Hello from Monrovia!
This summer I was lucky enough to find myself smack in the middle of one of the most interesting, innovative and controversial education issues happening in development today, the initiative known as Partnership Schools for Liberia (PSL).
PSL is a public-private partnership between the Government of Liberia and several private operators, who will assume the management of around 100 public primary schools starting Fall 2016.
The pool of school operators includes both Liberian and international organizations, whose charters range from NGOs to universities to for-profit companies. Their methodologies run the gamut from scripted lessons downloaded on interactive tablets, to educating the “whole student” through a well-trained faculty alert to issues common with Liberian children. However, all are impressive organizations that will surely make significant gains in turning around the failing public schools they are set to inherit.
PSL is as controversial as it is groundbreaking. Critics of the program have been loud and at times quite brutal, demonizing the initiative with scary-sounding buzzwords like: outsource, privatize, and monopoly. The initiative has evoked quite a visceral response from the international community, forcing us into a ask questions like, whose role is it to provide education? How must they provide it? And, what if they can’t? Is the government of Liberia violating children’s rights by exploring creative ways to patch its inability to provide large-scale, quality education in the short term?
Having spent the last several weeks right in the thick of it, my gut says no. Dire situations call for drastic measures, and I really admire the Government of Liberia and Minister of Education George Werner for this brave step. I’ve long believed that we need to start thinking about education as an emergency issue. In emergency situations, we think outside of the box, and we do everything we can to provide what is needed. PSL embodies this thinking.
For me, the question isn’t: is PSL going to have a positive impact on student learning outcomes? The answer to that is an obvious and resounding yes.
The real question is: what does Liberia want its education system to look like in 10 or 30 years? And, while significantly raising the floor on what students will achieve, do some of these private providers’ methodologies also put a ceiling on how much education can improve in Liberia? If that’s the case, then getting out of this partnership is just as important as getting into it.