-Liberia’s unending tale

By: Comfort G. Giwlay

A strong educational foundation for any country is the basis of quality learning. Liberia, since the elapse of the civil war, continues to struggle with the advancement of the educational sector. The quality of the Liberian educational system has dropped below the standard at which it was operating in line with other African and Western countries. 

The drastic decline in the quality of Liberian education led to Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf describing it as a complete mess. President Sirleaf further declared all public schools to be tuition-free, and at the same time mandated a free and compulsory primary education policy as part of strategies to restore quality in Liberian classrooms. 

The policy provides the opportunity for parents to send their kids to school no matter the economic situation. Since the pronouncement of free and compulsory primary education by former president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, parents have fought to make sure that their children are in school.

Despite this provision, there are still challenges in the rural parts of Liberia where parents find it difficult to send their children to school. Kpolokpala community in Jorquelleh District Two in Bong County is one of the rural communities faced with such a reality. With over five hundred inhabitants, the community has a single public elementary school lacking qualified teachers, access to a conducive learning environment, and parents’ ability to afford their children’s school fees. Mr. Jeremiah Yarkpawolois the principal of the Kpolokpala public school. 

According to him, the facility, which became functional in 1975, was built by citizens who saw the need for their children to go to school. Mr. Yarkpawolo further stated that the operation of the school has been the responsibility of the parents with no assistance from the government. He, however, acknowledged the support of Mary’s Meals in terms of feeding and Bridge Liberia in the provision of textbooks.

Commenting on current constraints affecting the lone public elementary school in the area, the Kpolokpala School Principal maintained that the institution has three volunteer teachers with he (the Principal) being the only person with a “C” certificate. He underscored the need to have the other staff trained in the area of their discipline.

Part of the challenges highlighted by Principal Yarkpawolo is the alarming school dropout rate amongst school-going kids in the area. “From the beginning of this school year, we had a total enrollment of 183 students. But currently, this number has dropped to 60 students due to parents not being able to pay LR$1,000 as mandated by the government,” Yarkpawolo added. 

He furthered that as part of efforts by parents to ensure that their kids stay in school, some of those unable to afford the LR$1000, agreed in the PTA meeting to assist teachers with their farm work by occasionally volunteering some time. Besides, several things are contributing to the impediment of the learning environment. Students and teachers at the KpolopkalaCommunity School currently lack access to safe drinking water. 

The current latrine serving the school was constructed by an NGO, Foundation for International Dignity (FIND) while the desks that are on the verge of collapse due to the poor condition of the school building, were since provided by Hon. Prince K. Moye. The learning environment in Kpolopkala town is not conducive for the children who are to be the leaders of tomorrow.

Ma Kortor Kerkulah, an eminent resident of the community, stressed that the women have to sell their farm products to feed and send their kids to school, something she described as a challenging experience considering that most of them are single mothers and old widows who are unable to produce enough to feed and send their kids to school.

There are so many challenges to the learning atmosphere in Kpolopala ranging from the use of a makeshift structure as a school, limited sitting capacity for students to poor administrative functions. Besides, students graduating from Kpolokpala Public School have to migrate to Gbarnga to continue their studies with relatives. Those without relatives to accommodate them for their schooling period in Gbarnga remain in the community with no prospect of furthering their education.

In a joint call, the citizens are appealing to their lawmakers and the government at large to see reason for addressing the challenges they are facing. Meshach F. Jonson is the president of the Bong County Students’ Union; he sees the denial of these kids to have access to quality education as a violation of the right to education. He wants the requisite school authorities to address challenges faced by schools in the rural part of the county effectively as education is the constitutional right of all citizens. 

The BONSU Boss also called on the Bong Legislative Caucus to address these issues using their oversight responsibility to ensure legislative intervention through the Ministry of Education to support volunteer teachers who are providing services to minimize some of the lapses in the classroom. Pastor Amos S. Konneh is the PTA chair of Bong County. He narrated that parents in the rural areas are very reluctant about sending their children to school thus making it difficult for the PTA to work with them. Pst. 

Konneh maintained that there have been numerous meetings to encourage parents to send their children to school. Mr. Aaron Sackie-Fenlah is the chairman of the Bong County Civil Society Council, he stressed that most of the schools were built as a result of political promises and most of the politicians only construct these facilities to fulfill these promises not taking into consideration what it takes to run the school. 

He at the same time promised to go after the educational stakeholders to make sure that these concerns are addressed as the rights of the children are being abused by the lack of quality education. Mr. Sackie-Fenlah has frowned on how school administrators address gender issues on campus, he stressed that the civil society council of Bong has advised school administrators about securing the privacy of these students by constructing toilet facilities that are secure for both boys and girls without interference of any sex with the other. 

But expressing his dissatisfaction, Mr. Sackie-Fenlah mentioned that schools’ administrators have not adhered to this mandate and constructed facilities where both boys and girls used the same toilet facility with just separate rooms which he referred to as school-related gender-based violations as girls will encounter their periods on campus and having an exclusive toilet facility for them is vital.  

He at the same time blamed the Ministry of Education for paying little or no attention to these schools which is why everyone is doing as they pleased. In his capacity as Bong Civil Society Boss, Mr. Sackie-Fenlah promised to always engage educational stakeholders to address the numerous challenges faced by the school system.

Mr. Folo Moses Plator, prominent son and Principal of the chief Compound Public school in Bong County outlined some reasons why the education sector is diminishing in terms of quality. In his statement, Mr. Plator said, that leaders who are to enforce the implementation of policies for the betterment of the sector have not implemented because their kids are not in these schools. 

Referring to the Education Act of 2011, Mr. Plator narrated that there are provisions in the Act such as teacher training, improvement of school facilities, and increment of teachers’ salaries with priority to teachers willing to move to rural communities. He at the same time added that teachers should be paid based on their qualifications.“ Look, we are in the 21st century and we are still using chalk, everyone is being taught the same thing. By now, students should be taught based on their area of interest. Not everyone doing the same thing”, Platorpointed out. 

He at the same time called on the Ministry of Education to carry out proper monitoring of schools to curtail the proliferation of schools which is undermining the quality of the system. He asserted that because of the weakness of the system, students migrate from one school to another because they don’t want to repeat a class they have failed in and because these substandard schools are after the monetary benefit, they will not investigate why the child is leaving from his or her school and give them promotion. The Chief Compound Public School Principal wants the government to pay keen attention to the education sector of the country if we must have a sustained and vibrant country.

Speaking from the office of the superintendent, Mr. J. CammueN. Dormea, the Advisor to the Bong County Superintendent, admitted that the education sector is challenged with inadequate budgetary allotment for the smooth operation of the sector. He stressed that there is a need for education stakeholders and civil society to work together for the betterment of the county school system concerning the Education Reform Act of 2011.

The Education Reform Act of 2011 provides for free and compulsory primary education for children between the ages of three to five years. This act intends to promote the government’s efforts in guaranteeing children’s rights to quality elementary education irrespective of economic status, social class, religious and political affiliations, and ethnicity. 

The free and compulsory primary education policy also seeks to provide the necessary opportunities to develop the appropriate skills in a child starting from nursery to kindergarten. Not much has been done to make sure that this law is effective. Parents complain of paying extra fees in schools that are not required by the Ministry of Education on grounds that the schools are not getting budgetary allotment that entails a smooth operation.

This story was produced under the Female Journalists Association of Liberia (FeJAL) Women in Newsroom Leadership program. Funding was provided by USAID through Internews, as part of Year III of its Media Activity Program. The funder did not influence the contents of this story.

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