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Bridge International publicist wrong on PPPs in education

On September 18, 2017, The Observer published an article titled Partnerships in education: lessons from Liberia by Solomon Serwanjja, the publicist for Bridge International Academies (BIAs), Uganda.

There were inaccuracies in that article that I would like to correct.

In a bid to improve performance in its primary schools, the Liberian government launched a pilot program dubbed the Partnership Schools for Liberia (PSL).

It is a public-private partnership (PPP) for primary schools management, under which government contracted private entities (eight contractors) to operate ninety-three (93) existing public primary and pre-primary schools. PSL schools buildings are owned by government and even the teachers are civil servants.

Contrary to the author’s assertions of private contractors receiving only $50, both the private contractors and government-run schools receive public funding for teachers and maintenance valued at $50 per pupil per year.

The private contractors receive an additional $50 per learner per year from government, making a total of $100 per pupil per year.  They have the authority to decide on what to spend these funds on: teacher training, school inputs, or management personnel.

Still, the author deliberately leaves out the fact that private contractors especially BIA were allocated advantaged government schools with higher quality and quantity of teachers, better infrastructure, and those closer to roads than average Liberian schools.

A recent study of the PSL by the Centre for Global Development reported that private contractors provided additional funding.

The budgets ranged from approximately $57 per pupil for Youth Movement for Collective Action (contractor) to a maximum of $1,050 per pupil in the case of BIAs (later revised down to $663).

These additional resources were provided by the international donors, thus it’s unsustainable funding of the Liberia education sector since the donors can withdraw their funding at any time once it is no longer their priority to fund these schools.   

Despite this investment, pupils in PSL schools were charged school fees contrary to the arrangement of providing free education.

Also, it is not true that the PSL schools just reduced the size of classes as reported in the article but, rather, pushed some pupils out of the schools they were contracted to run. Private contractors, BIA in particular, reduced enrollment by 20 pupils per class in the schools it was assigned.

Most of these pupils were absorbed by nearby traditional public schools. Some teachers in schools under the same contractor faced a similar fate. The study concluded that the program risks becoming too expensive for the Liberian government to sustain.

The pushing of some pupils out of schools for which they were enrolled amounted to exclusion and violation of fundamental rights of children to education, more so the essential elements of the right to education of availability and accessibility.

Most children who were pushed out had to move relatively long distances to access the nearby schools and this act denied them the right to go to a school of their choice.

It is noteworthy that contracting private contractors to run public schools isn’t the solution to achieving high learning outcomes. The same results can be registered in solely public schools once funded adequately.

For the case of Uganda, that the author proposed a PPP arrangement in primary schools, he should be reminded that our education sector started experiencing deterioration in 1993 when government permitted private actors to operate schools as a result of the structural adjustment programs.

This consequently cut public investment in the education sector. This is contrary to the author’s attempt to synonymize efficiency to only private actors, which is fallacious.

Lastly, it would have also been important for the author to inform the general public that the schools he speaks for continue to operate in total contempt and disregard of the country’s education standards, policies and laws.

According to recent statements by the minister of State for Basic Education, Rosemary Seninde before the parliamentary committee on education, BIAs’ operations in Uganda are illegal.

The author is a program officer at Right to Education.

Comments

-3 #1 PSL 2017-10-09 15:45
There are so many factual inaccuracies in your article. It is clear that you know very little about the Partnership Schools for Liberia (PSL) initiative.

• No PSL pupils paid fees. All PSL schools are public schools. Free to parents and children.
• Not all partners received the $50 per pupil subsidy from the Government. All PSL partners worked hard to bring in additional philanthropic donations to support the program. All partners are on track to deliver the forecasted $100 per pupil spend by 2020.

• The Liberian Ministry of Education implemented policies including lengthening the school day; removing illiterate and 'ghost teachers' and introducing a class size gap. All of which have delivered 60% learning gains for Liberian children.

You might find it useful to read Liberian Minister of Education, George Werner’s article responding to the ideological critics of PSL: https://www.devex.com/news/opinion-liberia-s-battle-to-educate-our-next-generation-91202
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0 #2 Person 2017-10-09 20:40
This is in response to the first comment.

1) The article did not state that PSL pupils paid fees, just that each provider is provided an additional amount per student (note this is not the case for a couple of providers who operate under a different contract).

Regardless, the midline RCT report does find that some schools are charging fees.

2) While BIA did not receive the extra 50 USD subsidy they did spend an additional 600 USD per student and applied to get the 50 USD subsidy in January 2017.

3) no one is denying the learning gains seen within these schools. Though there are questions as to whether or not the intervention is cost-effective and sustainable. S

chools in year 1 were not a representative sample of public schools in Liberia. They had better infrastructure, more teachers, and were located closer to roads (this is acknowledge by the RCT team).

Ultimately, it is important that there is open debate about PSL, without rushing to conclusions.
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