A brighter future for the children of Liberia

Marcus Wleh
Aug 8, 2017 · 4 min read

Thanks to the vision and determination of Liberia’s President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the children of Liberia now have hope for a better education and a better future. For the first time, there is now concrete evidence that the hopes of the Liberian government are translating directly into better learning gains for children.

The Liberian Ministry of Education’s Partnership Schools for Liberia (PSL) initiative is a revolutionary undertaking to transform education in the country and has the eyes of the world watching. The pilot program has eight independent operators helping the government to manage and improve a small selection of government schools. The initiative is just coming to the end of its first year and planning is underway for year two.

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Bridge Partnership Schools for Liberia (Bridge PSL) pupils at school.

The core of the program is one of partnership. Designed as a multi-partner program, PSL draws on the strength and experience of many organisations to deliver a better education to thousands of children. As the initiative was originally announced, President Sirleaf outlined her “new education sector strategy to leverage public private partnerships to improve public schools, focusing on such lasting solutions, anchored in a partnership that crosses boundaries and makes the unimagined a possibility.” She argued that, “real education should be a basic human right for generations of Liberian and, indeed, the world’s children.”

Now, for the first time, evidence has been released showing that the program is working and that stronger learning gains are being delivered. Learning in Liberia has been published by the Liberian Ministry of Education, Pencils of Promise, a professor of education at the University of Liberia and Bridge PSL. The Liberian Minister for Education, George Werner, has called the results “both exciting and encouraging” and the professor of education at the University of Liberia said he believes “this is one of the best things that has happened to Liberia.”

Although, personally, I am not surprised by the accelerated learning, now evidenced in our Liberian schools. In Kenya, where our schools have been operating the longest, we have seen the same evidenced gains. Independent exams there have shown that Bridge pupils significantly out-perform their peers over consecutive years.

The new report in Liberia, reveals that in just four months, students in Bridge PSL public schools could:

  • Read 7 more words a minute and answer 6% more questions correctly about the story they just read;
  • In maths, they solved 2.6 more addition problems and 2.2 more subtraction problems in a minute;
  • 17% of Bridge PSL public school second graders met the reading fluency benchmark for the first time, compared to only 4% of second graders at traditional public schools;
  • 15% of Bridge PSL public schools students met reading comprehension benchmarks for the first time, compared to 4% of students at traditional public schools;
  • In reading, Bridge PSL public school students outperformed traditional public school students in reading by 0.77 standard deviations; and,
  • In maths Bridge PSL public school students outperformed traditional public school students by 0.18 standard deviations: that’s 50% more learning in 4 months.
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The data demonstrates that students in Bridge PSL public schools are experiencing accelerated learning in comparison to their peers in other schools. Lessons learned from these Partnership Schools for Liberia can be brought into all public schools in Liberia. These early findings also show the direct and immediate benefits to children of Partnership Schools for Liberia itself.

CLICK HERE to download the Learning for Liberia Executive Summary.

CLICK HERE to download the complete Learning for Liberia report.

It shows, for the first time, that as we move into year two of the program, meaningful learning outcomes are being delivered as a result of the President’s vision. Importantly we’ve achieved this for under $400 per child, a cost that has been fully funded by generous donors and philanthropists and which we expect to reduce dramatically in future years.

Moving forward, Bridge has been awarded an A rating (along with two other providers) by the Ministry of Education on the basis of demonstrating ‘significant quality of implementation’. This analysis has led to an award of 43 new schools for 2017 / 18, bringing the total number of Bridge managed schools to 68, out of a total program of 200. An increase that will enable PSL to reach thousands more children, but still a drop in the ocean when you consider the nearly 3,000 primary schools in Liberia.

All of this is extremely positive news for a country and its political leaders who have faced much criticism for their innovative approach. It is easy, in the academic and theoretical discussions of education reform, to lose sight of what is being delivered on the ground and what the alternatives are. Prior to the government’s new approach, around 30% of Liberian primary school children were out of school. Recovering from decades of civil war and Ebola, the education situation on the ground was dire. Now there is hope and real learning.


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