Singer Akon backs Liberia schools' partnership with firm

By JONATHAN PAYE-LAYLEH - Associated Press 22 October 2016, 12:00AM

MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) — Senegalese-American hip-hop star Akon is endorsing Liberia's plan to outsource oversight of its primary education system to a Kenya-based for-profit company, a decision that some local educators have denounced.

This West African nation six months ago unveiled plans to allow Bridge International Academies to write curricula and train teachers. Some Liberian educators say this small country of about 4 million should focus on improving salaries and not cede control of schools to outsiders.

But Liberian officials argue that radical reforms are needed. In 2013, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf described the education system as "a mess" after all 25,000 students failed the entrance exams for the University of Liberia.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday, Akon said the outside partnership could be helpful, and he disagreed with those who argue the government should be responsible for everything.

"A lot of people don't realize that it's the people that develop countries," he said. "All government does is to try to manage the process, and in Africa we have a tendency of thinking that the government does it all for us."

The singer is partnering with Bridge International Academies on a program that promotes expanding electricity to increase learning opportunities.

Akon said he became convinced of the need to invest in power in Africa when, after living for 20 years in the U.S., he traveled to Senegal to find his grandmother still using candles.

"A wake-up call like that makes you say, 'OK, it just doesn't make sense how 20 years can pass by and the condition doesn't change," he said.

Bridge International Academies, which has received $10 million in backing from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, also works in other African countries such as Uganda.

By JONATHAN PAYE-LAYLEH - Associated Press 22 October 2016, 12:00AM

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