Sunday, April 03, 2016

Privatizing education in Liberia?

The date seems wrong; I expected to see 1-April.

But it seems to be real: Bridge International Academy may be taking over elementary education in Liberia.

The approach seems to be: large classrooms, teachers reading from scripts prepared for the group. I gather they incorporate testing and "teacher" (5 week training) evaluation as well. Cost/pupil $6/term.

Bridge’s model is “school in a box” – a highly structured, technology-driven model that relies on teachers reading standardised lessons from hand-held tablet computers. Bridge hires education experts to script the lessons, but the teacher’s role is to deliver that content to the class. This allows Bridge to hold down costs because it can hire teachers who don’t have college degrees – a teacher is only required to go through a five-week training programme on how to read and deliver the script.

They seem to be doing this already in Kenya and Uganda.

This sort of thing makes me itchy: one size fits all, centralized, not sure about transparency.

In addition, the programs have to be assembled for pupils speaking a dozen languages. I'd also wonder about how the company plans to enforce its rules: if (e.g.) a teacher takes a couple of months off, how do they find out dash the supervisor small and what can the company do about it if they find do find out?

Two things suggest that this might be a good idea anyway.

  1. The Ebola outbreak was the last straw for Liberia's never great primary education system (they had a civil war, too).(*) This program can't be very good, but it could easily be an improvement, helping a larger fraction of the youngsters get an education than otherwise.
  2. The government is handling the school fees, which are a big issue for poor families. Of course there may be incidental expenses that are still burdensome, and the money the government is spending has to come from somewhere. Roads, electricity, and clean water are also kind of important too.

I hope this works.

(*) A few schools were OK, but most kids didn't get much of an education, and the teachers often didn't have much education themselves.

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