Low-cost Private School Initiatives in Liberia

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8th Feb 2020 Education Reference this

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There is a lot of research documenting the expansion of education in various sub-Saharan school sectors exceptionally Liberia. These so-called private schools have catered to the demands and needs of poor families, especially for non-state educational services. Private schools are educating a significant number of students in primary, secondary as well as tertiary levels of education in sub-Saharan Africa. (Dixon, Humble, & Tooley, 2017). As a result of the growing impact, these private sectors have on the society, there has been growing need on the Liberian government, donors, as well as other international development agencies such as USAID, to include and support such schools in the national education system given Liberia is still emerging from a prolonged and brutally destructive period of civil unrest, long-standing impacts from the war, compounded by the 2015 school closure due to the Ebola Viral Disease (EVD) outbreak. There have been debates over the increasing privatization of education in the Sub-Saharan population (Steiner-Khamsi & Draxler, 2018). As a result, various proponents have considered private schooling as being more efficient, effective, compared to public schooling in contemporary African settings.

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In September 2016, the Liberian Ministry of Education allowed private-school operators to run 93 public schools, known as “partnership schools,” in a project called “Partnership Schools in Liberia” (Shakeel, 2018). These public-private partnerships are assumed to improve the entire educational sector in Liberia. It is no doubt that low-cost private schools are considered to reach very disadvantaged children in various developing countries and thus extending overall access to education. (Dixon et al., 2017). The announcement was met with extensive national and international criticism, including from the United Nations Special Rapporteur to the Right to Education, Dr. Kishore Singh, who called the move a violation of “Liberia’s legal and moral obligations,” and a “gross violation of the right to education” (Hook,2017).                                                                              Some argued that private schools may not educate children in the wide interest of the public and thus may impede overall democratic control of the status of education as a public good. As a result, the partnership has continued to receive a lot of attention. As a new immigrant, born and raised in a lower-middle-class family in Uganda, affordable private schools were my main source of education and thus I found it interesting to learn more about low-cost private school initiatives in Liberia and their impact on a system that lagged behind most of the world in both access and quality.

 

Privatization has a long history in Liberia, a country that was founded as a colony by the great American Colonization Society (ACS) predominantly for former slaves in 1822 (Hook, 2017). Notably, these people were believed to have repatriated to Africa. In essence, together with the African Americans, they settled in the vast Liberian society and stayed amongst the 17 socio-cultural groupings. The minority called the Americo-Liberians set up a rather dualistic system that was dominated politically by the famous True Whig Party at the time (TWP) (Hook, 2017). In this sense, they also came up with separate economic, social, and political institutions with an aim of promoting their own interest as well as domination. As a result, local people failed to benefit from the social amenities some of which were schools.

The Americo-Liberians set up various schools that would cater to their own children with the overall aim of perpetuating the economic and political dominance at the time. Notably, this forced indigenous children to attend institutions such as the poor (boys) as well as sande (girls) ‘schools’ that were operating outside of the known formal educational system (Hook, 2017). This resulted in exclusion and marginalization in education and thus added to the existing resentment fostering fragility (Hope & Hall, 2018).  To date, there have been various attempts to eliminate domination by the elite Liberian society. Many of these attempts emerged as unsuccessful resulting in riots and protests that culminated into a military coup in the country.

It is therefore clear that privatization of schools started long before and the current state of Liberia’s education system is as a result of colonial and imperialistic activities.

Today, several government initiatives were put in place to provide more access to educational services to all children in Liberia especially the most disadvantaged. These include the Liberian Primary Education Recovery Program (LPERP) and the interim poverty reduction strategy (iPRS) (Klees, 2018).

While there have been debated issues regarding Public-Private Partnerships (PPP), the notion of low-cost private schooling has received different perceptions. In this light, most low-income families now prefer sending their children to these schools given the fact that they are affordable yet provide quality education. The most impacted groups were the indigenous people unlike the elite in the Liberian societal settings. It is not strange that the contemporary Liberian society is filled with private schools all over despite the fact there are emerging trends to provide a low-cost alternative of the private schools (Klees, 2018). Due to the support that the private schools have been receiving in the Liberian community, the gap between those attending public and private schools is increasing rapidly.

 

Primarily, there are enormous researches on the overall prevalence and operation of low-cost private schools in Liberia. According to Alderman et al. (2015), poor parents are fond of sending their children to different schools’ management types. This result reveals that many of the Sub-Saharan countries, as well as India, have opted for low-cost private schools (Baum, Cooper, & Lusk-Stover, 2018). This shows that parents in developing countries are making choices on where to educate their children.

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Some researchers have drawn the connection between wealth and the overall likelihood of children attending school management types. According to findings by the West African Examination Council, children who come from wealthy families are in a position of accessing private as well as religious schools where the standardized tests are considered are to be stronger than those from the government schools (Gove, Korda, & Piper, 2017). The fact that a family is rich reduces the chances of a child attending a government school in the Sub-Saharan county (Romero, Sandefur, & Sandholtz, 2017). Research also indicated that older children are more likely to attend governmental provided education compared to their counterparts. According to some parents, their main consideration of taking their children to public schools have been the fact that it is close to their homes compared to private schools in urban centers. Additionally, parents preferred private schools in developing countries such as Ghana and Kenya since their children received better care including health care compared to the government schools which cared less about the health of children in schools.

 

Following the increasing gap between private and public schools, the Liberian government came up with various initiatives to make private schools cheaper. This was done through the introduction of low-cost private schooling programs such as Partnership Schools for Liberia (PSL). Liberia’s Ministry of education delegated the management of close to ninety-three government schools to various private institutions that range from local non-profit institutions to for-profit multinational organizations such as Ymca, Omega, Rising Academy among others to combat the high demand for private schools: approximately half of all enrolled K-12 students attended non-public (private, mission and community) schools (shakeel, 2018). Schools were made free to parents; selective criteria in the admission of students are highly prohibited; while teachers got their salary from the central government of Liberia. On average, the aspects of partnership schooling have in a huge way improved the teaching and learning process and this increases educational outcomes. While some schools had better facilities before the implementation of the policy, it is yet to be seen if there would be more of the same replicated in disadvantaged areas without raising the cost of education as stipulated by Partnership Schools of Liberia (PSL).

This policy works through the cooperation between the public and private sectors thus providing interactions with local, regional, national government, and intergovernmental institutions (Humble & Dixon, 2017). However, various critics have argued that their engagement with for-profit institutions is likely to aggravate the level of inequality undermining democratic accountability, reducing transparency, and this may cease to be a cost-effective initiative as intended. Inspite of being in its early stages, PSL has led to various learning gains yet it’s still in its initial stages. What I would recommend for any emerging issues is to establish a sustainable system that is cost effective with an aim of improving educational outcomes.

 

In conclusion, it is evident that the low-cost educational system has become a contemporary issue in many developing countries, particularly in Liberia. Consequently, many countries have set up an initiative to make sure that there is efficiency, equality, and quality in the educational services provided. While elite individuals in the Liberian community have opted to take their children in private schools, based on available research outcomes, PSL has positively impacted number growing countries like Liberia that choose to be receptive to foreign assistance. This assignment and course materials have widened my overall understanding of education as a development tool , in this case in Liberia.

References

There is a lot of research documenting the expansion of education in various sub-Saharan school sectors exceptionally Liberia. These so-called private schools have catered to the demands and needs of poor families, especially for non-state educational services. Private schools are educating a significant number of students in primary, secondary as well as tertiary levels of education in sub-Saharan Africa. (Dixon, Humble, & Tooley, 2017). As a result of the growing impact, these private sectors have on the society, there has been growing need on the Liberian government, donors, as well as other international development agencies such as USAID, to include and support such schools in the national education system given Liberia is still emerging from a prolonged and brutally destructive period of civil unrest, long-standing impacts from the war, compounded by the 2015 school closure due to the Ebola Viral Disease (EVD) outbreak. There have been debates over the increasing privatization of education in the Sub-Saharan population (Steiner-Khamsi & Draxler, 2018). As a result, various proponents have considered private schooling as being more efficient, effective, compared to public schooling in contemporary African settings.

In September 2016, the Liberian Ministry of Education allowed private-school operators to run 93 public schools, known as “partnership schools,” in a project called “Partnership Schools in Liberia” (Shakeel, 2018). These public-private partnerships are assumed to improve the entire educational sector in Liberia. It is no doubt that low-cost private schools are considered to reach very disadvantaged children in various developing countries and thus extending overall access to education. (Dixon et al., 2017). The announcement was met with extensive national and international criticism, including from the United Nations Special Rapporteur to the Right to Education, Dr. Kishore Singh, who called the move a violation of “Liberia’s legal and moral obligations,” and a “gross violation of the right to education” (Hook,2017).                                                                              Some argued that private schools may not educate children in the wide interest of the public and thus may impede overall democratic control of the status of education as a public good. As a result, the partnership has continued to receive a lot of attention. As a new immigrant, born and raised in a lower-middle-class family in Uganda, affordable private schools were my main source of education and thus I found it interesting to learn more about low-cost private school initiatives in Liberia and their impact on a system that lagged behind most of the world in both access and quality.

 

Privatization has a long history in Liberia, a country that was founded as a colony by the great American Colonization Society (ACS) predominantly for former slaves in 1822 (Hook, 2017). Notably, these people were believed to have repatriated to Africa. In essence, together with the African Americans, they settled in the vast Liberian society and stayed amongst the 17 socio-cultural groupings. The minority called the Americo-Liberians set up a rather dualistic system that was dominated politically by the famous True Whig Party at the time (TWP) (Hook, 2017). In this sense, they also came up with separate economic, social, and political institutions with an aim of promoting their own interest as well as domination. As a result, local people failed to benefit from the social amenities some of which were schools.

The Americo-Liberians set up various schools that would cater to their own children with the overall aim of perpetuating the economic and political dominance at the time. Notably, this forced indigenous children to attend institutions such as the poor (boys) as well as sande (girls) ‘schools’ that were operating outside of the known formal educational system (Hook, 2017). This resulted in exclusion and marginalization in education and thus added to the existing resentment fostering fragility (Hope & Hall, 2018).  To date, there have been various attempts to eliminate domination by the elite Liberian society. Many of these attempts emerged as unsuccessful resulting in riots and protests that culminated into a military coup in the country.

It is therefore clear that privatization of schools started long before and the current state of Liberia’s education system is as a result of colonial and imperialistic activities.

Today, several government initiatives were put in place to provide more access to educational services to all children in Liberia especially the most disadvantaged. These include the Liberian Primary Education Recovery Program (LPERP) and the interim poverty reduction strategy (iPRS) (Klees, 2018).

While there have been debated issues regarding Public-Private Partnerships (PPP), the notion of low-cost private schooling has received different perceptions. In this light, most low-income families now prefer sending their children to these schools given the fact that they are affordable yet provide quality education. The most impacted groups were the indigenous people unlike the elite in the Liberian societal settings. It is not strange that the contemporary Liberian society is filled with private schools all over despite the fact there are emerging trends to provide a low-cost alternative of the private schools (Klees, 2018). Due to the support that the private schools have been receiving in the Liberian community, the gap between those attending public and private schools is increasing rapidly.

 

Primarily, there are enormous researches on the overall prevalence and operation of low-cost private schools in Liberia. According to Alderman et al. (2015), poor parents are fond of sending their children to different schools’ management types. This result reveals that many of the Sub-Saharan countries, as well as India, have opted for low-cost private schools (Baum, Cooper, & Lusk-Stover, 2018). This shows that parents in developing countries are making choices on where to educate their children.

Some researchers have drawn the connection between wealth and the overall likelihood of children attending school management types. According to findings by the West African Examination Council, children who come from wealthy families are in a position of accessing private as well as religious schools where the standardized tests are considered are to be stronger than those from the government schools (Gove, Korda, & Piper, 2017). The fact that a family is rich reduces the chances of a child attending a government school in the Sub-Saharan county (Romero, Sandefur, & Sandholtz, 2017). Research also indicated that older children are more likely to attend governmental provided education compared to their counterparts. According to some parents, their main consideration of taking their children to public schools have been the fact that it is close to their homes compared to private schools in urban centers. Additionally, parents preferred private schools in developing countries such as Ghana and Kenya since their children received better care including health care compared to the government schools which cared less about the health of children in schools.

 

Following the increasing gap between private and public schools, the Liberian government came up with various initiatives to make private schools cheaper. This was done through the introduction of low-cost private schooling programs such as Partnership Schools for Liberia (PSL). Liberia’s Ministry of education delegated the management of close to ninety-three government schools to various private institutions that range from local non-profit institutions to for-profit multinational organizations such as Ymca, Omega, Rising Academy among others to combat the high demand for private schools: approximately half of all enrolled K-12 students attended non-public (private, mission and community) schools (shakeel, 2018). Schools were made free to parents; selective criteria in the admission of students are highly prohibited; while teachers got their salary from the central government of Liberia. On average, the aspects of partnership schooling have in a huge way improved the teaching and learning process and this increases educational outcomes. While some schools had better facilities before the implementation of the policy, it is yet to be seen if there would be more of the same replicated in disadvantaged areas without raising the cost of education as stipulated by Partnership Schools of Liberia (PSL).

This policy works through the cooperation between the public and private sectors thus providing interactions with local, regional, national government, and intergovernmental institutions (Humble & Dixon, 2017). However, various critics have argued that their engagement with for-profit institutions is likely to aggravate the level of inequality undermining democratic accountability, reducing transparency, and this may cease to be a cost-effective initiative as intended. Inspite of being in its early stages, PSL has led to various learning gains yet it’s still in its initial stages. What I would recommend for any emerging issues is to establish a sustainable system that is cost effective with an aim of improving educational outcomes.

 

In conclusion, it is evident that the low-cost educational system has become a contemporary issue in many developing countries, particularly in Liberia. Consequently, many countries have set up an initiative to make sure that there is efficiency, equality, and quality in the educational services provided. While elite individuals in the Liberian community have opted to take their children in private schools, based on available research outcomes, PSL has positively impacted number growing countries like Liberia that choose to be receptive to foreign assistance. This assignment and course materials have widened my overall understanding of education as a development tool , in this case in Liberia.

References

  • Hope, M. A., & Hall, J. J. (2018). This feels like a whole new thing’: a case study of a new LGBTQ-affirming school and its role in developing ‘inclusions. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 1-13.
  • Baum, D. R., Cooper, R., & Lusk-Stover, O. (2018). Regulating the market entry of low-cost private schools in Sub-Saharan Africa: Towards a theory of private education regulation. International Journal of Educational Development, 60, 100-112.
  • Dixon, P., Humble, S., & Tooley, J. (2017). How School Choice is framed by Parental Preferences and Family Characteristics: A Study in Poor Areas of Lagos State, Nigeria. Economic Affairs, 37(1), 53-65.
  • Gove, A., Korda Poole, M., & Piper, B. (2017). Designing for scale: Reflections on rolling out reading improvement in Kenya and Liberia. New directions for child and adolescent development, 2017(155), 77-95.
  • Hook, T. (2017). Partnership Schools for Liberia: a critical review. Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education, 50(1), 237-467
  • Humble, S., & Dixon, P. (2017). School choice, gender and household characteristics: Evidence from a household survey in a poor area of Monrovia, Liberia. International Journal of Educational Research, 84, 13-23.
  • Klees, S. J. (2018). Liberia’s experiment with privatizing education: a critical analysis of the RCT study. Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education, 48(3), 471-482.
  • Longfield, D., & Tooley, J. (2017). School choice and parental preferences in a poor area of Monrovia. International Journal of Educational Development, 53, 117-127.
  • Romero, M., Sandefur, J., & Sandholtz, W. A. (2017). Can Outsourcing Improve Liberia’s Schools. Preliminary Results from Year One of a Three-Year Randomized Evaluation of Partnership Schools for Liberia Working Paper, 462(9), 7.
  • Verger, A., Steiner-Khamsi, G., & Lubienski, C. (2017). The emerging global education industry: analysing market-making in education through market sociology. Globalisation, Societies and Education, 15(3), 325-340.
  • Steiner-Khamsi, G., & Draxler, A. (Eds.). (2018). The State, Business and Education: Public-Private Partnerships Revisited. Edward Elgar Publishing.
  • Tooley, J. (2015). Low-cost private schools: Controversy and implications concerning EFA-debate. ZEP: Zeitschrift für internationale Bildungsforschung und Entwicklungspädagogik, 38(2), 22-26.

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