The administration of former Education Minister Etmonia David Tarpeh did not survive to enjoy reform methods her predecessors instituted at the Ministry when she and her team were relieved of their respective posts during the year under review. Some of those dismissed with Tarpeh included deputies for instruction, administration, and assistant minister for teachers’ education, among others.
The outcome of Tarpeh’s efforts was public criticisms, which prompted President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, to describe the sector as a “mess.”
The saga emanated from the poor performance of Liberian students across the country on public examinations.
Shortly after the President’s description of the sector, she replaced the Tarpeh administration with a “new” team headed by George K. Werner last June.
Mr. Werner’s team was appointed to straighten out a sector that has faced widespread criticisms from within and outside the government as being “a mess.”
Despite that decision, the sector continues to face challenges which Mr. Werner admitted were damages stemming from “decades of neglect, theft, war and the Ebola outbreak.” He said the need to overhaul the entire education system cannot be overemphasized.
Shortly after he took over as Minister, Werner said, “The current education system does not provide all Liberian children with the opportunity to learn and become active citizens able to serve our economy.”
Since the President appointed Mr. Werner and team, their efforts to improve the quality of learning have remained mostly on policy documents to the extent that the public believes the implementation of transformation in education was still far away.
Werner came under fire during the year under review for his unilateral, controversial policy aimed at creating a conducive learning environment for all students and teachers and to adjust the school calendar to revert to the normal cycle, which gives students more days in school – a move which also came under intense criticism.
To protest that decision, high school students took to the streets in July and physically blocked the Presidential convoy. Some of the students lay prostrate on the ground in front of the Presidential motorcade. The students were reportedly angry with the announced decision by Minister Werner to temporarily shut down all schools and reopen in September to make way for Liberia to return to its normal academic calendar that was interrupted by the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus disease (EVD). What mattered to the students the most was the pronouncement that they were not going to get their promotion statements.
In the aftermath of those events, Werner’s decision to adjust the school calendar dominated headlines during the year under review, but he quietly made some inroads when he began the distribution of one million textbooks to public schools for grades 5-9 in the four core subjects of Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, and English. An additional 1.3 million Supplementary Readers were distributed to public schools for grades 1-4. The textbooks and 20,000 teachers’ guides were also distributed along with instructional materials including atlases, maps, magnets and globes.
The President, addressing the nation in November said that her administration has been able to increase school enrollment to 1,531,489, with girls’ enrollment at nearly 50 percent.
“By 2017, we expect this number to be 2, 603, 531,” the President announced.
One aspect that is said to be responsible for the decline of education in postwar Liberia is teachers’ assignments, particularly to the rural areas of the country, with salaries and housing allowances not commensurate with those posts. Almost all teachers assigned in the rural areas reportedly often abandon classes at the end of every month to run after the ministry’s pay team. As a result, sometimes schools are deserted for a week or so leaving students with no alternative but to return to seeking other means of livelihood.
In some instances, teachers reported that they were actually permitted to go to the Ministry of Finance by the county’s education board in order to run after their salaries, a practice which continues to affect academic activities.
Whether the coming academic year will see teachers, particularly in the rural areas, staying in the classroom instead of running after paychecks for most of the academic term is the question.
MOE program to train teachers has produced at least some 10,441 teachers, but their presence is not being felt in the classrooms. It remains to be seen whether the government will put into practice what it has declared on paper that it is constructing comprehensive school facilities in the 15 counties to include housing for teachers.
During the year in review, the MOE said it continues to make steady progress by developing a national strategy for transformation through which the education sector is expected to “perform a very crucial role in translating and transforming the undertaking.”
The MOE also established the Education Sector Development Committee to facilitate policy and program in education that identified six policy areas. Those areas include the development of Early Childhood Education, Basic Education (grade 1-9) and Secondary Education (grade 10-12), Teacher Education, Vocational, Technical and Science Education, Education Management and Supervision, and Higher or Tertiary Education.
Though the challenges are enormous, MOE said it is committed to ensuring that all children have access to early childhood education, which is the basis to improve primary education and beyond.