Online ISSN : 2187-5278
Print ISSN : 0387-3161
ISSN-L : 0387-3161
Special Issue: Education and Translation
Rethinking Policy Transfer in Comparative Education: The Case of Partnership Schools for Liberia
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2019 Volume 86 Issue 2 Pages 213-224


 With the emergence and growth of the practice of education export and import, comparative education is facing a new phenomenon. Conventionally, comparativists have discussed issues using the concepts of ‘policy transfer’ and ‘policy lending/borrowing’. Cowen (2006) divides policy transfer into three stages: transfer, translation, and transformation. Policy transfer in education has led ultimately to transformation, where the original translation becomes indigenous or, conversely, extinct. However, in the case of education export and import, policy transformation is inherently avoided, mainly to maintain the superiority of the export side and thus secure profit from the trade.

 This new phenomenon is illustrated in this paper through the case of the business of the Partnership Schools for Liberia (PSL). PSL is an attempt to outsource governmental preschools and primary schools to non-state actors, including for-profit organizations, who are mostly foreign-based. PSL's aim is to ‘1) select, commission, and contract non-state operators to run 94 public primary schools, leading to higher learning outcomes in literacy and numeracy; 2) build the capacity of the Ministry of Education to effectively play the role of commission, regulator, and quality assurer to PSL schools, and 3) conduct a rigorous external evaluation to measure the performance (quality, cost-effectiveness, equity) of PSL schools in comparison with traditional public schools' (Ministry of Education 2017).

 Three issues are raised through this case. First, to secure fairness, PSL schools are outsourced to several organizations; however, the reality is that the actors' monetary flow and personal relationships are overlapped and interrelated. Second, the Liberian government outsources all three areas of PSL's aims to foreign organizations, which creates structural difficulties for indigenisation in the local context. Despite the Education Minister's ‘vision for transformational public schools in every district across the country, providing access to every child’, PSL contractors have the power to intentionally control the degree of indigenisation. Third, by outsourcing to various actors whose countries have achieved far more advanced technologies and methodologies in education, certain area of Liberia experience the leapfrog phenomenon. In the ordinary development process, Liberia is clearly in the phase of quantitative expansion. However, by ‘buying’ a ‘school-in-a-box’ product and carrying out external evaluations based on student performance, PSL schools skip the phase of quantitative expansion and move directly to quality evaluation. This is a unique case.

 Finally, by rethinking and reflecting on the framework of comparative education theory, the case of Liberia can be defined as a new type of policy transfer that lacks the transformation phase. It is a challenge for comparative education to refine and develop a framework to analyse cases in education export/import, where a country adopts the policy of ‘buying’ a ‘school-in-a-box’.

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© 2019 Japanese Educational Research Association
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