Liberia is outsourcing primary schools to a start-up backed by Mark Zuckerberg

In 2013, after all 25,000 high school students sitting state university entrance exams failed, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf admitted that the education system was “a mess” and called for a complete overhaul.

Now it seems Sirleaf’s government has decided that rather than overhauling the education system themselves, they’re going to pay someone else to do it for them. Under a pilot program called “Partnership Schools for Liberia,” the Liberian government will outsource some of its primary and early childhood educational system to private companies over the next five years.

One huge contract has gone to a private company called Bridge International Academies — reportedly to the tune of $65 million. And it’s causing some real controversy.

The United Nations’ Special Rapporteur for the right to education, Kishore Singh, has denounced the plan as “completely unacceptable” and “a blatant violation of Liberia’s international obligations under the right to education.” A coalition of teachers unions and civil society groups in Liberia issued an open letter announcing their opposition. Education International, an international federation of unions, has warned that “privatisation vultures” involved in the plan “pose [a] serious threat to Liberia’s public education system.”

…Bridge’s “academy in a box” model has attracted investment from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and the World Bank Group’s International Finance Corporation, which invested $10 million each. Bill Gates and the UK government’s Department for International Development are also investors.

Here is the Vox story.   As they say, big steps toward a much better world…

Here is coverage from prior efforts in Kenya, hat tips go to Dani Rodrik and Alex T.


“a blatant violation of Liberia’s international obligations under the right to education”... to replace a system where "all 25,000 high school students sitting state university entrance exams [failed]" instead a keeping the underperforming teachers and school because someone, somewhere, may make a profit.

Not just underperforming. Liberia has a problem. There was a story about this in Time (yeah, I didn't know either) recently:

Another study commissioned in 2014 by the Liberian government called “Passing the Test – the real cost of being a student” found that almost one in five students has been abused by teachers or school staff.

So apparently interfering in the Union's members' right to sexually abuse children is a bad thing.

Zuckerberg's philosophy is "from womb to tome"

For The Primary School, the clinic will provide comprehensive health care from prenatal care through medical, dental and mental-health services.

and look like it is being opposed by the philosophy of "from lust to pass".

It's odd that these activists think Liberia, a sovereign nation, is answerable to some international body in regards to its domestic policies. Isn't the international left opposed to colonialism?

Well they did think that the sovereign nations of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia should have been answerable to the international Soviet in Moscow. Not to mention, of course, Poland, Hungary and so on.

So it is more or less the same thing.

Well, Republican Gerald Ford didn't even think there was Soviet domination in Poland and Romania.

And he was a Republican! So, uh, there! I totally have a point!

A Republican presidential candidate. It used to be a big deal back in the time, kid. Nowadays Mr. Trump is bigger than the GOP (for some good reasons-- he has some good ideas-- and some terrible reasons-- he was a TV star and is a vulgarian).

Who is 'they'?

And who are we?

They are free to accept or decline any offered support, and to listen to or ignore any advice given.

It's pretty hard to believe that every kid taught the curriculum would fail a test on that curriculum.

And it's pretty hard to believe this is more than one time occurrence since the university has students to teach.

It sounds like a set-up to make the consortium seem like the only option.

And so the money will be diverted from a system where the children don't have to pay for their education to a system where only those that can afford to pay will get one.

It's probably also a really poorly designed test.

Yes, I'm sure everything about the school system is terrible.

Visit Liberia an decide for yourself. It was, and is, a poster child for a failed state. It was established by the US as a country for freed slaves who wished to return to Africa.

And as a US colony failed miserably very quickly. While other countries in the area under French and British colonial rule, and later independence, have done much better in comparison.

It is a poster child for the US' complete incompetence in assistance around the world, and used to stand by itself as a shining example of US policies. Now it has been joined by Honduras, Guatemala, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya and probably many others.

Where does it say the students have to pay?

I hear that the UN's building in NY is in bad shape. This could be an ideal time to relocate the UN closer to such problems. I am sure Rapporteur Singh would love to be stationed in Liberia.

On the plus side, there doesn't appear to be a big cheating problem on college entrance exams in Liberia.

The Vox story is OK, but reading it one senses some of the internal contradictions of modern progressivism.

Leading with Zuck's support, rather than the school's actual architects is a bit of a giveaway.

"The provision of basic education, free of cost, is not only a core obligation of states but also a moral imperative," the UN's Kishore Singh has written. "Privatisation cripples the notion of education as a universal human right and — by aggravating marginalisation and exclusion — runs counter to the fundamental principles of human rights law. It creates social inequity."

I guess some logical connection between your pejorative statements and their target is no longer a rhetorical requirement on the international scene.

"Kishore Singh cripples the notion of education as a universal human right and — by aggravating marginalisation and exclusion — runs counter to the fundamental principles of human rights law. She creates social inequity.”

The UN should be agnostic as to whether the service providers are public or private, so long as there are mechanisms to ensure that broad access is possible. (Consider, for example, universal pay in public health care, which includes lots of private service providers.)

Wow, this is Neal Stephenson's Diamond Age Primer in real life.

+1, it's not an exact parallel (no interactive pseudo AI), but it does bear a marked resemblance to "A Young Ladys Illustrated Primer "

1st reaction: "Zuckerberg really is a Lex Luthor-esq villain!"

But then...

"A coalition of teachers unions and civil society groups in Liberia issued an open letter announcing their opposition."

Well in that case, I guess I feel like I support it.

Vox had potential, but they aren't living up to it.

I noticed the following link and read the story:

The author takes one persons experiences and tars an entire hobby. Without even bothering to get a second opinion.

None of that matches my experiences in the hobby. Of course, maybe Canada is a really horrible place. Or maybe the article lacks perspective.

Hahaha, right? Jews are awesome.

Matches my experience (as a guy) in the tabletop wargaming and PnP RPG world.

So this matches your experience?

"I have no way of knowing whether the person with whom I’m gaming is safe or the person who wants to "slit [my] throat and fuck the gash until [I] drown in cum". Knowing that the person sending those e-mails could be anyone and the community will not support me if/when I am attacked keeps myself and many others from the hobby."

Tabletop gaming can be vicious. It's a high investment hobby, which selects for passionate players. Stay away from Slaaneshi cultists.

Are we talking about board games or miniatures? Board games the article makes zero sense for. It's totally inclusive.

I totally thought the same thing. Ive seen nothing like that in my 30+ years of gaming. I also couldnt help but notice that they couldnt be bothered to do any kind of fact checking or investigation around this woman's claims. After a brief moment where they thought that perhaps we shouldnt just blindly believe any woman claiming to be a victim they apparently decided that its ok to swallow any story, so long as the accusations are directed against a group that they dont like.

Even assuming that everything she says is correct, who rationally generalizes that to a large group of people without any broad spread complaints.

All newspapers/magazines/ news sites do it.

Did they stop wandering?

... and put down roots?

Also anecdotal. I only know one group of "table top gamers" in Canada. A very large share of their behaviour would be considered as harassment (exceedingly sexualized, among other things) in certain quarters, but ...

a) it flies in every direction and at every imaginable group (veeery un PC) and everyone has loads of fun, and

b) put them in a different social situation, and almost all of them are very respectful of essentially all social groups, and have deep understanding of the social issues and stereotypes which drive their very un-PC humour.

I think James Taranto has it right when he refers to vox as a "young adult website".

Vox is living up to be at least as bad as I thought. Ezra Klein is a mendacious incompetent who thinks he's Josh Lyman.

"As they say, big steps toward a much better world…"

As they say, counting your chickens before they hatch.

Its not as if this is the first such experiment in Africa. Its not as if the prior experiments, were successful.

" Its not as if this is the first such experiment in Africa. Its not as if the prior experiments, were successful" [snip]

Zuck's the new Jeffrey Sachs!!

Well the prior experiments by this very education company were successful. I would be astonished if this company couldn't do any better than the government of Liberia

Out of 25,000 students, nobody cheated?

Very few asian-liberians.

Or to put in less unambiguous terms: too many Liberians in Liberia.

Very revealing comment.

How well do you think you would have done if born in their condition? Consider that a) you're not white and so can't milk the assumed foreign connections this might be assumed to bring, b) your education quality is low, c) probably your parents make less than $1000 a year, d) you don't know anyone anywhere that is connected to any opportunities, e) people will assume that whatever you say to represent your experience is fraudulent, and probably can't be bothered to check whether it's true.

Say, from situation of a child of a subsistence farmer. Plot your pathway to your current PhD candidate position. Oh, and your parents pulled you out of school in grade 2 because they needed help on the farm and couldn't afford the anciliary fees, so 7-year old you needs to run away from home and somehow access and pay for your education with no proof of identity.

Good luck. You'll need it.

As with most things, Nathan, your comments are full of crap. You're either really slow, or you play the part really well.

The question isn't what I would do if I were in their situation. If I were in their situation, I'd be just like them.

The question is...why are they in that situation?

You'd think no one else in the world went through poverty and lack of education and lack of infrastructure. Nope. Nobody else ever went through that...and somehow managed to pull themselves up in a relatively short period of time.

Nope. Koreans were all born rich, with fantastic hair and pants that are too tight fitting. Koreans were never poor and subsistence farmers who couldn't read or right. Nope. They were never colonized by outsiders who exploited them 10x worst than anything an African ever experienced. Nope. And as everyone knows, Koreans are still poor and starving and disease ridden...relying on the world's handouts for survival.

Right, Nathan? I guess that never happened cause they weren't white either.


PS: You'll have to excuse me that I keep insulting you, but somehow I find myself wanting to insult you every-time you try to attribute "my" or anyone else's success on the basis of our "whiteness". As if, only white people are successful on this planet.

I didn't say the problem is because there's too many "blacks". I said Liberians. There's, admittedly few, examples of predominantly black countries that do relatively well. Heck, even much of Nigeria does pretty well, relatively. Botswanans and Namibians and Angolans are doing well. The question is why?

Why is Liberia always the most hellish hellhole on earth? Ahh!!! Your brilliant answer is...cause they're not white and they're poor! What a brilliant answer.

Koreans were born with a long history of experience in central administration, and had prior experience with industrialization under the Japanese.

You also flat out refuse to answer the question of what a Liberian could do for themselves and implicitly infer something about how you're just better than them.

I imagine you have the basic social skills to evade the ostracization that would rightfully come your way were you to behave offline in the same way that you do online. I mean, I'm working overseas with limited hours and have lots of time on my hands. if you're a PhD student ... well, don't you have something rather more pressing to do than to craft derogatory comments against anyone who disagrees with you online?

Try to be less racist. For example, think through the challenges they must overcome.

I mentioned white because you're white.

I don't think white has much to do with success, except insofar as it implies that you live in a country where there are lots of opportunities, where networks are likely to have more access to economic resources, where there is more experience in various forms of administration/management. I look at it more as a function of historical context, etc, than race per se.

Oh yeah, and Koreans were on the American side.

You ask "why" several times.

I think the whole world is looking for good answers to that which don't involve basically saying "they're just inferior". Like, discussions of history, culture, lack of access to the international system, existing problems of corruption of strongman politics, etc. Or, I dunno, whatever other explanations you have.

"I think the whole world is looking for good answers to that which don’t involve basically saying “they’re just inferior”. "

You're the one making a value judgment about it. I don't look at low IQ people and think that they're "inferior", nor do I try to pretend that their low IQ could not possibly have anything to do with their genetics. Your self-righteousness has corrupted your ability to reason in this subject.

Anon - how many consecutive days does AIG have to go around implying the inferiority of different groups before it becomes acceptable to point out this fact?

Sorry, I forgot to self censor to not point out when someone appears to be straying into racist argumentation.

Probably we need to make it a criminal offense to even so much as imply that someone might maybe plausibly appearably be a least a little bit racist.

"The problem with Liberia is that it's full of Liberians" is true because they're. But that's not racist. It's just Truth Talking, and the situation has nothing to do with culture or history.

The anti-SJ Warriors all know the world would be a better place as a result of such laws.

I profusely apologize for my assholish comments that can only possibly be interpreted as excessive self-righteousness. People who so much as imply that someone else might ever be racist are too self righteous. This behaviour needs to be criminalized, or at the very least censored.

"the situation has nothing to do with culture or history"

Only you say that, bro

Cliff - How many times have I called out one of these sorts of statements, and the person who made it responds "oh, no, I'm not talking about their genetic inferiority, I'm talking about culture and history". None. Rather, it is the opposite, where I draw attention to culture and history and I'm called names for not recognizing that those people are just inferior.

Clearly not everyone here is like that (and certainly there's not enough information to know how far to place AIG inthat general direction), but a) it's pretty clear which camp you lie in, and b) more relevant to your comment, it is unambiguously clear that that camp is present on this blog.

Why do racists deny racism? Like "oh, no, I'm not racist, and in fact there is no such thing as racism at all .. they're just inferior, dumbo..." - wanna talk about culture and history? Totally different story.

Will be better than the previous education regime but will still underperform compared to schools in Denmark and Shanghai so will be considered a total failure by the leftist media. Only privatization will be blamed no other possibility is conceivable.

How do I become a "UN Special Rapporteur?"

Did you say "Rapporteur" or "Saboteur"?

My guess is somewhat along the lines of: a) have a thick CV with extensive documentation of project experience, b) graduate from a prestigious university, c) know someone with personal knowledge of a+b who also knows people who do hiring + d) all of the above plus being local will get you extra points.

I.e., kind of like anywhere, but somewhat more focus on the personal connections because ... what Thiago said.

Oh, and don't say stuff that proves you know nothing about the place you're applying to work in (however, saying stuff which proves that you KNOW that you have limited knowledge but are very willing to learn might help, so long as you've been in similar roles elsewhere).

A demonstrated anti-UN bias probably won't help (I think this applies to basically any employer anywhere). For management consulting stuff, a demonstrated ability to openly discuss faults without falling into any sort of attack mode should be useful.

If only they would do this in the US....

What's stopping them? Oh, right, there's plenty of for-profit diploma mills out there. Go get a degree from Capella University and see how much its worth in the market.

This is a good Signal, right?

If a coalition of teacher unions and civil society groups are against it, then it can't be a bad development, even if Zuckerberg is attached to the project.

"Instead of paying more educated, experienced, qualified teachers, the company hires inexperienced people from the local communities (reportedly paying around $90 a month). It gives them a few weeks of training and handheld tablet computers loaded with pre-scripted lessons designed by the company's education experts. It then sends them into the classrooms to deliver the scripted content to the students."

On the one hand, a teacher reading a word for word scripted lesson who actually comes to school and delivers that lesson is probably better than one who has just pocketed the salary and doesn't come to school; though I'm personally rather glad I wasn't educated that way. On the other hand, if I had to bet on A. "The Liberian state scientifically monitors the relative efficacy of the different education providers and ensures competition within the field, regularly removing poor performers and replacing them with new providers." and B. "The Liberian state fails to monitor the efficacy of different education providers scientifically and tenders are awarded largely on the basis of kickbacks paid to officials." I would bet on B.

That an American company is involved should be promising with regard to the realistic concern you suggest in B. Any American found giving bribes anywhere in the world can go to prison in the USA. It's not a completely altruistic law, because American firms are less likely to know who to bribe and how/when to bribe in a local situation, and thus it effectively improves the competitive position of American firms. But it's a pretty good law.

Hopefully so, though I suspect it would be rather difficult to prove that bribery was taking place in Liberia before an American court given, for example, the court's inability to call Liberian witnesses. Also, it might just mean that non-bribing America educational providers will lose out to bribing non-American companies.

The concern about non-bribing countries is quite legitimate. I suggest two possible reasons to uphold it anyways: 1) It's a good point of reference for arguing that America is not all bad, to counter anti-imperialist sorts of arguments, and hence may improve America's reputation and hence improve prospects for security in the long run, and 2) It may add credibility to less corrupt politicians who endorse the American connections - this may make them an enemy of entrenched interests, but also provides them with some ammunition to promote their anti-corruption cred (although nationalist anti-imperialist stuff may be difficult to counter).

A variety of educational services competition has proliferated in China, sometimes solo ops, but most often in partnerships because you often need some local connections to get the appropriate permissions (not necessarily to bribe them, but just to take advantage of personal connections and reduce effects of anti-foreign bias among officials who ultimately decide whether to give permissions to a given venture). I'm pretty sure that Western anti-bribery laws have very much shaped the nature of the game in China. Whether a similar situation might apply in Liberia is an altogether different question ...

Liberia...GDP per capita: $469


But I'm sure, this experiment is going to turn things around big time. Marky Mark has the best of intentions, after all.

What exactly are you crying about? That anyone should try to improve anything??

UN does a lot of good stuff (especially when considering that, almost by definition, it is only active where everything is failing, so it's not fair to compare to situations where everything is already OK and hence they are not needed). But it's allergy to private education doesn't seem very useful, considering the routine failures of public education in many of the countries where it is most active.

They should stick to evaluating the effectiveness of school feeding programs in increasing school attendance and outputs. The concern should be whether poor children (or any children) will be able to access these services, not whether the ultimate service provider is a private company or publicly run.

Tell me again how the Left doesn't value purity in its moral framework. They are basically screaming "sacrilege".

This is not about left or right, there would be outrage in any country about such a decision. My question is will this work? After all I guess the teacher will still be liberian no?

The outrage is in the international left-wing community

The fact that a teacher's union exists in a place where GDP per person is $469 tells you plenty about the alleged beneficence and motives of such an organization.

The fact that a shareholder’s union (corporation) exists in a place where GDP per person is $469 tells you plenty about the alleged beneficence and motives of such an organization.

Why should one group enjoy collective negotiation but not the other?

Sure, if the teachers can self-exclude from the union and still be employed

Let me know when a minority shareholder wins the right to take over specific sub-parts of a corporation equal to their shareholding percentage.

If corporations are willing to accord such rights to shareholder unions, then it would seem reasonable for labour unions to face the same situation.

Actually, I think employers should have more flexibility to hire scabs. But the consideration relates to competitiveness, not fairness.

If foreign aid fulfills all basic needs to their population, there will never be an incentive for better government and development in these countries. Almost 100% of the Liberian state budget is foreign aid. The Liberian government treats their population as their hostages and will ask for more money for ever. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

If a government could throw the bums out and create a school whose sole purpose is to educate all the children and graduate students ready for college or for work/life they should do it. Here the unions are the biggest roadblocks to good schools followed by the school boards and the teachers themselves. The problem is that there is so much money in the system that everyone with any power carves out a few million for themselves and cronies. I wish Liberia well but I'm not sure Mark Zuckerberg is the best guy for the job.

Considering that the total wage bill for teachers in Liberia is in the range of just some millions of dollars, that's a pretty ridiculous position to take. I'm optimistic that this will improve quality of outcomes, but to suggest that "there is so much money in the system" in Liberia?

Well, no need for me to get offensive, because clearly you have not taken the time to inform yourself about any of the relevant details and are instead referring to standard American-style anti-education talking points to inform your perspective.

If there is room for corruption in such a system, it is far more likely to arise by inflated pricing of technological gadgets than teacher pay. The South African example suggests that this is the relevant issue to be concerned about in this case.

Interesting. No need to get offensive but yet you did with great pleasure it seems. Since you are so informed tell me exactly how large is the Liberian education budget and what proof you have that there is no waste? And your statement "it is far more likely to arise by inflated pricing of technological gadgets..." seems to imply that you have no clue either what the problem is.

I still believe that it is and should be the responsibility of the government to "create a school whose sole purpose is to educate all the children and graduate students ready for college or for work/life" so if you disagree what more can I say???

I don't think it's offensive to point out that someone doesn't know something. Suggesting that there are millions of dollars to be extracted and that the unions are the problem is pretty ridiculous. Here's what the union wants:

"The minimal salary that we are demanding for our janitors is US$200. We want the "C" certificate holders, or least teachers, to earn US$250; "B" certificate holders US$300; associate degree holders, US$350; bachelor's degree holders, US$600; and US$750 for master's degree holders":

How hard do you expect people with a master's degree to work when you pay them $2-3 an hour?

I don't doubt there is some degree of corruption related to the education system. But corruption in most countries tends to be related to construction projects and resource extraction, not education.

When you're paying teachers, who are relatively highly educated, just a few dollars an hour, don't you think there are going to a whole lot of people ready to raise hell if corrupt money is getting extracted which could instead be directed to their salaries?

I point to the example of corruption in relating to technological gadgets because a) that's part of the proposed program so they should be attentive to that, and b) a recent case study from South Africa showed that this was a problem, in addition to theft of tablets, when South Africa spent a bunch of money on such devices.

Let me know if you have any actual information or examples to add.

I still believe that it is and should be the responsibility of the government to “create a school whose sole purpose is to educate all the children and graduate students ready for college or for work/life” and you believe it should all be about how much the teachers are paid. IMHO attitudes like yours are part of the problem and prevent solutions.

If you have a credible plan on how to educate children for work/life while paying Master's level qualified teachers $2-3 an hour, then mucho kudoz.

Too much "penny rich thinking" abounds on the right when it comes to the salaries of people in the public service. If technology can replace those teachers, then I'm not against this. But to think that unions are the problem when they're asking for a RAISE to $2-3 an hour for MA graduates is pretty ridiculous.

You are the one who injected pay rates and unions into the discussion. The union is the single largest roadblock to improving education.

Yes I have a credible and better plan. Allow local control of the schools. Local down to the individual school, even in a community with multiple schools. Make the principal responsible to the parents of the children in the school they would have the ability to fire and replace the principal if the quality of education is unacceptable. Allow the principal total control over the teachers, hire/fire responsibility with no recourse from unions, seniority, courts or government interference. The state determines wages, working conditions and pays the bills but the control is in the hands of the parents and the principals.

Make the playing field between the unions and the employers level. The employees have a right to unionize. the unions have a ability to negotiate and the employer has the right to ignore or accept the union as the negotiator. But in the end the employee is an individual and the employer has the right to set wages, working conditions and hire and fire at will. A strike is by definition a affirmative act of quitting employment and the employer has a perfect right and perhaps even a duty to respond by ending employment of the employee(s) who strike.

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