Liberia and the End of Teaching

Replacing teachers with tablets and profit

My recent post on Liberia’s outsourcing of its education to a for-profit US corporation supported by the likes of Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and the UK’s DFID drew an enormous amount of attention but there’s more.

credit: World Economic Forum

I reached out via LinkedIn to Shannon May, co-founder, chief development officer and chief strategy officer, from Bridge International Academies who won the contract to essentially replace school teachers with content delivery technicians using scripted education via tablet computers.

“Hi Shannon
Thanks for connecting.
As you may know I published my concerns about the Liberia project. Naturally there is nothing personal in this nor an attack on Bridge — I think ultimately this is a tough situation for Liberia.
By all means feel welcome to add your comments or thoughts to the discussion as I think it raises important issues & you may have an alternative and valuable point of view. I certainly would like to understand more about the circumstances, delivery and future plans that might build teaching capacity.
Very best Graham”

The reply was quite astonishing.

First, despite me reaching out, May complained that I hadn’t reached out before publishing my article. May claimed that the source of my concerns, the Mail & Guardian Africa, was:

“factually incorrect in just about everything it states”.

Apparently, May continued, the project is:

“simply a charter school program, where hundreds, possibly thousands of different school management organizations will be contracted to turn-around failing public schools, strengthening the public system, be measured on performance, and deliver outcomes for children, and the country.”

May seems to forget that charter schools in the US aren’t allowed to operate for profit although is fine with making a tidy profit from the worlds most vulnerable nations.

May then directed me to what Harry Patrinos from the World Bank calls the critical 6 A’s of education:

Yes, the same World Bank that Oxfam recently criticised for its tax haven links to firms investing in Africa estimating that:

“developing countries lose at least $100 billion a year because of corporate tax-dodging”.

For the record that is half of the African debt to the World Bank & other “concerned” global loan sharks.

One has to wonder if money loaned to Liberia by the World Bank after its civil war and ebola crisis is simply being returned to for-profit US edubusinesses with interest in a perverse kind of insidious circular economy that continues to subjugate the African continent.

As they say, “follow the money”.

May then lambasts me and other critical media for:

“jumping to conclusions” when it “would be so much more productive for supporting the Ministry to make wise and informed decisions based on what has proven to support children’s learning, if everyone was willing to consider the context and goals of the Ministry, and engage in a real dialogue on the core issues.”

May then signed off saying that:

“If you were open to re-writing your post after learning about the actual program the Ministry is doing, I’d take the time to talk with you about it.”

One has to admire May’s chutzpah which she no doubt learned studying social studies at Harvard before becoming a financial analyst at Morgan Stanley.

Closer to my home in the UK my original post scored quite a bit of traffic on Twitter where former Barclays Capital director, Susannah Hares, now Ark’s head of strategy and operations in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe, leapt to the defence of the Liberian project.

My interest piqued I asked Hares what approach Ark would use with such a project to which she replied:

So, “quelle surprise” when a leaked document appeared online indicating Ark’s proposal to Liberia that showed their evident interest in profiting from Liberia’s misfortunes.

Quite ironic given that Ark, a UK academy chain, is described as a “trust”. Perhaps a bit like calling a cruise missile a “Peacekeeper”.

Interestingly, former UK Education Minister, David Laws was recently appointed as Ark’s International Advisor. But given that he was cleared by the UK’s Conservative government to take the post even after receiving a £15,000 bung from hedge fund banker Paul Marshall, a founding trustee of Ark, to help his failed election campaign I can only assume there is no conflict of interest.

Expect a more detailed report on Ark in a future post but in the meantime this detailed analysis of the Liberian project courtesy of The Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights is highly illuminating.

Watch this space…

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An entertaining & thought provoking slayer of sacred cows, Graham Brown-Martin works globally with senior leadership teams to help organisations adapt in the face of rapid change & innovation. By challenging entrenched thinking he liberates teams to think in new ways to solve complex challenges. His book Learning {Re}imagined is published by Bloomsbury and he is represented for speaking engagements via Wendy Morris at the London Speakers Bureau.