Minister Amara Konneh, during the Founding Day Anniversary
In an effort to improve learning environment for Liberian students, the Booker Washington Institute (BWI) over the weekend dedicated two of its newly constructed facilities when the institution celebrated its 85th Founding Day Anniversary.
The newly constructed and dedicated facilities were the BWI Renewable Energy Center and the BWI/Japanese Heavy Duty Equipment Operating School.
Serving as Keynote speaker at the event, Finance Minister Amara Konneh said Liberia is making progress in the educational sector but improvement is slow and expenditure in the sector is poorly prioritized.
He pointed out the 2010 National School Census places the nation’s literacy rate for ages 15 to 24 at 79%, up from 74% in 2007, but the overall literacy is only 57%. The net enrolment ratio (NER) has also climbed from 33% in 2007 to 44% in 2011, while the primary completion rate showed an improvement from 69% in 2007 to 83% in 2009.
The Finance Minister said despite these gains, the country is unlikely to meet the 2015 MDG Universal Primary Education target (Liberia MDGs Report 2012).
“The share of total spending on education in the national budget is low, at around 12%, although donors provide over half of spending in the sector. The largest share of public expenditure by level is for higher education, despite it is enrolling less than 5% of students, compared to the 80% of students in primary education. Donor spending largely targets primary education, supporting the gap.
Technical and vocational education and training also faces challenges, and is poorly aligned with private sector demand.
Since 2006, this government has appropriated about US$12.44 million to the operation of this institution, and has planned to spend about US$1.8 million for the Fiscal Year 2014/2015. While there may have been delays in disbursement of funds during recent years, due to prevailing national economic constraints, the government has striven to ensure that what is appropriated for this institution is disbursed to enhance its smooth operations.
Also, amidst daunting demands of our meager financial resources, the government continues to render subsidies to our institutions of higher education because of the value we place on the development of our citizenry. From Fiscal Year 2005/2006 to 2013/2014, the government has appropriated about US$97.71 million to institutions of higher learning. The University of Liberia, which is the national institution of higher learning, has received about 64% of this amount. Other national and private institutions such as Tubman University, Cuttington University, United Methodist University, African Methodist Episcopal University and the African Methodist Episcopal Zion University as well as our community colleges have all benefited from governments subsidies,” he said.
However, Minister Konneh said the government remains committed to providing support to the operating of our higher learning. We expect some of these institutions to be able to operate in an efficient manner that generates their own income to enhance the provision of quality services to the students
“We all want a society of educated people capable of positively contributing to the development of our economy and the nation in a holistic manner. We all want a generation of Liberians that steer the affairs of this nation in a direction that enables our common patrimony to fully regain its lost glory. But we must all try, as citizens, to contribute to the development of necessary capacities of our future generation. Beneficiaries of higher education must, therefore, pay a fair price for their education so that they may demand quality services. The University of Liberia cannot continue to run at US$2.50 per credit hour at the undergraduate level.
The vision of BWI’s founders was to establish an institution that would produce the technical skills necessary for driving the development of our country, and provide the model for vocational and technical education in our country.
As you may be aware, Liberia has developed an ambitious plan (the Vision 2030) to make our country a middle income society in about 15 years. We intend leveraging our country’s resources, through foreign direct investment, to achieve this goal. But if our citizens are to benefit from the massive foreign direct investment that government has attracted over the years, we must provide them with the necessary technical skills to be able to take up responsible positions in all sectors of our economy.
This means that our technical institutions must be innovative, and begin aligning our training curricula with the skills required by the economy,” he stressed.
The Finance Minister noted that as the intuition begins initiatives to start raising funds through the launch of an endowment fund to be able to provide training for our future generation, the government will continue to assist, and explore other means of sourcing support not only for BWI, but also for other technical and vocational training institutions, because Liberia needs more vocational technical skills today than ever.
“If BWI is going to successfully generate funds from alternative sources, you have to involve and get support from the community and alumni, but the challenges are compounded because the community itself faces so many issues.
There needs to be a real change made to make education financing more predictable, fair and equitable. This will require both the Executive and Legislative branches of government working together than ever before. We need to stop kicking the can down the road hoping for a miracle. Instead, we must work on finding a solution.
And so it is to BWI and other institutions of learning in Liberia – to the molders of the minds of young Liberians, the boosters of their confidence – that we look for strength and assistance, confidence that with your help our young people will be what they were born to be: live to their fullest potential.
As you celebrate the 85th Founder’s Day Anniversary, we wish you the best in your endeavors, and assure you of government and our personal commitment to providing this institution the necessary assistance to enhance the development of the appropriate technical skills for our country’s development,” the Finance Minister said.
The BWI principal, Alexander Massey, extended a cordial welcome to the guests and gave a progress report on the school’s operations.
Among prominent guests at the program were Vice President Joseph N. Boakai, the Charge d’Affaires, Madam Sheila Paskman, members of the Margibi Legislative Caucus and the Mission Director of the United States Agency for International Development, John Mark Winfield; Vice Chair Emmanuel Lawrence and members of the BWI Board of Governors.