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Liberia will turn schools over to private operator

Comments (2) Africa, Business, Featured

bridge international academy school

Bridge International Academies, which runs schools in Kenya and Uganda, will pilot a program in Liberia’s troubled school system.

The government of Liberia plans to turn its troubled school system over to a private company, drawing objections from representatives of the United Nations and threats of a strike from the country’s teachers.

Education Minister George Werner said the country would launch a pilot project in September, when 50 of the nation’s 5,000 schools will be taken over by Bridge International Academies, a private company based in Kenya, which also operates schools in Kenya and Uganda.

Werner noted that the Liberian school system has been “in a state of decay for the last three decades.” He said he decided to turn to Bridge after realizing that incremental change by the government would not happen quickly enough for the system to benefit Liberia’s children.

Werner said education would still be free to Liberian students.

High rate of failure on exams

Disrupted by years of war and then the recent Ebola crisis, the school system was labeled “a mess” by Liberia’s president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in 2013 after 25,000 of country’s high school graduates failed their university entrance examination.

After Werner announced the pilot program, Liberian school teachers approved a resolution threatening to strike if the government goes ahead with the plan.

One Monrovia teacher said schools are underperforming in part because of the low teacher salaries the government pays, forcing teacher to take two jobs. Joseph Komoreah said Liberians should be in charge of their education, not an outside company.

Meanwhile, a United Nations official said the plan amounts to a “gross violation” of the Liberian government’s obligation to provide a right to education.

State should run schools, official says

Kinshore Singh, the U.N. special rapporteur on education, call the plan an “attack” on teachers and public schools.

Calling the scale of the plan “unprecedented,” Singh said a public education system is “a core function of the state and abandoning this to the commercial benefit of a private company constitutes a gross violation of the right to education.”

Singh argues Liberia would do better to invest in improving its own education system and could approach the United Nations for assistance.

A Bridge International Academy school

A Bridge International Academy school

Schools lack resources

About 1.5 million are enrolled in Liberia’s primary schools but only about 20 percent of them complete 12th grade. Classrooms are often overcrowded and under supplied, even lacking enough chairs for all the students.

Bridge operates more than 350 schools in Kenya and seven in Uganda, charging each student $6 per month. The World Bank invested $10 million in Bridge International in 2014 and social investors including Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg have also provided funding.

But the company has also been criticized for its teaching methods.

The company calls its approach the “Academy in a box.” Bridge develops teaching materials and delivers lessons to teachers on a tablet they can use in the classroom. Bridge also uses computers to monitor how the students are progressing so educators can intervene if there are issues.

More than 100 organizations object

After it received World Bank funding, more than 100 organizations supported a statement critical of Bridge and the privatization of education in Kenya and Uganda.

A Bridge International spokeswoman said the system enables teachers to give well prepared lessons and uses technology to streamline administrative processes.

She said Bridge pupils had a 22 percent higher pass rate on national exams in 2015 than other students.

In the pilot program, the Liberian government will continue to pay the teachers but Bridge International will vet and supervise them. The company said it is looking for outside funding for the pilot.

If the 2016-17 pilot goes well, Liberia may look for other private education providers to help run its schools.

Bridge International Academies said it is the world’s largest education innovation company with more than 100,000 students in more than 400 nursery and primary schools in Africa. The first Bridge school opened in Nairobi, Kenya in 2009. In addition to its African programs, Bridge is planning to expand into Asia.

Founded in 2007, the company hopes to operate more than 3,000 schools in Kenya, with more than two million students, by 2018. The company wants to reach 10 million students in a dozen countries by 2025 with its own schools or using its model in partner schools.

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Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf: Africa’s First Female Head of State

Comments (0) Africa, Featured, Leaders

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Africa’s first female head of state and the rebuilding of the post-war economy of Liberia.

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Africa’s first female head of state has led a remarkable life; after spending time imprisoned and exiled, she rebuilt her country after a turbulent decade of civil war. In 2010 Newsweek listed her as one of the top ten leaders in the world and in 2014 she was named the 70th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes magazine.

Sirleaf was born in 1938, in Monrovia, Liberia. After marrying at 17, she had a thorough education, which started with her studying at the College of West Africa in 1955. She then moved to the USA and completed her Master of Public Administration in 1971 from Harvard’s prestigious John F Kennedy School of Government. Shortly afterwards, she returned to her homeland.

Driven Twice into Exile

Sirleaf’s return to Liberia was eventful but also troubled. In 1971 she briefly took up office of the Assistant Minister of Finance under William Tolbert before resigning over a disagreement regarding government spending.  She served as Finance Minister from 1979-1980 until the bloody military coup in 1980 where Tolbert and all but four of his ministers were executed by firing squad. She was offered a role under the new leadership but fled the country later that year after publicly criticizing the new regime.

Exile was a frustrating time for Sirleaf; she lived in the USA and Kenya before returning to Liberia for two unsuccessful presidential elections in 1985 and 1997. Times were very hard in Liberia: there was peace for only two years before civil war broke out again, leading to the destruction of much of the infrastructure and a death toll of nearly 200,000. Sirleaf fought with the dictator Charles Taylor, whom she initially supported, and was imprisoned for treason. Fortunately, after international pressure and public outcry she only served seven months of a ten year sentence and was exiled once again from her homeland.

Sirleaf stood for the presidency in a contested general election

Ellen Johnson-SirleafThe end of the civil war in 2003 marked Sirleaf’s return to the country and her rise to real power and prominence. A transitional government was established with Sirleaf serving as Head of the Governance Reform Commission. She then stood for the presidency in the hotly contested general election of 2005. Sirleaf managed to best the popular candidate, footballer George Weah, and secure the leadership. Sirleaf later went on to win a second term in office in 2011. She accepted the Nobel Peace Prize just four days before announcing running for a second term, the timing of which was heavily criticized by her opponents.

During the last decade in power, Sirleaf has been credited with much of Liberia’s recovery. The country she inherited was devastated by a decade of civil war; hospitals had been destroyed, teachers and academics had fled the country and an entire generation had missed out on an education. Agriculture had ground to a halt and basic amenities such as electricity and clean water were not available to many Liberians. Her priority became restoring education, and in 2007 she made education free and compulsory for all elementary aged children.

A “zero tolerance” policy on corruption ineffective

Over the last ten years, Sirleaf has also successfully negotiated the write-off of nearly $5bn in foreign debt, allowing Liberia to borrow again from foreign banks, which has kick-started the economic recovery of one of the most impoverished countries on the planet. However her “zero tolerance” policy on corruption has been criticized for being ineffective, with government corruption still rampant in Liberia.

Her Nobel Peace Prize in 2011, for her dedication to women’s rights, was the culmination of years of fighting for equality at home, and abroad. Sirleaf described it as, “the recognition of my many years of struggle.” Her promotion of tolerance and equality has been a hallmark of her presidency. Despite strong prejudice in West Africa on LGBT issues, Sirleaf has been praised for resisting proposed changes to the law that would criminalize homosexuality further. She stated that, “the status quo in Liberia has been one of tolerance and no one has ever been prosecuted under that [current] law.” Sirleaf has stood almost alone in refusing further criminalization and oppression of the LGBT community, against mounting pressure from the media and Liberian lawmakers.

Liberia still has a long way to go

Despite her best efforts, Liberia still has a long way to go. The Ebola crisis of 2014 illustrated how ill equipped the healthcare system and infrastructure was when faced with such a major outbreak of disease. More people died in Liberia than any other country, amassing a total death toll of over 4,500. Critics have also chastised her for not doing enough to battle unemployment, whilst claiming the restoration of some basic amenities have been lacking in the post-war decade.

After decades of fighting for justice and equality for Liberia, she has spent her presidency re-building a war-torn nation. Whilst she has her critics, few could question her unwavering dedication to the country. She has endured exile, imprisonment, and grave risks to her life for the future of the Liberian people. Liberia still faces many challenges; however its future is undoubtedly brighter as a result of Sirleaf’s leadership and commitment to the nation.

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Exxon Mobil to drill offshore post-Ebola Liberia in 2017

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Latest Updates from Reuters

MONROVIA (Reuters) – Exxon Mobil Corp said it plans to start drilling in Liberia in 2017, in what President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said was a sign of economic recovery after the Ebola epidemic.

The West African country produces no oil but has awarded a number of exploration blocs offshore, following the examples of Gulf of Guinea neighbours Ghana and Nigeria.

Exxon Mobil intends to start drilling late 2017, Steven Buck, its country manager for Liberia and Ivory Coast, said. The U.S. oil major signed for bloc 13 in 2003 but put the project on hold due to the Ebola epidemic.

The worst known outbreak of the haemorrhagic fever killed 4,800 people in the country and deterred investors. Liberia was declared Ebola-free in September but Johnson Sirleaf has said it will take two years to regain its economic footing.

“I am very excited to see Exxon Mobil here,” she said on Thursday after a meeting with Buck. “Their presence demonstrates to the world that Liberia is once more on the move.”

The United States has lifted economic sanctions on Liberia that it had put in place against former president Charles Taylor, who is serving a 50-year sentence for atrocities committed in Sierra Leone during its civil war.


(Reporting by Alphonso Toweh; Writing by Emma Farge and Makini Brice, editing by William Hardy)


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