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Liberia: Teachers warn against school privatisation

Expanding ‘charter’ scheme will ‘lead to crisis’

EXPANDING primary school privatisation in Liberia will have “grave” consequences, a new report by teachers’ unions warns.

Global union federation Education International will release its scathing report into Education Minister George Werner’s Partnership Schools for Liberia (PSL) scheme in the capital Monrovia today.

PSL has already seen 93 primary and nursery schools outsourced to eight companies over the last year — including Bridge International Academies (BIA), the shack-school outfit bankrolled by world’s richest man Bill Gates.

Another 107 are set to be added this autumn, despite a string of failings in the first cohort of schools, exposed by the National Teachers Association of Liberia (NTAL).

Classes were hugely overcrowded and promised subsidised school dinners were never provided, leading to a high dropout rate.

In a recent article, NTAL president Mary Mulbah wrote that Liberia had been turned into a “battleground” over private education for the poor.

She said the conflict was between “those who see for-profit ‘charter’ schools as the solution to the problems that plague public education across the world, and those of us who point to under-investment and poor management as the true culprits.”

Teachers at one BIA school said they had been paying their NTAL dues but were threatened with the sack after they complained about low wages.

Mr Werner announced the PSL scheme last April. BIA was originally contracted to run all 93 schools, but it was reduced to 25 following protests over anti-corruption laws.

PSL was described as a “pilot” scheme to be independently reviewed before the start of the new school year.

But the Education International report, by the University of Wisconsin in the US, found a “striking lack of transparency and independent evidence in the development of the PSL project.

It “puts increased power in undemocratic, private institutions, that make decisions with little community input and accountability.”

BIA hit the headlines last year after Ugandan Education Minister Janet Museveni closed its chain of 63 schools for failing basic educational and sanitation standards, putting pupils’ health at risk.

The US-owned firm employs unqualified teachers to read scripted lessons off a tablet computer in tin-shack buildings.

BIA also operates in Kenya, with 100,000 pupils, Nigeria and India.

Its financial backers include Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Ebay’s Pierre Omidyar, the Dutch Foreign Ministry and — formerly — Britain’s Department for International Development.

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