Private sector leaders, philanthropists, and global education advocates recently gathered for an evening dedicated to building partnerships to support primary education in Liberia at the London home of Jamie Cooper, founding Chair and President of Big Win Philanthropy.
“The importance of access to quality education in my country, and in any country, simply cannot be overstated. As I enter the final year of my presidency, one of my top priorities will be to ensure that the education system my administration leaves behind is capable of supporting the next generation,” said President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. According to a dispatch from London, the dinner, co-hosted by Big Win Philanthropy and the Vitol Foundation, with support from UBS Optimus Foundation, provided an opportunity to discuss Liberia’s education sector reform efforts. While now at peace, decades of conflict destroyed approximately 80% of Liberia’s education infrastructure. More recently, the effects of the Ebola Virus Disease further devastated Liberia’s infrastructure and education system. Currently, only 20% of children enrolled in primary school will complete secondary school, and more than half of Liberian youth are illiterate. In recognizing the urgent need for systematic change, the Government of Liberia launched the pilot program Partnership Schools for Liberia (PSL) in 2016 – a one year, government led public-private partnership in education. In September, the PSL pilot program commenced in 94 public primary schools across the country, representing approximately 3% of Liberia’s schools, in partnership with 8implementing partners, including international NGOs, private school operators, and Liberian organizations. All PSL schools remain under government control, and are free of charge for Liberian families. The pilot is being funded by international donors and does not use funds allocated for existing education projects. “Liberia’s current public system cannot address the challenges we are facing alone. With diverse operators from government and non-government sectors in our education system, we can draw from the best practices of both, while still guaranteeing that the government remains ultimately responsible for ensuring every child’s right to education,” said George Kronnisanyon Werner, Liberia’s Minister of Education. “We have to move quickly - we cannot risk failing another generation of children in Liberia,” Minister Werner added. PSL schools have seen a surgein enrollment, even in rural communities. Over 500 new, qualified teachers have been added to payroll, improving student to teacher ratios, and ‘ghost teachers’ are being identified and removed from payroll with a new biometric system. The school day at PSL schools has increased, on average, from 4 to 7 hours, and improvements are being made to monitoring efforts. 47% of PSL students are girls, marking an improvement in gender parity. Progress at PSL schools is being carefully monitored through an external evaluation. If the results are compelling, the pilot will likely become a cornerstone of the Ministry of Education, focusing on providing inclusive, quality education, improving the management of schools, increasing training for teachers, and fully implementing the Liberian National Curriculum, all while ensuring needed improvements to infrastructure are completed, and that teachers and students are equipped with the materials they need to succeed.