In the Media

In the Media (43)

BRAC Liberia

 

Liberia’s education system is in crisis.

Our communities are still suffering from the effects of the long civil war and the devastating Ebola outbreak. Less than 60% of school-aged children in Liberia are in school, placing Liberia in the lowest percentile of net enrollment rates in the world. Those who do attend school may not fare much better: among adult women who reached fifth grade in Liberia, less than 20% can read a single sentence. Teachers, particularly those in remote areas where there are no banks, sometimes don’t receive their salaries on time and therefore often don’t show up. And it is our children, the future of our nation, who are suffering most.

To not act now would be to fail yet another generation of Liberia’s children.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf knows that fixing the education system is a top priority for our country. So, when she appointed me as education minister at the start of 2015, she challenged me to be bold. She asked me to look for innovative education policy options that have the potential to strengthen the public education system in an enduring and sustainable manner. This government is not here to deliver empty promises: our duty is to ensure every child receives a quality education, an education that gives them real chances and choices in life.

My country defeated Ebola with strong political leadership, community engagement, proven good practice and a surge in support from our international partners. To tackle the education crisis, I knew I had to similarly bring together these ingredients, Liberia’s unique assets, in a progressive coalition to improve our schools.

Fact-checking

Any bold policy reform will always be controversial and will attract scrutiny. This was no exception. 12 months ago, I announced Partnership Schools for Liberia and it quickly became a media sensation, with a flurry of coverage in the Liberian and global media. Unfortunately, at the time, and until now, the facts have rarely been reported correctly and ideology has driven the debate.

But with hundreds of thousands of Liberian children enrolled in failing government schools, denied the quality education they deserve, now is not the time to be ideological. Now is the time to be bold, to pilot and experiment and, of course, to rigorously evaluate those pilots before scaling.

The 94-pilot school remain public schools, regulated and quality assured by the government. PSL teachers are civil servants on government payroll, and have every right to be members of teacher associations—Liberian teacher unions. The school buildings remain the property of the government of Liberia. PSL is not privatizing Liberia’s primary schools.

Eight Liberian and international school operators were carefully selected to manage the pilot schools through a ministry-led open and competitive bidding process. Between them they bring education experience from Liberia, West Africa, the wider African region and beyond. These include organizations like BRAC, with vast experience running schools and education programs in Africa and South Asia; Bridge International Academies, which operates more than 400 schools in Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria and India; and Rising Academies, which runs eight schools in neighboring Sierra Leone.

A brighter future. (Courtesy Rising Academies)

These are organizations that see great value collaborating with the government to deliver better educational outcomes for our children. Any decision to scale or terminate individual PSL operators will be made by the ministry team, based on independent evidence and community feedback. Most importantly, no single organization is or will be getting monopoly rights over Liberia’s primary schools.

Price points

The Ministry of Education has exactly the same financial obligation to the 94 pilot schools as any other public school—around $50 per child per year. PSL operators receive an additional philanthropically-funded subsidy of $50 per child, which enables them to build up the teams, curricula, data systems, among other things they need to run excellent schools.

Ultimately, we expect all operators to run their schools at the government price point, but we know that takes time. We are fortunate to have a group of philanthropic partners who are willing to take on this financial risk in support of the government. At my request, PSL is being rigorously evaluated by a world class research team to provide an independent measure of the effectiveness, equity and sustainability of PSL. The research team works hand-in-hand with the Ministry of Education so we get the data we need to make sensible policy decisions about the future of PSL.

The evaluation is analyzing the impact of PSL across several dimensions, including enrolment, attendance, learning outcomes, equity and parent perception and community engagement. It is a randomized control trial, which will help ensure that differences between PSL and non-PSL schools reflect the true impact of the program rather than any pre-existing differences between the schools. I have been clear from the start that any significant scale up of PSL will be dependent on the results of this evaluation.

This is just one component of Liberia’s progressive education reform platform PSL is an important but by no means the only priority for the Ministry of Education. There is no magic bullet to fix education in Liberia or anywhere, and PSL is just one of a range of reforms we are undertaking to improve our education system. These include plans to reach out-of-school children; the deepening and strengthening of school accountability mechanisms; and an aggressive payroll cleansing program which has already achieved $1.7 million annual savings, no token amount given that my total basic education budget is just $41 million per year.

Within PSL, my task as the education minister is to make sure that the school operators are provided with the conditions they need to deliver, while holding them accountable for their performance. They are required to report regularly on pre-agreed metrics, and their schools are inspected by my team for aspects including child-safe-guarding and quality of teaching and learning.

The public side of a public-private partnership is just as important as the private side. My team is building up the capacity we need to truly be the duty bearer for education: with responsibility for all decisions to commission, scale and indeed terminate operator contracts.

Signs so far are promising. Almost 28,000 children are enrolled in PSL schools, taught by re-invigorated and re-trained government teachers, supported by energized parents and resilient communities. They have the full backing of the Ministry of Education and I am proud of what has been achieved so far.

But these are early days for PSL. While I believe it holds great potential, my team and I are clear that the program will not be scaled significantly until the data shows it works and we have the capacity within government to manage it effectively.

Please challenge and scrutinize the program. We welcome that. But don’t judge PSL on ideological grounds. Judge us on the data—data on whether PSL schools deliver better learning outcomes for children.

The future of hundreds of thousands of Liberian children, their communities and our nation is at stake. We must not fail them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Emily Coppel Headshot sm

Special to the Philanthropy Journal

By Emily Coppel

A little more than 30 years ago in Bangladesh, Naveen’s* mother was about to give birth to a baby girl. Her family was relatively well off, and she was able to deliver in one of the better hospitals in the country. But complications arose just after Naveen came into the world: her mother began to hemorrhage internally; she was bleeding profusely and her fever wouldn’t drop. The doctors said Naveen’s mother had an infection, and the hospital had just one dose of antibiotics. Thankfully, she could afford the antibiotics. Miraculously, she survived.

High maternal and child mortality rates historically have been seen as a telling indicator of a country’s failing health system. In 1980, the situation was especially stark in Bangladesh: two in every 25 babies would die as an infant; one in every hundred mothers would not survive childbirth. With 84 million people (now nearly 160 million) living in a country the size of Iowa, a public health solution needed to be expansive.

BRAC LogoAlthough it isn’t well known in the US, one of the largest NGOs in the world began in Bangladesh in the 70s. Known as BRAC, the organization now reaches 138 million people, in 11 countries worldwide, with programs that range from healthcare to education, gender justice to microfinance. Recently, BRAC was ranked the number one NGO in the world by NGO Advisor, largely because of its unique self-financing model – 70 percent of the organization’s budget comes from its own social enterprises.

But in the 80s, BRAC was still growing, developing programs to help the country recover from the 1971 war of independence and a series of cyclones, both of which contributed to devastating, widespread poverty. Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, a former Shell Oil executive, founded BRAC because he was motivated by the urgent needs of his fellow Bangladeshis. The country’s pressing health crisis was foremost in Abed’s mind.

Faced with the challenge of extremely high maternal and child mortality rates, another organization might have built a hospital or shipped medical supplies to Bangladesh. Abed and BRAC took a different approach. At the time, diarrheal disease was one of the biggest killers of children. The disease precipitated severe dehydration, leading to a loss of electrolytes that was lethal for children. In rural areas of Bangladesh, few people knew how to treat sick children suffering from the disease.

BRAC researchers developed a simple yet life-saving solution: a combination of salt, sugar and water, which, if given in the correct proportion, would rehydrate children and decrease their likelihood of death to just one percent. A pinch of salt, one fistful of sugar and a liter of water created the perfect elixir. The formula was only one part of the solution; teaching and persuading families to give this liquid to their children was the real hurdle.

BRAC piloted a project that trained volunteers from communities without access to health resources. These volunteers were women, over the age of 25, with a basic level of education. They became community health workers, known in Bangladesh as Shasthya Shebikas.

The Shasthya Shebikas trained new mothers face-to-face on how to make and administer the rehydration solution to their children. They revisited mothers regularly, testing them on how to make the mixture correctly and ensuring they gave it to their children when they fell sick. After significant trial and error, BRAC altered the teaching approach and established incentives for effective training. The program worked. BRAC scaled up to ultimately reach 12 million households in almost every village in Bangladesh.

In 1988, one in five children died from cholera or diarrheal-related disease. By 2007, it was one in 50.

When BRAC pivoted to address maternal health in the 80s, this massive network of Shasthya Shebikas proved instrumental. BRAC trained them in pre- and post-natal care to ensure that pregnant mothers had the tools for a safe and healthy birth. These volunteers visited mothers regularly throughout their pregnancy, monitoring their vital signs and referring them to nearby clinics when necessary.

The organization also sold medicine to Shasthya Shebikas at a low cost, and they in turn sold them to villagers for a low, fixed price. The program became self-financing, and the health workers were even able to make a small profit. Today, BRAC has a network of more than 100,000 health workers in seven countries, reaching millions worldwide.

This approach – finding a simple solution, testing it and scaling it up – is used by BRAC across health, education, financial empowerment, livelihood, and all of its program areas.

For mothers like Naveen’s, faced with complications giving birth, or nursing a sick child, it’s often the low-tech solutions – a trained health worker, access to medication, or a rehydrating liquid – that offer the real miracles. It’s the simple solutions that save the most lives.


*Naveen’s name has been changed to protect her privacy.

 

This article was originally posted here: http://pj.news.chass.ncsu.edu/2016/08/01/brac-usa/

 

The largest NGO in the world, BRAC headquartered in Bangladesh, applies its development aid concepts outside Bangladesh in ten countries around the world. The silver bullet? Building on the strength of each individual. An interview with Petra Costerman Boodt, BRAC International's Resident Representative Fundraiser in The Netherlands, on aid, on 'giving', and the international opportunities for BRAC. Read more

Wednesday, 04 May 2016 18:00

Birthday wishes pour in for Sir Abed

 

Wishes poured in from the global leaders in celebration of the 80th birthday of Brac Founder and Chairman Sir Fazle Hasan Abed on April 27.

Gordon Brown, former prime minister of the UK, Desmond Swayne, minister of State for International Development, UK, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, minister of International Development and the Pacific, Australia, and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia, are among a few of those who wished their best. Read More.

 

When Sa’a jumped from the moving truck, she wasn’t thinking about her education that had just been cut short. She was fleeing for her life.

One of the more than 250 girls kidnapped from their school in Chibok, Nigeria, two years ago, Sa’a recounted that heartbreaking story to members of Congress recently, renewing calls to rescue the hundreds of still missing schoolgirls and finally #bringbackourgirls.

Sa’a is now a college student in the U.S. Her story is a reminder of what is possible when girls are given the chance to receive a quality education in a safe place. Her story also illustrates what we stand to lose when a girl’s education is taken away. Read More.

Brac Founder and Chairperson Sir Fazle Hasan Abed yesterday spent a busy day at work despite it being his 80th birthday, carving out time to enjoy a 4D exhibition and a festive programme when a book containing articles about him written by noted personalities was also unveiled. Former diplomat Faruk Chowdhury, who edited the book, presented Sir Fazle with a copy and the latter cut a cake, said a press release. Born in 1936 in Bangladesh, Sir Fazle was educated at both Dhaka and Glasgow universities. He was a professional accountant in his thirties, working as a senior corporate executive at Shell Oil when the 1971 Liberation War had a profound effect on him, dramatically changing the direction of his life. He left his job, moved to London and devoted himself to Bangladesh's war of independence. Read more

 

 

The many positive contributions made by Sir Fazle Hasan Abed testify to a life which has been eminently successful and a source of inspiration for others. A golden thread that runs through his range of activities is an abiding concern for bringing about change in the lives of human beings by affording them opportunities for realising their potential. His creative response to the challenge for change was as founder of an extraordinary NGO called BRAC. The institutions and activities sponsored and supported by BRAC reflect this concern, as these embrace, among others, education, health, human rights, the rule of law, and governance. Read More.

 

Monday, 25 April 2016 18:00

A tribute to a champion of the deprived

I can think of few people who have done more for the world's deprived population than Fazle Hasan Abed. His contribution spans Bangladesh where BRAC, the organisation he founded in 1972, services close to 10 million of the country's underprivileged households. Through Abed's commitment to serve the world's deprived, BRAC has now extended its reach across the globe. It has invested its experience in rehabilitating the tsunami victims in Sri Lanka and the war-ravaged population in Afghanistan where two of its officials, working in high risk areas, were held hostage by the Taliban. BRAC is now reaching out on a large scale to serve the underprivileged populations in various regions of Africa. It has been actively engaged in Pakistan, Philippines, Tanzania, Uganda, South Sudan, Liberia and Sierra Leone. BRAC has even extended its reach across the Atlantic to Haiti. Read more

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