The closure of some schools in Bong County owing to an acute shortage of teachers, as reported by Bong County correspondent Marcus Malayea in the June 29 edition of this newspaper, has claimed the attention of the Daily Observer.
According to the story, investigations conducted by the Daily Observer on Tuesday, June 18, 2019, has found out that schools in the Suakoko and Sanoyea School Districts, which include the Raymond Town, Waymue and Piata Public Schools, have shut their doors due to the lack of teachers.
One of such affected schools is the Piata Public School whose registrar, classroom teacher and principal Wallee Brown, 61, told the Daily Observer that he shut down the school because of the lack of teachers. Mr. Brown also serves as a classroom teacher, providing instruction from nursery through the sixth grade at the Piata Public School.
Currently, according to Mr. Brown, the local community of some 3,600 inhabitants are left in a quandary, not knowing what to make of the situation with only three weeks left to the end of the academic year. Moreover, pessimism as well as uncertainty have apparently taken hold, with community members unsure whether their children will resume classes after the break given the lack of available trained teachers.
According to Mr. Brown, the names of three teachers were deleted from the payroll allegedly because they lacked the requisite qualifications. That act left him as the sole teacher in the entire school, attending to the needs of some 250 students.
Another school, the Raymond Town Public School in Suakoko District is also faced with the same problem and has shut its doors due to the lack of teachers. Its Principal Julius Tokpa told the Daily Observer that the school previously had four teachers officially employed by the GoL.
This number was complemented by an additional two volunteer teachers. But, according to Principal Tokpa, absenteeism has been a perennial problem, particularly teacher absenteeism which in turn was contributing to student absenteeism. Students in some cases reported to class but there were no teachers available. Therefore the students were left with no choice but to return home.
Principal Tokpa told the Daily Observer, “We have four government employed teachers in the school with two volunteer teachers. For the volunteer teachers, I do not have control over them because they are not on government payroll”.
Further, according to him, the Ministry of Education’s foot-dragging on the elimination of ghost names on the payroll has only increased their woes because teachers assigned in these remote areas find it difficult to receive their salaries without having to travel to Monrovia.
And moreover, the process is long and very bureaucratic, requiring days on end for teachers to receive their salaries and, for as long as they are away, classes virtually come to a halt until they return. As a result, parents often resort to sending their children to traditional bush schools (Poro and Sande).
Liberia’s education system is clearly in crisis and, as former President Sirleaf once declared, the country’s education system is a mess. The question, therefore, is who is responsible. Available evidence suggests that the Liberian state has over the years been remiss underfunding education. Rather than committing more resources to education, the Sirleaf administration, for example, opted instead to outsource public education to a profit-making private venture.
According to a December 2010, World Bank Liberia Education Country Status Report entitled, “Out of the Ashes – Learning Lessons from the Past to Guide Education Recovery in Liberia”, lessons learnt from the experiences of other developing countries, more than 13.2 percent of the national budget should be committed to education as a necessary precondition to obtain optimal results.
The report notes that a salary scale for teachers, distinct from other civil servant salary scales, is essential to improve teaching quality and it further notes that the large number of volunteer teachers in the country’s education system is of grave concern.
Additionally, the report underscores with concern that allocations to the different levels was worrying, particularly secondary education, which has an impact on quality. It also highlights concern about subsidies, mainly to private institutions which could otherwise go to public schools. The controversial “Bridge” and “More Than Me” projects are prime examples of transfers and subsidies to private for-profit institutions which served to undermine efforts to support teacher training and quality.
A cursory look at statistics provided by UNESCO on public spending on education as a share of GDP from 1978 to 2017 shows that spending declined from 6.99 percent in 1978 to 3.8 percent in 2017. The average value for Liberia during that period was 4.16 percent with a minimum of 2.72 percent in 2013 and a maximum in 1978.
Clearly, Liberia can and must do better. The millions of dollars lost to corruption annually can go a long way to addressing the paucity of trained teachers, educational materials and supplies including science laboratories and libraries.
Comparatively speaking, no Liberian leader since Tolbert has committed as much as he did to the education of Liberian children, unlike the spit and polished, suave, urbane, Harvard educated financial expert who outsourced the education of Liberian children to foreign profiteers.
Her choice of a braggart and highly inept “da book we will eat” Education Minister at the sunset of her administration clearly showed that education was not a priority on her agenda for transformation. Even the illiterate soldier did better. Now the task of providing education to the illiterate masses has fallen on the shoulders of one who campaigned for national leadership on the mantra, “book people have failed Liberia”. Whether he can do any better to reverse the downward slide of the Liberian education system remains to be seen.
One thing is clear: Education is the bedrock of any nation!