. And when she is in class she simply doesn’t have the requisite skills or resources to give her pupils the foundations they need in numeracy and literacy.
Unfortunately, Angelica’s story is not unusual. This is a country where only 58 percent of primary age children go to school, and most of those who do, like Angelica, are getting a poor quality education. Great schools are few and far between. Communities are still suffering from the effects of the Ebola outbreak and economic unrest. Things need to change, and Liberia’s politicians, including President Sirleaf Johnson and Education Minister George Werner, know that fixing the education system needs to be a top priority.
Earlier this year Minister Werner announced Partnership Schools for Liberia. This is a bold new programme, attracting global media attention, that aims to strengthen the education sector by contracting non-government organisations to manage public schools, with commissioning, regulation and quality assurance remaining the role of Government. The pilot programme will launch this September in up to 120 primary schools. It will be rigorously evaluated and, if proven successful, will scale so that more children get a better quality of education.
Since January this year, Ark EPG has been helping the Government to design and implement this ambitious pilot programme. The initial call for applications for organisations interested in participating in the pilot programme closed last month. Encouragingly, 11 non-government organisations applied. Between them they bring education experience from Liberia, West Africa, the wider African continent and beyond. Organisations such as BRAC, with vast experience running schools and education programmes in Africa and South Asia; Stella Maris Polytechnic, a pre-eminent teacher training college in Liberia; and Omega Schools, who run 38 schools and educate over 20,000 children in Ghana. These are organisations who see great value collaborating with the Government to improve their ability to deliver great educational outcomes.
Alain Guy Tanefo, CEO of Omega Schools, said, “we applied because this is a great opportunity for Omega to partner with the Government of Liberia to scale our impact, reach more children, and learn from, through collaboration as well as healthy competition, the other school operators participating in Partnership Schools for Liberia”.
Partnership Schools for Liberia has been designed for the unique context in Liberia, but has also drawn lessons from similar initiatives elsewhere in the world; for example, academies in the UK, charter schools in the US, and Collaboration Schools in South Africa, another Ark EPG project.One such lesson is the benefit of building a market of high performing school operators, who strive to raise educational standards by learning from and competing with each other to achieve better outcomes.
Creating this thriving ecosystem of operators, including the likes of Omega Schools, BRAC and Stella Maris, could have a transformative impact in Liberia. It could give children like Angelica the education they deserve; an education that allows them to achieve their potential.
If you would like to learn more about supporting the work of our Educational Partnerships Group, please contact Sarah Harwood.