Education is frequently hyped as the key to Africa’s problems. Yet the status of education sectors is dismal in several African countries. For example, Kenya was recently rocked by a scandal wherein teachers leaked exams using social media. With its 14 year civil war and the just contained Ebola outbreak, Liberia’s education sector has not fared much better. Now, the Liberian government has come up with a novel way to address education in a new approach.  

 

Liberia will not only privatise but outsource all its nursery and primary education to Bridge International Academies, a company based in the United States with roots in Silicon Valley. First, the Liberian government will launch a pilot with 50 public schools this year; over five years, the programme will then be fully implemented, however it eventually plans to start exit by September 2017. Announced by the Liberian Minister of Education George Werner, this approach has garnered opposition and criticism.

 

 

On one hand, the United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Kishore Singh on commenting on the programme has accused Liberia of shirking its legal and moral duties in education. On the other hand, Bridge has faced criticism in the past from teacher unions in countries that it has established its programmes in who have argued that Bridge leads to fewer jobs for trained teachers and undermines the public education system.

 

To get a clearer idea on who Bridge International Academies is, they are a self-styled education innovation company focused on education for low-income families that live on less than $2 in Africa and Asia. Bridge provides a technology-driven model of education that relies on standardised lessons where students use hand-held tablets and smartphones. A teacher exists to guide and deliver content in classes but because of the technology, teachers do not have to possess university degrees. Bridge charges students $6 each term and manages to keep costs low by training teachers themselves, keeping large classes and building modest school structures.

 

Bridge already has schools in Nigeria, Kenya, and Uganda, but Liberia is the first to completely transfer management of both nursery and primary systems to the firm. This may be the largest privatisation attempt in Africa in recent history.

 

Does Bridge’s private interests prevent it from providing good public education? Is Liberia’s government shirking its duties? Share your thoughts in a comment below or on Twitter @rafeeeeta