New RCT reveals that Liberia significantly improves primary school learning outcomes in three years 

A new independent three year study released today shows that Liberia’s innovative public private partnership (PPP) – the Liberian Education Advancement Program (LEAP) – has significantly improved learning outcomes for children across the country. A Randomised Control Trial (RCT) by the Center for Global Development and Innovations Poverty Action (IPA) was commissioned by the Liberian government in 2016 to measure whether the government designed and led PPP improved learning outcomes in public primary schools.

The eagerly anticipated study results in LEAP schools, revealed:

  • Overall, LEAP learning improved by 0.26 standard deviations (SDs) in English and 0.35 SDs in maths; equating to more than a year of additional student learning. 
  • Bridge Liberia -supported schools increased learning by 0.62 SDs; equating to 2.5 years of additional learning. 
  • Students in Bridge Liberia -supported schools effectively achieved 5.5 years of schooling in just 3 years.

While the improved outcomes are significant across the programme, the overall LEAP programme averages are diluted because they include all eight non state partners. Three of the partners did not improve learning compared to traditional public primary schools; whereas five of the eight providers in the programme significantly improved learning outcomes

The Ministry of Education intended to use the study to evidence which providers were successful at increasing learning outcomes in order to inform policy decisions. However, the study does not enable comparison between providers; but only between individual operator treatment and control schools.

The first randomised control trial paper was released in 2017, at the end of the first year of the programme. It showed that learning gains had improved overall by 60% in the first year. At Bridge Liberia  supported schools, learning gains had doubled. 

The second paper, published at the end of three years, evidences the impact of the overall programme and shows that some providers have succeeded in almost doubling the amount of learning being achieved by children in LEAP schools.

Alongside improved outcomes, the RCT has shown that the programme is well on the path to financial sustainability. Programme costs have significantly decreased over time, as the programme design anticipated. At the end of the three year study, providers were delivering the LEAP programme at $119 per student compared to the $304 average cost in year one. LEAP was designed to ultimately be deliverable within the government’s budget of $100 a child; in year four, the programme is projected to deliver services within that budget.

Support for growing and improving the education system

Commenting on the report, Griffin Asigo, Country Director in Liberia said: “Liberia has been at the forefront of the global education conversation and I am delighted that after three years, children are learning far more in the public school system than they would have been otherwise. Now that the Ministry has expanded the programme, nearly 50,000 children stand to benefit. This could change the growth and prosperity of the country as a whole in years to come. I congratulate the government on their vision and their success.”

Dr. Steven Cantrell, Vice President of Measurement and Evaluation at Bridge Liberia  said: “The Liberian Government has commissioned the RCT to provide the Ministry of Education with evidence to fairly judge the success of LEAP, especially its efforts to improve student learning. Sadly, this report speaks primarily to an academic audience and is likely to be misunderstood by those without specialised training. The authors’ apparently have little desire to help the Ministry expand and improve this programme, despite their own evidence that LEAP has improved learning outcomes for thousands of children.”

In 2016, 62% of primary school aged children were not enrolled in Liberia. Thirty-five per cent of women and 21% of men could not read a single sentence. LEAP was designed with a singular goal, to improve learning outcomes for Liberian children.

Success of public private partnerships

The results will be seen as an indicative test of whether public private partnerships can support governments to transform their public education systems in some of the worlds most impoverished countries. The outcomes will serve as inspiration to national and global policy makers alike.
Now in year four, The Ministry of Education has expanded  the LEAP program to 225 schools. Bridge Liberia  LEAP has been asked by the government to support 170 of those schools.