Teachers Threaten Nationwide Strike

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Confusion created between teachers and the Ministry of Education (MOE) over the latter’s decision to introduce a new set of tests for the former has taken a different turn with teachers threatening to institute a nationwide strike action should the MOE continue with the exercise.

The teachers, under the banner of the National Teachers’ Association of Liberia (NTAL), have meanwhile called on the government to halt the MOE from administering the test, and also put a halt to the implementation of the Public Private Partnership (PPP) in education activities until parties concerned can hold a nationwide consultative meeting.

“The NTAL representatives to National Executive Council (NEC) is vehemently opposed to the administering of tests to teachers and education workers, as we know that the test is a part of the process of the PPP scheme,” the teachers denounced in a statement issued Tuesday.

In a related development, the teachers said failure on the part of the MOE to reinstate two of their colleagues the Ministry suspended and also suspend the entire ongoing PPP process, they will embark on series of strike actions.

The two suspended teachers are president and secretary-general of the Bong County branch of NTAL, James S. K. Miller, and Bill G. Yealue respectively. The two, according to their colleagues, were suspended by the district education officer of Bong County “for no tangible reasons.”

“MOE should suspend the entire ongoing PPP process, which includes the administering of tests to teachers and education workers or else the teachers will be left with no other alternative, but to call for a nationwide strike action,” the teachers said.

Another demand they put forward to the MOE is for salary increment, which they claimed should be commensurate with their qualification.

They also want all teachers trained by MOE at the various teacher training institutes (TTIs), including cohorts 5 and 6, be absorbed into the system, as well as abolish the so-called supplementary payroll, and regularize concerned teachers statuses after the payroll cleaning process.

“We also consider Deputy Education Minister Aagon F. Tingba’s assertion equating Liberia’s high school students to mere 4th grade students in America as a way of degrading our educational system; and therefore, condemn him in the strongest term. We call on him to retract that statement effective immediately,” the teachers declared.

But the ministry said the exercise is a proposal to overhaul the education system.

The government has signed a memorandum of understanding with Bridge International Academies, a low-cost nursery and primary private school system that uses technology-based approach to provide standardized education to students in developing countries.
Poor student performance

Education Minister, George Werner, told the Voice of America (VOA) that the government is not privatizing the nation’s public education system. Rather, he said it is entering into a public-private partnership for education because the current poor performance level of Liberian schools requires drastic action.

But the NTAL Secretary said the proposed partnership is not feasible, sustainable, and it violates Liberia’s Constitution and education laws.

Lack of high tech infrastructure

“Based on our research, we told him [Mr. Werner] that it was not feasible to have this Bridge International Academies come teach children using digital tablets. Less than three percent of our population in Liberia has access to electricity. Also, we don’t have Internet facilities in most of our schools. Kenya has a more advanced technology than us. They have 24-hour electricity and yet, Bridge International Academies is under performing there,” Johnson said.

Werner disagrees and says Liberia has the institutional set up for this technology-based type of learning.

“There are many parts of the country, from Maryland to Montserrado, to Grand Gedeh, Nimba, and Lofa, and Cape Mount where we have Internet connectivity. We haven’t covered the country in full, but we are well on our way to doing so,” Werner said.

Low graduation rate

About 1.5 million children are enrolled in primary schools in Liberia, but the government said only 20 percent of the children complete 12th grade. Liberia’s protracted civil war in the 1990s has also taken its toll on the nation’s education system. In 2013, nearly 25,000 students failed the University of Liberia entrance exams, the VOA reported.

But Minister Werner said the government cannot continue to have students trapped in schools that are not working for them.

“The statistics are grim for us; we do not have sufficient trained and qualified teachers; our teacher attendance is poor, and the learning outcome for every student is dismal. So what we are trying to do is to leverage the best of the private sector in terms of management systems and accountability and governance to improve all of these elements and accelerate learning outcomes for our children wherever they are,” Werner said.

Teachers want more support
But Johnson said Liberia cannot continue to run its school system on a trial and error basis. He said there’s no plan for sustainability of the partnership after the five-years being proposed for the pilot project.

In addition, Johnson said the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf government is slated to leave office in two years.

Johnson rejected criticism that teachers are resisting change and that they are partly to blame for the underperformance of Liberian school children. He said the problem is the lack of training and equipment and general overall funding for the current education system.

“Right now there are no textbooks in most of the schools. The very University of Liberia that is supposed to be training teachers to go and teach at the high school level, the labs are not equipped; the majority of our high schools do not have access to laboratory for students to be able to do research; biology, chemistry, and physics teachers find it very difficult. This is why most of the students are failing. But they are trying to deviate and find scapegoats,” Johnson said.

Pilot program

The pilot project will start with about 50 schools. Teacher’s lesson guide subject areas include English, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, and Moral Education, according to the MOU. Each teacher will be supplied with an e-reader tablet running Bridge’s suite of operating systems and applications to which all lessons and the teacher resource library will be published.

But Johnson said the teachers have asked the National Legislature to stop the education minister from implementing this project.

“We have taken the issue to the National Legislature because it’s a violation of our Constitution, Article 6, which calls for equal access to education, and the education laws. We are waiting for reaction from the National Legislature.”

Johnson said the NTAL will call for a nationwide strike if the education minister continues to push for implementation of the PPP in education.

“If he does not listen, that’s the next option. There will be a nationwide strike if they continue to impose something that we know is not feasible, not sustainable, and it is a violation of our Constitution and education laws,” Johnson said.

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