Human beings have a unique universal characteristic. We are all almost adverse to change. Though we always want things to be better, but when it comes time to take the necessary steps that would effect those changes that make things better, we tend to shy away.
Perhaps this could explain why there has been a lot of hue and cry over government’s initiative to upgrade the education sector through the outsourcing of primary education to private partners. Of course, tt doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that our education system is in shambles. From the students, parents, school administrators, educators, policy makers and duty bearers, it is nothing knew when we hear the education sector is in need of serious fixing. But where should be start from? With this question, almost everyone agrees that we need a bottom-up approach. Which means we have to attack the problem from the root – in this case, primary education, which is the bedrock of the sector. More than a million of our children are enrolled in primary schools, but most of these schools which are government-run completely lack basic facilities such as latrine, safe drinking water and recreational facilities. Even those who teach our kids at these schools are underpaid and untrained. In a nutshell, our teachers are not equipped to teach our children. We lament the dearth of quality education and when we have a chance to change the situation we tend to pussyfoot. The question that begs answer then is: do we really know what benefits partnership schools bring to the edification sector? Case Studies of Success According to recent World Bank study, the United States is the country with the most experience with contracting out the operation of public schools to the private sector (Hatcher 2006). “There are two kinds of private management of schools in the United States— managed schools and charter schools. The first kind exists when school districts allow Education Management Organizations, for-profit firms authorized to manage schools receiving public funds, to take over public schools, usually failing ones, managed by school districts or charter holders. Managed schools operate in 29 U.S. states and increased from 135 in 1998–99, to 521 in 2005–06 (Molnar et al. 2006). The second kind of private management involves charter schools, which are public schools that have been contracted out to a private operator for management purposes. In 2007–08, there were 4,147 charter schools in 40 U.S. states, up from 253 in 1995–96 (Center for Education Reform 2007). Because of the decentralized nature of the education system in the United States, the degree of autonomy varies by state. In the United Kingdom, academies are independent schools operated by an autonomous private consortium in partnership with the central government and local education stakeholders. The government provides most of the funding for these academies, with the private consortium expected to contribute 20 percent. The academies are free from any regulations imposed by local education authorities regarding education and staffing issues. The consortium can engage in trade (to accumulate funds from private or public sources) to generate profits for the academy (OECD 2004b). The fact that private operators can be for-profit, not-for-profit, or community organizations sets incentives to attract highly qualified organizations to run failing public schools. For instance, in an attempt to diversify the education market, the Qatari government sought to attract a variety of potential operators of independent schools, including foreign education management companies, by allowing them to make a reasonable profit to operate several schools at once to realize economies of scale (Brewer et al. 2007). The Way Forward Perhaps what is needed here in Liberia is an assimilation of the best of both worlds. Partnership schools are evolving. In some countries, governments partner with the best local private institutions in an outsourcing agreement. In other countries, governments seek external outsourcing. Whichever way we decide to go, we should remember that partnership schools are not strange to Liberia. We did it massively from 2003 to 2012 during the DDRR program when government, working with its international development partners, outsourced the social reintegration of majority ex-combatants to private institutions. The issue of monitoring and evaluation, which continues to plague government-run schools, could also be solved with the partnership school scheme. The bottom line of the partnership school program is that those who are affected most by the lack of quality education, especially at the primary level, are the ones to benefit most. “I believe the main issue has been the lack of enough public awareness about this so-called PPP program. Honestly, we all want quality education for our children. If it can be done through partnership schools we are willing to test the system,” says James Kiadii, a resident of Brewerville City and a graduate of the William V.S. Tubman High School in Sinkor during the early 1980s. Like James Kiadii we have to start thinking outside of the box if we really mean to shift the education paradigm for the better.