President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on Monday informed fellow Liberians that her government is committed to investing in human development relative to the attainment of quality education, healthcare and other services critical to national development.
Putting the country’s literacy rate is at 57 percent, the Liberian leader made the statement when she delivered this year’s annual message to the third Session of the 53rd National Legislature on the theme, “Consolidating the Process of Transformation.”
President Sirleaf’s 2-hour, 35-minute speech was punctuated with rounds of applause mainly from her supporters and government officials in the audience.
According to the president, “human development is central to our transformation agenda, and our goal is to improve the quality of life of Liberians by investing in more accessible and higher quality education,affordable and accessible quality healthcare; social protection for vulnerable citizens; and expanded access to healthy and environmentally friendly water and sanitation services.”
Education, she said, is the most critical element of a development agenda, “though it is not cheap, and requires sacrifices by parents, students, teachers, leaders, and the entire nation.”
Quoting the 2010 census, the Liberian leader observed that the educational system, as it currently stands, consists of 2,849 schools—2,103 of which are public, 343 private, 226 faith based, and 177 community-driven schools.
She added that there are five community colleges existing or in pre-operational status. These include the Grand Bassa, Bomi, Bong, Grand Gedeh, Lofa, and Nimba community colleges.
The President also reported the existence of nine four-year degree-granting institutions, including the University of Liberia (UL) and Tubman University which are public; two vocational training institutes–Booker Washington Institute, which plans to move from high school to junior college; and the Monrovia Vocational Training Center, which should also move this year into new ‘modern and well-equipped facilities.’
The UL, she added, has a current enrollment of 34,000 students with facilities that are "most inadequate for the numbers."
Owing to that, she said, “It is time that we create a more conducive atmosphere for learning consistent with what pertains in other countries by completing the UL Fendell Campus with all the boarding, housing, academic, and sporting facilities that are required.”
The President also informed Liberians that a survey of the land is nearing completion, after which the government will start the process of demolishing the structures, most of them illegal that have prevented the building of a proper university.
“Proposals will be made in the next budget to start this process of full relocation from the politics of Capitol Hill to the knowledge center of Fendell,” the President declared to a long round of applause, punctuated by laughter.
The president singled out Tubman University, which she described as a proper learning environment, with enrollment of 838 for the first semester of the academic year 2013-2014. It is gaining the reputation of a "quality technical institution, under a no-nonsense administration," she added.
However, the President observed that while her government initiated and promoted the establishment of community colleges, “it is clear that we must now limit further expansion due to the lack of teachers and education materials that will result in quality education, wherein a shifting to regional community colleges is now under consideration.”
Referring to the 'Education is a mess' saga in 2013, the president explained: "…several months ago, I used rather unsavory terms to describe the education system. I did so as a reality check and a call to action. The Constraints Analysis puts the case: Though overall school enrolment and educational attainment rates have seen improvements in recent years, it is also important to note that a large percentage of Liberia’s current workforce is made up of unskilled labor, particularly in the rural areas and among women. 45% of Liberian males age 15 and over have no education, or did not complete primary school, and 67% of females have not or did not complete primary school, thus placing the literacy rate at 57%.”
“The quality of education,” she said, “will also remain a major challenge in the medium term as most educational institutions lack the necessary laboratory and training materials, and are in need of reconstruction.
The performance of the students too, who have taken nationally administered secondary school examinations tend to be below standard, although there is slow, but gradual improvement.
“A large number of primary school students are considered inadequately prepared for school. For example, early grade reading results from the 2010 Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) show an average score well below the average for the region. This poor foundation makes it difficult for students that move on to junior and secondary high school and into the workplace.”
“The quality of technical/vocational training system also is extremely poor and limited in scope. A 2008 international Labor Organization (ILO) Technical and Vocational Education (TVET), and Training Tracer Study found that 93% of TVET institutions in Liberia had poor quality education; 69% provided training not relevant to marketplace; and only 19% of graduates were able to find full employment.”
Following a Sector Review, the president disclosed, an Education Task Force was established to formulate a four-year plan to respond to the crisis in education.
The Operational Plan for 2014-2016 focuses on three key areas: increased learning achievement by improving the quality and conditions of teaching and learning; improvement in student performance and completion through increased access, enrolment, transition, and retention; transformation of systems through improved education governance and management within the context of decentralization for effective delivery of education services.
President Sirleaf, however, admitted that the implementation of the plan is a "tall order with huge financial implications. But we must start the process as there is no better way to ensure a better future for our children. I will revert to you once the financial implications of the Plan have been determined,” she concluded.