In 2013, not a single Liberian student passed the university entrance exam. The harsh reality in Liberia was that schools are operating, but children weren’t learning.

The causes were many — a lack of learning materials, teachers failing to show up to class and inconsistent student attendance were just some.

A radical problem needed a radical solution.

b204db36-7830-43b9-9e63-7e7465f15849_Photo205In early 2016, Education Minister George Werner looked around the world for examples of how to fix a failing education system and embarked upon the Partnership Schools for Liberia initiative, a public-private partnership that seeks to find education providers with a proven record of improving learning outcomes and ask them to turn around up to 120 public primary schools.

Bridge International Academies was selected as the first partner to implement its model in public primary schools beginning in September. The New York Times recently published a piece on the partnership. Author Tina Rosenberg sums up Liberian education in her opening lines:

A girl is more likely to be married by 18 than to know how to read. The last two times the University of Liberia held its entrance exams, 15 students passed — out of some 38,000 who took the test. Only 59 percent of 6-to-11-year-olds are actually in school.

One reason many students stay home is that teachers do, too. George Werner, who has been education minister for a year, has begun a ghost-busting project — firing teachers who either don’t teach or don’t exist.

452d5487-2dcc-499f-be27-84ab5bba76c5_Photo2010In three counties so far, Liberia has removed 2,500 ghost teachers from the payroll.

Background

Bridge Academies, a low-cost school operator, is already operating schools in Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria and India, serving over 100,000 students for about $6 a month. Bridge co-founder Shannon May told the WSJ that Bridge is more cost-effective than state-funded Kenyan schools.

A World Bank study showed the Kenyan teachers taught 2 hours and 40 minutes each day and were absent frequently. Bridge Academies features an eight hour day with very little teacher absenteeism.

What Bridge found was not that teachers didn’t want to be in school and teaching, but that they didn’t have the support and resources to be productive in their roles and see meaningful changes in children. Academic results have been very promising in both reading and math.

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Benjamin Sanvee, Bonnie Lathram and Philippe Sachs.

Our team recently traveled to the National Charter School Conference in Nashville, Tennessee, where we chatted with Philippe Sachs, Global Head of Corporate and Public Affairs and Benjamin Sanvee, Director of Corporate and Public Affairs, Liberia of Bridge International Academies.

We asked Sachs and Sanvee what some of the challenges are and how Bridge aims to create solutions in Liberia. Sanvee said that teachers in partnership schools will be trained in the Bridge model and many are excited and eager to learn a new way of teaching.

“The challenge,” said Sanvee, “is how to take the existing Liberian curriculum and deliver it in a safe powerful classroom where students are learning successfully and are prepared for national exams, college, career and beyond.

“The Bridge model in Liberia has the same goal of Bridge in Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria and India, – to radically improve learning outcomes for children. However, in Liberia, we will be managing public schools in partnership with the Liberian government and the Liberian government will conduct an outcomes study across the full cohort of partners.”

8eb7e445-7266-4de4-8d8c-c9db5f15d945_Photo207The Partnership Schools for Liberia will be free for parents. “We hope to show that the partnership can drive better learning outcomes for children at a manageable operating budget for the Government,” said Sanvee.

“I am a believer in taking strategic and calculated risks because at the end of the day, the entire country knows that the education system is in crisis. The sad thing about that is we used to have a great educational system. It’s so personal to me. This is a social justice issue for me. There is no way we will build our country and create the next generation of leaders with a failing system.

“I am hopeful because The Partnership Schools for Liberia not only helps and supports students, it gives teachers the support and resources they desperately need to do their jobs well. A school is not a school until it’s equipped with the right teachers. I’m hopeful that this will be transformative and people will start to see this is something that is working to make our schools better.”

Creating Powerful Public Schools

01f277c4-d4d5-41a9-b77c-98c16e75d6b1_Photo203“The goal of the Partnership Schools for Liberia is to create powerful public schools,” said Sanvee. “This means schools that are not only teaching children academically, but also encouraging and supporting girls, offering extra-curricular activities, developing skills like leadership and critical thinking and empowering parents to take an active role in their child’s education.”

“In today’s world,” Sachs says, “we are global citizens. I am doing this for my children and for the children in Liberia. If Liberia prospers, my children prosper. We need all children to have the same opportunities to contribute to a stronger and better world.”

This blog is part of our occasional Smart Planet series, where we explore innovations in learning across the globe. Do you have an idea or an organization that we should know about? Use the hashtag #SmartPlanet or consider submitting a guest blog by following our guest blogging procedures and emailing [email protected] with the title “Smart Planet.”

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