Education is a public good; recognizing and protecting every child’s right to education should be the policy for all nations. It is the responsibility of the state to provide free and compulsory education for all. A critical eye on public-private partnerships in this area is therefore needed. Education diplomacy is necessary to guide stakeholder processes toward ensuring education for all, establishing new policies and strategies, reaching agreements, and understanding a nation’s interest in providing education through public-private partnerships.
After 14 years of civil war, the education system in Liberia is significantly behind most other nations in the African region. With over 60% of children out-of-school and only 1 in 5 able to read a sentence, Liberia proposed earlier this year that it would take radical steps to improve its failing education system by outsourcing its entire public pre-primary and primary school system to private actors, through a public-private partnership (PPP) called “Partnership Schools for Liberia.” The proposal would have handed schools over to the private for-profit company, Bridge International Academies.
Liberia’s approach to improve its education system met with some heavy criticism. Kishore Singh, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, stated, “The provision of public education of good quality is a core function of the State. Abandoning this to the commercial benefit of a private company constitutes a gross violation of the right to education.”
In an effort to respond to criticism, Liberia engaged in education diplomacy to work with local education leaders and policymakers, along with aid donors, to reevaluate their plans. At this stage, it was crucial to involve multiple actors at various levels to shape a positive policy environment for the future of education in Liberia. As a result of the negotiations, the Liberian Ministry of Education (MOE) changed its original proposal and will, instead, launch this September with fewer schools but include more partners. Private companies and NGOs will run 120 primary schools, with the MOE ultimately responsible for ensuring quality education provision in Liberia. Despite the controversial nature of the program, if it proves to be successful, it will be expanded.
It will be essential to monitor how the involvement of new actors may shape the national education policies, resource distribution, and education quality in Liberia. Education diplomacy efforts will help ensure that the nation’s new education strategy works. Moving forward, the road to solutions for their education challenges will be long for Liberia, and education diplomacy will be necessary to ensure that the nation can deliver education for all, and uphold its international commitments to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and to the fourth UN Sustainable Development Goal (education-related targets). Education Diplomacy will help us understand Liberia’s education processes, and will help bring various stakeholders into discussions that can culminate in an agreement on a way forward.
For more information:
Nadene Ghouri (2016) “Liberia turns to the private sector in controversial overhaul of failing schools,” 8/31/2016, The Guardian
Susannah Hares and Justin Sandefur (2016) “Trying Small: Liberia’s Bold Education Experiment," 8/25/2016, Center for Global Development
Display News: “UN rights expert urges Liberia not to hand public education over to a private company,” United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner