Having realized that the nation’s education system had turned from worse to mess following the prolonged civil conflict, Liberian policy makers saw the need to apply a drastic paradigm shift by overhauling the sorrowful state of education right from the foundational level. In January 2016, the Partnership for Schools (PSL) Liberia was birthed, later to be transformed into the Liberia Education Accelerated Program (LEAP) in 2018, with Bridge Liberia topping the list of service providers contracted to help government improve learning outcomes for early learners and elementary level public school students. But as The Analyst now reports, the House Committee on Education, which has been reviewing the works of LEAP service providers, is not at all pleased with Bridge Liberia and its CEO Griffin Asigo for dodging citations by the House to explain progress, challenges and the way forward for his company.
Making the assertion last Tuesday on the state broadcaster, hours before Bridge Liberia CEO Griffin Asigo should have appeared before the House Committee on Education to explain progress and challenges about his company’s interventions, the Chair of the House Committee on Education, Johnson Gwaikolo, said the House latest engagement request for Bridge to appear and discuss the schools they are responsible for, their pedagogical, instructional activities and contents, administrative staff, competencies and qualifications, had earlier been aborted by Bridge.
Explaining the rationale why the Legislature opted to cite Bridge and its head to a plenary hearing, Legislator Gwaikolo first outlined the reasons why government had to bring in private firms to provide pedagogical services to public schools.
“The educational system delivery of school activities has been a challenge for the government itself due to its own constitutional requirements to provide social services for its citizens. The Churches have been filling in the gap, providing services to students. There have been challenges over the years from infrastructure, instructions and the students themselves in academic engagement,” he said, noting, that government started looking at the PPP through the school system whereby engaging providers to help in improving the system.
“They’ve had a pilot period of two years. After the two years we should have done an evaluation to see whether they were making any improvement. So this administration changed it into LEAP with those actors still there. We, as legislature, with oversight, thought we should evaluate the performance through an engagement; so we started meeting the non-state providers, concession schools, Bridge, etc., and it is in this regard we have been holding discussions with them and submit our findings to plenary so they come out with a position,” Gwaikolo stated, adding the Bridge, among other service providers was invited to provide answers to its interventions, but the engagement did not go well.
Explaining how the engagement was aborted by Bridge, lawmaker Gwaikolo said at the inception of the engagement, the Bridge Country Director and one senior staff appeared wherein the Committee reviewed the documents they submitted to the committee, following which they (the committee) thought the documents were inadequate.
“Those who are administering the program must be competent and qualified and so a vital piece of information was missing such as the qualification and competence level of the instructional staff including the country program staff, we thought it was important for us to know. Because the purpose of their contracting is to help the educational system, we needed to ascertain that they are prepared and in the position in terms of qualifications and expertise to provide that kind of service to the betterment of the educational system,” Gwaikolo stated.
When quizzed whether the House Committee’s earlier communication to Bridge had failed to include the issue of qualification, thereby obstructing Bridge from presenting a full report on qualification to the House Chair on Education Committee, Chairman Gwaikolo stated categorically:
“Our communication was clear of specific items on qualification and competency of the staff, so when we noticed that that was not available, we told them a vital information was missing so we asked them to reschedule to give time to organize better but the management felt otherwise that qualification and competency were private issues so they didn’t want to disclose that to us so we said No this could not be private coz we were not probing earnings or so but what qualifies you to be awarded this contract to serve our people we need to know, so we can share that information to know whether you can continue or you need some strength we can build you to, so we can give you time to go and come and they never came back.”
He said the Committee wrote back to Bridge stating clearly that they were not performing in the spirit of the engagement. “So come again and let us sit together and go through for the betterment of your program and the Liberian student population again they didn’t come, didn’t write, didn’t give any excuse so we thought that could be tantamount to obstruction of Legislative oversight function.”
Going further, Chairman Gwaikolo said while other LEAP partners are more cooperative, Bridge is the largest partner.
“Organizations like Bridge raise money on behalf of the Liberian program and in our own effort we wrote on their behalf as a committee introducing them that will help them to solicit funds or raise more money because we have challenges as government, so if there’s a group that is helping us we will help that group, that’s why we are asking for their strengths and weaknesses so we discuss. It’s good the government recognized we have short coming, recognizing a program that can help us like they are,” Chairman Gwaikolo said.
Having failed to appear for last Tuesday’s legislative hearing, it remains to be seen what will be fate of the Bridge Liberia Country Director. But what The Analyst legislative sources have intimated is that members of the Education Committee are incensed over Bridge and its Country Director’s no-show.
Meanwhile, as The Analyst is reliably informed that Bridge has written the House plenary to extend its appearance for next Tuesday, February 25, 2020 all efforts to contact Bridge Liberia proved futile as the Country Director’s phone rang incessantly without any answer yesterday.