According to an Executive Mansion press release, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has commended authorities of the Ministry of Education for taking a bold step in initiating a two-day Round Table Conference aimed at fostering 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. The Liberian leader served as keynote speaker at the event.
President Johnson-Sirleaf said teachers’ take home pay steadily improved from LD$7,000.00 per month, to a minimum of L$12,000 for regular payroll or L$30,000 for graduates but indicated that this is not sufficient to attract the country’s best graduates to teach the next generation. Mathematically, she said this would mean the country’s budget would have to be US$65.4m for teacher payroll alone although the entire education budget is US$44m.
She said “our target is to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4 which is intended to allocate limited resources to ensure that many Liberian children get quality education”.
The Liberian Chief Executive expressed deep gratitude to all the stakeholders in pursuit of quality education for showing commitment to the education of Liberian children. She acknowledged progress made but averred that much more needs to be done.
She assured her continued strong commitment to improve education, realizing that educating each generation of children is the only way Liberia can govern and manage its resources effectively, develop the next generation of businesses and national leaders, and enable every child to achieve their full potential.
The Liberian Chief Executive underscored some of her first decisions as President that were targeted at providing increased access to education for girls, as well as abolishing payment of school fees for basic 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 where 500 of these are public schools.
She said her administration’s highest impact of intervention throughout the education system is to improve the quality of teaching, which to date is around 16,000 teachers, even though in order to get to 50 students per teacher, the sector will need 23,000 teachers in the next few years.
Sadly, according to her - more than a third of country’s current teachers are still on supplementary payroll – a post-conflict, temporary payment system that government managed to remove in the health sector, but which which continues to plague the education sector.
She emphasized that funding for TVET and tertiary education has rapidly increased to 47% of the total education budget; echoing that TVET and tertiary education students get about $332 per head plus the equipment needed as opposed to $45 per head at primary and secondary levels.
Sirleaf 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.
She clarified that 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 said the pilot also intends rebranding TVET to ensure that those who graduate are able to find employment or a regular income spanning from six months, one year and two years after graduation.
She stressed the need to improve the early childhood learning program given that literacy is the foundation of all learning. “By 2021, we must ensure that 90% of children at Grade 6 can read and are on par with standards,” she intimated.
According to President Sirleaf our country can only achieve this through huge leaps forward and by working together. She called for joint efforts to face the real challenges in taking tough decisions, allocating limited resources, trying new approaches to see what works in Liberia, and in ensuring the future national and business leaders of Liberia are adequately prepared to take the country to prosperity.
Earlier, in his welcome remarks and overview, Education Minister George Werner historicized the educational system in Liberia, which according to him had problems” ranging from the April 14, 1979 Rice Riot, prior to the April 12, 1980 Coup d’état, which saw the overthrow of President Tolbert; the October 1985 disputed General and Presidential elections (NDPL); the November 1985 evasion; the December 1990 War and ECOMOG interventions.
The Conference was attended by Senator Albert Chea of Grand Kru County, local and international educational stakeholders, District Education Officers, schools administrators, civil society, among others.