Teachers President Ellen Varfley’s Timely, Urgent Appeal to the Legislature

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Madam Ellen Varfley, President of the National Teachers Association of Liberia (NTLA), last Wednesday made a timely and urgent appeal to the Legislature to increase the nation’s Education Budget.

Addressing this year’s World Teachers Day, held under the theme “Empowering Teachers, Building Sustainable Societies,” Madam Varfley said teachers occupy “a critical position in nation building. Their role in shaping and molding society cannot be overemphasized.”

Indeed, where would House Speaker Alex Tyler or Senate President Pro-Tempore Armah Jallah be had their elementary and high school teachers not taught them well? Where would any of us, even President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, have been had not our teachers faithfully taught us and prepared us for the future?

Remember, just as the British philosopher John Locke said, every human being is born with the mind blank, “tabula rasa,” which means a blank slate. Every child starts acquiring knowledge from the time he or she first saw the light, just out of the mother’s womb. The child slowly starts acquiring knowledge from experiences and what he or she learns from the mother or those who in her absence nurtured and prepared the child for nursery or primary school.

So it is teachers who, once a child starts nursery school, impart knowledge. After nursery and kindergarten, the student goes to first grade and onward through high school, and, given the opportunity, university.

So from the formative years of our early childhood through adulthood, we depend on our teachers to guide us up the educational ladder.

So what can anyone do without teachers? Yet, teachers are surprisingly among the most neglected professionals. For most of us, as soon as we leave school we forget our teachers.

As for the Liberian government, from time immemorial its teachers have been underpaid. In the 1950s through the 1960s the General Secretaries of the National Teachers Associations, including N.T. Dennis, Gabriel Farngalo and Albert Porte, all made it their chief preoccupation to advocate for better teachers’ salaries. The government was sometimes responsive, but not nearly enough compared to the strenuous work teachers have to do.

This has led to widespread “moonlighting” among teachers—going from one school to another teaching to make ends meet.

NTAL President Varfley told the Daily Observer yesterday that for the past five years the Liberia Teacher Training Program (LTTP) has trained over a thousand teachers at the various Teacher Training Institutes in Kakata, Margibi County, Zorzor in Lofa County and Webbo in Maryland County, but most of the teachers trained remain unemployed.

According to Madam Varfley, most of the teachers engaged in schools in the interior are on the “supplementary payroll,” which means that they are not paid full time. During a recent visit to Bomi County, she said she found at least one teacher who told her he had been teaching for eight years, but was not yet on the payroll.

She explained that high school graduate teachers are paid LD8000 and teach elementary. C-Certificate qualified teachers are responsible to teach kindergarten to 6th grade and are paid LD12,000 monthly, while B-Certificate teachers are assigned to 7th and 8th grade and are paid LD15,000 per month. These are mostly “specialized teachers, in Math, Science, Language Arts and Social Studies.

Teachers with Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees teach senior high and are paid LD25,000 per month. Teachers with Master’s degrees are paid LD35,000 monthly and they teach the senior high Sciences, Social Studies and Language Arts.

Madam Varfley admitted that these salaries are an improvement over past years; still they are not nearly enough an incentive to make a serious difference in lifting the standard of Liberian education.

She further claimed that the reason most of the trained teachers are not in school is because the Ministry of Education lacks sufficient financial resources to employ them. This is the primary reason she is appealing to the Legislature to increase the budgetary allotment for education.

The NTA President is also appealing for incentives especially for rural teachers—not improved and definite salaries only, but housing and other perks that will make teaching in rural areas more enticing.

This is most certainly an important point, since the vast majority of Liberian students are found in the rural parts of the country.

The Legislature has taken good care of itself in terms of salaries and other benefits—so much so that at least one Senator, Margibi County’s Oscar Cooper, has expressed his embarrassment over the high salaries he and his colleagues receive compared to what civil servants are paid. He has offered to reduce his salary and benefits by 20%.

Most Legislators, who voted these extraordinary salaries and benefits for themselves, cannot be expected to follow Senator Cooper’s noble example. We, however, hope and pray that they will heed the plea of the NTAL President and increase substantially the budget allotment for Education. The new Education Minister, George Werner, should work with the NTAL and other stakeholders in preparing a comprehensive and realistic budget for Education for the academic year 2016-2017.

Meanwhile, can President Sirleaf propose to the Legislature a supplementary budget to beef up the current Education allotment to put more teachers in our schools?

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