President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has commended the authorities at Ministry of Education (MOE) for taking a bold step in initiating a two-day Round Table Conference to foster a shared-vision for quality education in Liberia.
She said the process will ensure that stakeholders feel consulted to guide Liberia towards developing a greater understanding of the challenges in education and the difficult decisions that need to be taken in a resource-constrained environment.
According to an Executive Mansion release, President Sirleaf was speaking on Thursday when she delivered the keynote address at the Education Round Table gathering at the Monrovia City Hall in Monrovia.
“Our target is to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4; intended to allocate limited resources to ensure that as many Liberian children as possible get quality education,” the President said.
She expressed gratitude to all the stakeholders in pursuit of quality education for showing commitment to the education of Liberian children and acknowledged progress made but noted that much more needs to be done.
The President also assured her continued commitment to improve education; realizing that educating each generation of children is the only way Liberia can govern and manage its resources effectively, develop the next generation of businesses and national leaders, and enable every child to achieve their full potential.
She mentioned some her initial decisions as President, targeted at increased access to education for girls and abolishing payment of school fees for basic education in all public schools.
President Sirleaf said she is proud that with increased access, enrollment has now reached 1.5 million students. Statistically, there are 800,000 boys in school and almost 725,000 girls; while the number of schools has increased from under four thousand to about 5000 where 500 of these are public schools.
She said her administration’s highest impact of intervention throughout the education system is to improve the quality of teaching, which to date is around 16,000 teachers, even though in order to get to 50 students per teacher, Liberia will need 23,000 teachers in the next few years.
Sadly, President Sirleaf said more than a third of the country’s current teachers are still on supplementary payroll, “A post-conflict, temporary payment system that we have just managed to remove in the health sector, which continues to plague our education sector.”
President Sirleaf said teachers’ take home pay steadily improved from L$7,000 per month, to a minimum of L$12,000 for regular payroll or L$30,000 for graduates; as this is not sufficient to attract the best graduates for the next generation.
Mathematically, “this would mean – our budget would have to be $65.4 million for teachers’ payroll alone although our entire education budget is $44m.”
She said funding for TVET and tertiary education has rapidly increased to 47 percent of the total education budget; echoing that Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET) and tertiary education students get about US$332 per head plus the equipment needed as opposed to US$45 per head at primary and secondary levels.
The President said her administration intends to put in place irreversible systems that hold teachers, schools, CEOs, DEOs, parents, community leaders, and school boards accountable – thus ensuring that schools are effectively monitored.
She clarified that partnership schools are pilot-driven initiatives that seek to improve or accelerate learning outcomes, adding: “If they work, we can expand the successful models while we continue to work, in parallel, on paying all teachers and training them.”
Madam Sirleaf said the initiative is also intended to rebrand TVET to ensure that those who graduate are able to find employment or a regular income spanning from six months, one year and two years after graduating.
She stressed the need to create an agreed challenge given that literacy is the foundation of all learning.
“By 2021, we must ensure that 90 percent of children at grade six can read and are on par with internationally benchmarked standards,” she said.
According to President Sirleaf, “our country can only achieve this through huge leap forward and by working together.” She called for joint efforts to face the real challenges in taking tough decisions, allocating limited resources, trying new approaches to see what work in Liberia, and ensuring that “we prepare the future national and business leaders of Liberia, who are now boys and girls to take us to prosperity.”
Earlier, in his welcome remarks and overview, Education Minister, George Werner said Liberia’s educational system has had problems since April 14, 1979 Rice Riot, prior to the April 12, 1980 Coup d’état, which saw the overthrow of President Tolbert, the October 1985 disputed General and Presidential elections (NDPL), the November 1985 invasion; the December 1990 War and ECOMOG intervention.
He pointed out that there is need for the sustainable development goal for a radical approach in the country’s educational sector.
The conference was attended by Senator Albert Chea of Grand Kru County, local and international educational stakeholders, District Education Officers, school administrators, civil society groups, among others.