Special Awards In Pictures

-New Research Suggests That Pioneering Scheme Has Made An Encouraging Start
When 14 years of civil war ended in 2003, Liberia was left with decrepit schools. Many children carried Kalashnikovs rather than textbooks. Since then Liberian governments have tried to start afresh. But, in part because of the outbreak of Ebola in 2014, efforts to improve education have made halting progress.

The consequences are grim. Less than 40% of school-age children attend primary school. By the time they are 18, girls are more likely to be married than literate. Just one woman in four who has finished primary school can read a sentence. According to a study published in 2014, more than 40% of girls have been asked for sex in return for better grades, money or school supplies.
One reason for optimism, however, is Partnership Schools for Liberia (PSL), a pilot scheme run by the education ministry with help from Ark, a British education group. Drawing on American charter schools and English academies, last year the ministry delegated the management of 93 public schools to eight independent operators, three of which are private firms. Policymakers from countries such as Ghana, India and Nigeria are watching PSL as they consider trying similar ideas.
Initial results from PSL suggest that would be wise. On September 7th researchers from two think-tanks, the Centre for Global Development and Innovations for Poverty Action, published their analysis of the scheme’s first year. On average, pupils at PSL schools spent about twice as much time learning as their peers at ordinary schools—a result of them turning up more often, relatively diligent teaching and longer school days. Some operators did better than others. But overall, pupils at PSL schools made roughly an additional seven months’ worth of progress in English and math compared with children at typical public institutions.
These benefits came at a cost. Liberia’s government typically spends about $50 per pupil per year. PSL schools could dip into a philanthropic pot and spend twice that amount. A few operators then added their own funding. Bridge International Academies, a company that runs 25 schools, spent several times more than most other operators.
George Werner, the outgoing education minister, expects costs to fall over the next two years of PSL. He hopes his successor will keep the pilot after Liberia’s general election on October 10th. That would provide more time for schools to improve—and for pupils to learn. This article appeared in the Middle East and Africa section of the print edition under the headline "Classroom experiments".
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