Monrovia (AFP) - Liberia's teachers have threatened to strike over plans to privatise the country's crumbling primary schools, as criticism grows louder over a multi-million-dollar project to outsource education in one of the world's poorest nations.
The president of the National Teacher's association of Liberia (NTAL) said on Thursday teachers were ready to strike to express their discontent over the subcontracting of education to a private firm, Bridge International Academies.
The so-called public-private partnership (PPP) is being rolled out across 120 schools as part of a pilot project, with what is believed to be the aim of incorporating all primary schools.
"We have decided to go on strike nationwide very soon if the government of Liberia does not listen," NTAL head Mary Mulbah told AFP.
"This new system called PPP is not the solution to an improved education system in Liberia," she said.
"All the education system needs, is proper funding from government, and a strong monitoring mechanism."
Recommendations to the government had fallen on deaf ears, she said, accusing the administration of President Ellen Sirleaf of squandering $148 million on the project.
The government has previously told AFP only that it would spend $65 million in the first year of the rollout.
In a sign of the union's hardening attitude, the NTAL replaced previous head Reverend Ellen Fatou Barclay, who was seen as too sympathetic to the government plan, with the more militant Mulbah.
The privatisation scheme has also been condemned by the United Nations' Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Kishore Singh, who called it "completely unacceptable" and in violation of "Liberia's legal and moral obligations".
Liberia's deputy education minister however told AFP earlier this month that the PPP system would be free, would improve standards and had its base in US-style Charter Schools, independent establishments that seek to raise educational standards in poor areas.
"The parents will not pay a dime... The new system is going to use teachers that are on government payroll, and they are going to be monitored," Aagon Tingba said.
The dire state of education in the country, where children receive on average four years of schooling, according to the UN, and where 40 percent of the population is illiterate, had led the government to consider more radical solutions, Tingba said.
"The education's system we have now is on a serious challenge. Research has revealed that most of our high school graduates today are equivalent to fourth graders. Can we continue the same old thing and expect a different result? I say no."