Independent​ ​report​ ​proves​ ​Liberia’s​ ​bold​ ​education innovation​ ​is​ ​working

7 September 2017

A new study shows that children in Bridge Partnership Schools for Liberia (PSL) public schools learn twice as fast as their peers in traditional public schools, receiving the equivalent of a full year of additional schooling per year.

The study, an independent randomised control trial (RCT) of PSL pilot schools, was designed to measure whether the radical new approach to delivering Liberian elementary education could improve learning for students in a country decimated by Ebola and two civil wars. The answer is yes.

The much-anticipated, midline analysis by the Center for Global Development and Innovations for Poverty Action ranked Bridge student performance best among all eight PSL partners. It also found that students were learning more, teachers were less likely to be absent and families were happier.

Other highlights include:

  • Students at Bridge run PSL public schools learned significantly more than students at traditional public schools, nearly twice as much in reading and more than twice as much in maths.  This is the equivalent of an additional year of schooling;
  • Across all PSL schools, teachers were 50% more likely to be in school (60% attendance at PSL schools versus 40% attendance at traditional schools); and,
  • When compared to traditional schools, parents of students in Bridge run PSL public schools are more satisfied with school and students are happier.

In Liberia, only 38% of children attend elementary education and 46% of young people are illiterate.

After one school year, the 93 public schools in the PSL program had increased student learning by 60%. Bridge PSL public schools had doubled the learning gains being achieved by students.

Dr Shannon May: “The world was watching to see whether Liberia’s education system could be transformed, and the answer is yes.

Further findings reveal PSL has:

  • More Learning:  Over one school year, learning gains for students in PSL public schools were equivalent to 0.56 extra years of schooling for English and 0.66 extra years for maths.
  • More Teaching:  Teachers in PSL public schools were 20 percentage points more likely to be in school and 16 percentage points more likely to be engaged in actual teaching. This is a radical improvement in areas where teacher absenteeism is at 60%.
  • Better Managed Schools:  PSL public schools are better managed – inclusion in the  PSL program moves the average public school from the 50th to the 66th percentile in management practices — in just one school year.
  • Happier Parents and Teachers:  Over 80% of parents and teachers at traditional public schools wish Bridge and other PSL partners would open more PSL public schools.
  • Happier, More Educated, More Civic Minded Students:  Students are happier in PSL public schools than in traditional public schools, and less likely to be absent.  They are also are more likely to think school is useful, more likely to think elections are the best way to choose a president, and less likely to think some tribes in Liberia are bad.

Liberian Minister for Education George Werner has said: “We are pleased to see strong, independent evidence that the PSL program is achieving the objectives we set out: improving education quality and increasing learning gains. Ultimately my job is about providing better opportunities for all Liberian children and giving them the tools they need to succeed. This evidence makes it clear that PSL is helping to achieve that goal.”

Bridge PSL, one of eight PSL providers, is part of the Liberian Ministry of Education’s (MOE) pilot program designed to revolutionise the Liberian education system. Their vision was to “collaborate with successful operators to create great public schools that are hubs of innovation and educational excellence – with the ultimate aim of rolling out what works across the wider system.” PSL uses government trained teachers and is free for all pupils to attend. The program has been the subject of significant scrutiny as the education sector watched to see whether a Public Private Partnership model could deliver significant learning gains.

The Liberian Ministry of Education planned to disrupt the status quo in Liberian classrooms by 1) lengthening the school day; 2) reducing class sizes; 3) holding teachers accountable for attendance; and 4) tackling the issue of teacher literacy. Their policies were focused on improving student performance.

Learning environments such as small overcrowded classrooms are not conducive to learning and tackling that was essential. What the RCT now demonstrates is that new enrolment policies and class sizes contribute to delivering better academic results. Knowing this PSL is expanding into more schools and more classrooms are being built.

Equally, removing illiterate teachers and ‘ghost teachers’ was a key PSL policy plank for the Ministry. Teachers who transitioned from some classes could not read at a first-grade level. The Ministry believed that illiterate teachers leading learning on reading and writing were holding back student learning. Now, more teachers are being trained in Liberia.

These policy decisions by the Ministry of Education have borne fruit and the evidence is in the performance of Liberian students in PSL schools.

Dr Shannon May, co-founder of Bridge, said, “Liberia’s innovative PSL public school program has been validated.  I’m delighted that the Government has decided to expand the programme to the southeast and build on this success. The report proves that teacher accountability, improved operating capacity, a full day of learning for pupils, and class sizes conducive to learning, produce great results. The success of this program gives a generation of children hope and Liberia itself a brighter future.”

As PSL enters the second of its three-year pilot, Bridge has been allocated an additional 43 schools, taking the total under Bridge PSL management to 68. The total for all PSL providers in the second year is 202, meaning that Bridge PSL accounts for a full one-third of all PSL public schools. 27,000 children have benefitted from Year One of the PSL pilot, with 70,000 children forecast to benefit from year two.

Bridge is incredibly proud of its results and the results of PSL as a whole and celebrates the hard work and outstanding performance of pupils and teachers. These extraordinary results are a testament to the vision of the MOE, and the courage to break with orthodoxy and embrace, support and encourage innovation in the education sector. We stand behind Liberia and the Ministry of Education’s ‘ambitious attempt to kick start change based on best practice’.

Click here to read the full report.

Click here to read the Bridge press release.

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