Though a few of the many reforms that the government, through Education Minister George Werner, promised to initiate to help transform the country’s education system are creating a lot of controversies, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf says those initiatives are meant to make the system a vibrant one, especially for the kids.
She said her government’s vision is to ensure that Liberian children, especially those at the pre-school and elementary levels, get quality education to contribute meaningfully to the development of the country.
President Sirleaf made these comments in her keynote address delivered last week at the Education Round Table gathering 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,” she said.
The conference aimed to foster a shared vision for quality education in Liberia; ensure that all stakeholders feel consulted; 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, MOE authorities said.
Upon his appointment months ago, Minister Werner told the National Legislature that he would initiate several reform exercises to transform the system from “Mess to Best,” but two of his reform exercises have received a barrage of criticisms, with many saying that they are not in the interest of the country and people.
As one of his reform plans, Minister Werner called on all teachers to take a standardized test for public school teachers that would enable MOE to know their qualification.
The test and the ministry’s plan to outsource the country’s education system through a Public Private Partnership (PPP) initiative to a United States company, Bridge International Academies, are two of the unpopular reform policies that have been initiated by Minister Werner.
President Sirleaf tacitly approved both proposals, especially the MOE proposed test, having said that teachers who refuse to take the test would lose their jobs.
The President said at the Roundtable that PPP or 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.”
She expressed gratitude to stakeholders who are in pursuit of quality education for showing commitment to the education of the children, assuring her government’s continued commitment to improve education; realizing that educating each generation of children is the only way the country can govern and manage its resources effectively; develop the next generation of businesses and national leaders; and enable every child to achieve his/her full potential.
She commended MOE for taking what she termed as “a bold step” that intends to give the country a bright future.
She noted that some of her first decisions as President were targeted at increased access to education for girls; abolishing payment of school fees for primary education in all public schools. She said she was 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 4,000 to about 5,000, with 500 of them being public schools.
She said her administration’s highest intervention impact throughout the education system is to improve the quality of teaching, which to date is around 16,000 teachers, although getting to 50 students per teacher is yet to be achieved.
“We will need 23,000 teachers in the next few years,” she said.
But sadly, according to the President, more than a third of 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.”
Teachers’ take home pay may have steadily increased from a mere L$7,000 (a little over US$70) per month to a minimum of L$12,000 (US$133) for regular payroll or L$30,000 (US$333) for graduates.
“This is not sufficient to attract our best graduates to teaching the next generation. Mathematically, this would mean – our budget would have to be US$65.4 million for teacher payroll alone, although our entire education budget is US$44 million,” she noted.
She 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.
Minister Werner also defended his PPP initiative at the event, saying that it is the best way forward for the country. He noted that if the country wants to follow the traditional system, it would take over 50 years before the education system is transformed. This, he said, the country cannot afford, as it would be far behind its counterparts.
The conference brought together major stakeholders in the sector, including development partners, District Education Officers, school administrators, presidents of various universities and colleges, among others.
Some of the university presidents present at the event were Dr. Emmett Dennis of the University of Liberia, Dr. Elizabeth Russell of Tubman University in Haper, Maryland County, and Sister Mary Laurene Browne of Stella Maris Polytechnic.