On the very day Liberia inaugurated its new President and Vice President, a civil society organization released what it referred to as ‘useful data’ to support the new government’s education and youth development programs.
The data is contained in a report titled: A Decade Without Higher Education, which details findings from a study conducted in September and October 2017, that sought to understand the level of education attained by local commercial motorcycle and taxi drivers within the last decade.
There are an estimated 40,000 commercial motorcyclists in the country.
Open Liberia’s executive director, Samuka Konneh, warned that in another decade from now, and as attractive as the commerical motorcycle sector remains, more and more young people will fail to attain higher education – thereby increasing the number of illiterates and school-dropouts in the country.
The study concludes that as much as commercial motorcycle business seems to be a vibrant income-generating sector, it has in some significant ways hampered the pursuit of higher education by Liberia’s youth population. Releasing the report, Konneh said that the fast and untaxed revenues from this sector discourages actors from pursuing sustainable careers, either through higher academic, technical or vocational education, adding that the sector plays an enduring role in suppressing the national campaign against illiteracy.
The study interviewed 1,001 motorcycle taxi drivers – 868 or 86.2% of whom the study finds have spent between one to ten years in the sector.
“But in that whole decade, 90% of respondents attained less than a high school education. Only two motorcyclists were found to have graduated from a college or university, although 53 enrolled,” Konneh said.
According to him, the primary reason commercial motorcyclists cited for not furthering their education was the lack of money to cater to personal, family, and school obligations at the same time, and from a single income source. “Interestingly, only a few respondents blamed their not being in school on lack of interest or lack of school in their communities. In fact, as per the data, all except 5 respondents expressed interest in going back to school,” he said.
Specifically, the study found that 45 of respondents (4.7%) have only attained elementary education; 231 (23.9%) have attained junior high education; 251 respondents (26%) have attained up to but not more than senior high education; while 341 respondents (35.3%) have graduated from high school within the last decade.
The study also finds that within the last decade, only 21 of the respondents enrolled at a technical or vocational school.
Holding the country’s stability as a measurement, the reports says any person who was in elementary school in 2003 would have been out of high school by the end of the decade in 2013.
Konneh: “Similarly, those who were in junior high within the same time frame would have been in their 2nd or 3rd year in college while those at high school level would have all been out of college by now – if they had remained or continued in school. But the reality is different, based on the data our study has generated from speaking with actors in this sector.”
Apart from the inquiry about their educational level, the study also inquired about why these young people chose the motorcycle taxi sector. The primary reason cited by them was to sustain themselves and their families, and not to pay school fees. 366 or 36.6% of respondents said they chose the trade primarily to sustain themselves while 318 (31.8%) chose it to sustain their families. In fact, only 99 respondents (9.8%) chose to drive motorcycle taxi in order to pay school fees.
“These statistics explain why 90% of commercial motorcyclists interviewed are still in high school or only high school graduates,” Konneh added.
The civil society organization is proposing that while commercial motorcycling remains a viable income generating sector, stakeholders in Liberia’s education and youth development should begin to develop technical, vocational or professional training programs specifically tailored for and targeting actors in this sector.
“Our emphasis on this category of young people is based on the fact that they find motorcycle taxi driving as an activity that generates income to handle their immediate expenses, but ignore the long term effect of not being educated. Commercial motorcycling is not a sustainable trade or career. The fact that 90% of the young people interviewed did not get enough income to enroll in a higher learning institution supports our conclusion that commercial motorcycling is not a sustainable activity,” says Konneh.
“If we must empower and include our young people in our country’s governance, we must start by prioritizing education rather than money-making at an early stage in their lives,” he concluded.