The lack of support for education in the country is an age-old dilemma that has contributed immensely to the downward trend the sector has taken over the years.
Now, there are strong indications that lawmakers are ready to dialogue with the Executive Branch of the government to commit the needed resources to fix the system.
Sinoe County Senator, J. Milton Teahjay, a member of the Senate Committee on Education, has suggested that the government do away with what he calls “lip-service” and give more support to education through the budget process.
Senator Teahjay said even though education is tied to the security of the state, very little attention, only lip-service, has been given to the sector from the government, insisting that such neglect must be corrected.
The Sinoe Senator made the observation recently when the newly appointed Minister of Education, George K. Werner, along with his corps of officials took office.
Describing Werner’s team as “very lucky” administrators that have come to the Ministry of Education (MOE), under the watchful eyes of Senator Jewel Howard Taylor, Senator Teahjay said “we the members of the Senate Committee on Education are determined to ensure that education will have the kind of support that it needs to go beyond the lip-service it has been getting over the years.”
Teahjay went on to say that the greatest threat to the security of the state is illiteracy. “If our children are not educated, they will become vulnerable. Anybody can push a few thousands of dollars around and there will be noise here” Teahjay indicated.
According to him, education, health and security will be the three most important priorities of the legislature and he and his legislative colleagues are determined to ensure that the national budget reflects those major priorities.
Senator Jewel Taylor had earlier challenged the government to be real to education by committing the resources needed to change what has been described as “a mess” to “the best.”
Senator Taylor said it was unacceptable for the MOE to be getting just 50 percent of what it actually needs in the national budget saying, “The government must remodel the budget for MOE to address the many challenges in the sector, which is associated with the future of our young people.”
Senator Teahjay meanwhile said Liberians through the Legislature have signed up to the “good and strategic plan for education” designed by Minister Werner and his team. As such, it was important that the Werner team be given more time and support to perfect the country’s education system, he declared.
“What we saw as a plan from Minister Werner is a plan that we all have signed up to and whoever becomes President in 2017, should be ready to continue with this team. Minister Werner has a very good vision and we don’t want people shaking up the education authorities of this country. We want them to stay here and achieve that vision” the tough talking Sinoe County Lawmaker said.
For his part, Minister Werner named the lack of continuity in the leadership at the MOE as one of the major problems facing the education system of Liberia.
Under the Ellen led administration, the MOE has had four Ministers starting with Dr. Joseph D. Z. Korto, and the age-old Othello Gongar before being replaced by the departing Etmonia David Tarpeh.
Each of those ministers came with his and her own plans and sometimes refused to work with what they met in operation.
But Minister Werner has vowed to build on the efforts of Etmonia Tarpeh to reform the system.
“Much of the mess the President spoke of is in Transition and lack of continuity and my team and I will build on the successes of the team that has just left,” Werner assured.
He said the schools are under attack in the areas of poverty, theft or corruption, conflicts (including arms conflict) and most recently the Ebola crisis.
On theft or corruption, Minister Werner said “When text books intended for students are diverted for different use; when teachers are exchanging grades for sex; when young girls are dropping out of schools after being impregnated by their teachers, these are tantamount to stealing from the future of the country.”
Much to the appreciation of the audience, Minister Werner took up time to talk about the quality of teachers in the Liberian school system and the need for better pay to make the sector more professional.
“We cannot allow a high school graduate to teach a high school student” Mr. Werner said, in reference to a situation that is very prevalent in the system.
It was time for the government to invest in Education and demand results, he stressed.
According to him, the Ministry will work with the Legislature to ensure that those reforms take root.
“George Werner might just be relatively unknown, but he has some very good and interesting ideas and he looks determined to make the education system work well,” a keen observer at the program told the Daily Observer.
In the words of Senator Taylor, the government must now show “deeds not words” in its professed support to education, which will be crucial to any success that will be realized by the new team of Education bureaucrats.