On Education in Liberia

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President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

While summarizing the achievements of her 11 year old administration during her final State of the Nation address at the Legislature, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf announced the extension of free education up to the 12th grade in all public schools beginning next school year.

This declaration means that students from primary to secondary levels will begin free education as of the 2017/18 academic year.

Meanwhile, the president said that she will ‘deal’ with school administrators who will demand money from students in the category announced.

According to UNICESF, 64 percent of primary school-aged children in Liberia are not in school. From this number, about 14 percent stay at home to help take care of house duties or sell on the streets to help support their families. Also 22 percent, mostly in the leeward counties, live too far from the nearest school or cannot pay for school fees or buy a uniform.

“The basic education of bilateral and multilateral aid contributed or received by Liberia’s primary and secondary education is free and compulsory from the enforcement attendance from ages 5-16. On average, children attain 10 years of education (11 for boys and 8 for girls), but with all of these Liberia’s education sector is hampered by inadequate school supplies, corruption, and a lack of qualified teachers,” the President said.

Education experts say children who are not getting the basic education should be empowered by adults so they can be equipped to support their families and their communities out of poverty. Liberia ranks number one on the global ‘out of school’ list.

“Many Liberian students fail in public exams, and university placement entrance examinations because of poor background in English, which is the nation’s official language. This is caused by instructors who lack adequate skills in teaching that pass on wrong information to students. Also, corruption has allowed students to graduate from high school without knowing how to spell or write essays. Teachers who demand money for grades cause students to be reluctant in studying, and forces bribery to be a way of exceeding in life instead of hard work,” said Martin Kollie, a teacher at Prince Johnson junior high school in Paynesville.

He said education should be something earned by one’s own abilities “for a future life of ethics and goals,” that a solid educational system should permit government officials to stop sending their kids and grandkids to schools overseas, and instead enroll them in public schools.

“This investment will promote quality education, and create vast facilities for students to learn in both theory and practice.”

With the current state of the education system, the president “considers additional reform of the educational system to allow kids with different aptitudes to transit to technical and vocational training at an earlier phase of their schooling.”

She said sports activities, such as the County Meet, “which brings the best from our youth, should now be further addressed, through budgetary support, for a football academy that provides both quality education and sports training.”

Education experts spoken to said that with the President’s promise to do away with school fees for students up to the 12th grade, the Government of Liberia’s mission to dramatically improve the education system should not just be left to the partnership with Bridge International Academies, adding that “the country needs to train and equip teachers, ensure that classrooms have learning materials, and the provision of homework for children to continuously learn and achieve their educational goals.”

They said just as there will be free education for public schools, there should be an increase in public teachers’ salaries, saying that “this will stop salary protests and promote effective teaching “and stop or limit teachers from demanding money from kids.

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