Tackling Education in Liberia for Productive Outcome
COVID-19 has resulted in schools shutdown all across the world. According to UNESCO Institute for statistics data 2020, globally, over 1.2 billion children are out of the classroom causing delay in education, especially, for developing countries. More than 60% of the world’s students are no longer receiving their typical education according to UNESCO. Nearly 1.3 billion students are stuck at home after their school year was suddenly interrupted. Many Schools began trying to navigate distance learning, teachers have switched to virtual classrooms, parents have took on new roles as home schooling is become a norm. Education has changed immensely, due to this; e-learning is now undertaken tenuously and on a visual platform. The future of education is unclear. Many students and teachers do not know when classes will resume and things will shift back to normal.
While others are embracing the new hybrid model education that is been introduced during this pandemic and believe that integration of information technology will have significant benefits, others are unsetting about the future of education. Liberia is one of the few countries that has suffered and is still suffering through various diseases and mishap in governance and the sustenance of a fragile educational system. It is a struggle to get a good education in Liberia due to the long lasting effects of the 14 years civil war, amalgamated by the 2014 school closure due to the Ebola outbreak and the now school closure due to the Covid-19 outbreak, and the weak family structure system. This combined with other reasons have had a huge impact on education in Liberia. Therefore, it is vital to pinpoint situations that could exacerbate illiteracy in Liberia in order to eradicate and decrease the illiteracy rate in Liberia. The constant closure of learning institutions and halt to learning could most likely cause reluctance in enrollment and limit students deal for education. Against this background, this article is written to caution the government, family and the people of Liberia to considered alternative method in time of crisis and prioritize education as an essential tool to nation growth and development.
Liberia according to UNESCO in 2017, has an adult literacy rate of 48.3%; a male literacy rate of 62.7% and a female literacy rate of 34.09%. The population of Liberia is approximately 4,809,763 with approximately 47% below the age of 15 and 19% below the age of 5. See UNESCO Table Below:
This population analysis represents the 15 administrative areas within the country; each divided into severe districts. Liberia, in 2003, emerged from a 14 years of brutal civil war that resulted in the death of approximately 270.000 people and a 2016 deadly Ebola virus with the fatality rate been approximately 4000, these has led to the collapse of both traditional, formal and institutional structure. Even though, gradually thriving for advancement, 64% of the population still lives below the poverty line (1.25%) with 1.3 million living in extreme poverty. Ranking 162/169 on the Human Development Index (2010), it is one of the poorest countries in the world. Currently, Liberia faces a range of social problems and resources constraints, which impacts the growth, development and long term prosperity of the country’s adults and youth advancement ( LIGIS 2018 index).
Due to the collapse of the educational system, enrollment in tertiary and formal institutions has been a challenged leading to the emergency of the COVID-19. Already, Liberia has being using the conventional method of education with lack of modern facilities and good environment to facilitate learners. With the abrupt interruption of the coronavirus, education in Liberia is being badly effected due to the underfunded educational system. Even though, there are series of short-term agendas proposed to be implemented by the Ministry of Education to restore the quality of education back to Liberia, the rural areas with no road connection to the capital Monrovia may benefit little or less. And if the rural areas lack tangible education, illiteracy could still be on the increase. To add, on a systematic level, there are no national school quality standards and capacity and resources at county and district levels. Now that Coronavirus has forced many small and large institutions all over the world to partially close school. What is the future of the education in Liberia? Will Liberia continue to fall prey to disaster or take heed to prevent the delay in education and enrollment?
On the one hand, some rural areas do not even have schools facilities not to mention electricity and internet connection to conduct e-learning that is being introduced during this time of pandemic. This seems a clear indication that education will certainly be delay due to the long-existing conventional method of learning (classroom, desk, blackboard and chalk) that has been used over-time and the poor facilities available to learners.
However, it seems that the system devalue the importance of family (Husband and wife). This could be considered one of the cardinal reasons for low output and less enrollment in formal and vocational institutions around Liberia. Research conducted by the gender office in Grand Bassa Women Development Association unveil that 95% of Liberian women are single mother. As the result, single-mothering has had a spillover effect felt in almost all part of the nation because this yield to low performance of children in school, lack of quality education for children, financial constraints and lack of basic needs which increases crime, early introduction to social and moral corruption and less parental guidance in homes.
In addition, family plays a significant role in every child’s education. Though the government role is important, the family is more important. It is commonly said that “education begins at home.” In the book “Family as an educational factor”, American sociologist H.J. Rekt points out that family is the most important and effective agency of education. It is the basis and center of all social, political, moral, economic, physical, religious interaction in the society. Therefore, education begins from family. In relation to the Liberian society, broken family and single-parent family has been a sufficient hindrance to every child’s upbringing. (Charles Murray 1960-2010 in his book “Coming Apart”; acknowledge that one of the greatest secret of successful upper class is it dedicated practice of traditional family values. Men and women who married and have children within marriage are more likely to be in the upper class. Even though there are exceptions, but on the over all, family value plays a significant role in education of a child.
In light of these, the brief analysis in this paper is to caution government, families, national and international organization to prioritize education. Due to the uncertainty of life, it is essential to prepare in time of peace for war. In other words, Liberia would have been prepared to adapt to the new model of education in this pandemic if it had prepared earlier. As seen, it is easy for western countries to adjust even in time like these but can Liberia adjust to hybrid model of education now? USAID’s education programs has been very helpful since after the war helping to improve the quality of teaching and increasing equitable access to safe learning but more is yet to be done. This paper aimed at pointing out the loophole of the education system in Liberia with suggested way forward.
Liberia is significantly behind many countries in nearly all education statistics. Education on the average has been slow in Liberia. According to the December 2015 Consensus and Economic information center (Montana), Liberia primary age student was reported at 37.683% as compare to Nigeria which is 65.949% or Neighboring Sierra Leone at 99.177%.
Almost all services available to embrace the e-learning platform are found almost exclusively in the capital, Monrovia but still extremely limited due to unstable power connection. Not to mention, telephone service is basically limited to most counties with an entirely wireless telecommunications market with high cost and limited bandwidth of connections and slow data rates. People in the rural counties, have no or less access to electricity and safe drinking water which is a necessity for a safe learning environment; and internet service that could embrace the mixed learning method during this pandemic.
Education in Liberia was severely affected by the civil war between 1989 and 2003. In 2010, the literacy rate of Liberia was estimated at 60.8% (64.80% for male and 56.8% for females). Liberia Education Sector Analysis report asserted that the vast majority of Liberia’s students are older than the appropriate age grade therefore, are at high risk of dropping out of school compared to children who are at the appropriate age in grade (UNESCO 2016, Liberia MoE 2010). As people around the world are taking precaution during this pandemic to protect themselves, their families and community, it is important that children can continue to learn, and they must do so in an environment that is welcoming, respectful and inclusive and supportive to all. Monrovia and its surrounding is not Liberia. That is, model of education in time of crisis must be introduced at all counties, districts and regional level. Whatever method that is been introduced during this pandemic must be accessible to all children within the border of Liberia. This can help to mitigate and eradicate the huge illiteracy rate in Liberia.
COVID-19 emergency closure of schools could even enhance lateness in early enrollment of children in primary schools and the decline of university degree candidates. Not to mention vocational training institutions. It is almost, entirely neglected. Thanks to the effort of UNICEF in recent years that have been helping to revamp and develop skilled workers. In contrast, the Liberia population has realized great gain in educational attainment since after the war, an additional 25% of the population has gained access to education, attainment of primary education and tertiary education has double, and attainment of secondary education has also realized significant gains according to UNESCO 2016 report on Liberia. Nevertheless, according to the Liberia Education Sector Analysis 2016, 47.3% of the population has no education which is above the regional average of 34%.
Disasters such as armed conflict, force displacement and protracted crisis have disrupted the education of 1.5 billion children and youth globally according to UNICEF 2002-2006. And that number is growing in an unprecedented way with the spread of COVID-19. Precisely, education is hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic with the estimated 1.53 billion learners out of school and 184 country-wide school closures, impacting 87.6% of the world’s total enrolled learner. Drop-out rates across the globe are likely to rise as a result of this massive disruption to education access (UNESCO MONITORING). Developed, developing and underdeveloped countries both suffered alike this pandemic and have decline and delay in education attainment. Unfortunately, developing and undeveloped countries are the ones affected mostly due to the limited education facilities and poor education system.
While effort is being made by World health Organization, other national and international organizations and governments to combat this deadly pandemic and restore normal life, it still remains a challenge. Thanks to Liberia and its government and international partner who has tremendously helped to stop the spread of the disease. But the continuation of education remains dormant in almost all towns and villages. This must be a serious concern for institutions and families of Liberia, education must not be halted because it is essential for growth and development.
On March 16, 2020, the first case of the COVID-19 pandemic was confirmed; the second case was on March 17, and the third case after which the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare declared a national health emergency on the 22 of March. In addition, Liberia was one of the first countries to start screening passengers for COVID-19 at the airport. Liberia has being at least on the positive side trying to avoid mishap and losing it citizens to COVID-19. But, while other critical needs are being targeted like the distribution of food, mask and other basic necessities, education needs cannot be forgotten because this have an equally detrimental impact if left unaddressed. Even though, few radio stations are hosting lessons for children, it cannot be efficient if basic necessities are lacking in homes, towns, cities and districts all over the country. What about those students that is in the rural, those without radio in their homes and how it is possible for a student to be attentive and learn from video lessons?
Liberia already has a serious education challenge including poor learning outcomes, overage enrollment, huge number of out-of-school children, waste government resources because of ghost teachers and unskilled teachers, and many unqualified teachers, the pile-on of this pandemic interruption to education can have long term implications especially for the most vulnerable (those in the rural and urban poor). Because of the weak foundation of many school going children, there can be a risk of regression and if more effort is not made to support the education while in this pandemic, many children may feel the reluctance of obtaining education, especially those overage students. In late March 2020, the UNICEF office in Liberia received a funding of US $70,ooo to support the Ministry of Education with airing radio lessons and purchasing radios to allow vulnerable children have access to educational program. But, vulnerable children are all in the rural who have no access to radio or electricity. So, how are they going to benefit from this radio education program? Especially with the lack of a comprehensive sector plan and concerns about accountability systems, As many towns and villages are totally neglected and benefiting less from Liberia. Some towns are totally detached from other counties due to poor road connections.
Throughout Liberia’s contemporary history, the education system has been characterized by features of fragility and structural weaknesses, including the need for, efficient administration, dedicated and well-paid teachers, proper supplies, maintenance, development of an educational revival, and reform of the tax structure’ (Lanier, 1961: 256). More than 80% of public schools are under-resourced in Liberia, with rural areas totally neglected or less prioritized by the system (Education and Fragility in Liberia; IIEP research papers; 2011). Education in the rural region is totally dormant. On the one hand, schools in and around the capital are ill-equipped to respond to the teaching and learning challenges of the 21st century-let along the latest demands of the pandemic. The current lockdown has suddenly compelled teachers to adopt predominantly online, blended learning teaching practice. But less than 12% of the population has access to electricity that means, approximately 90% of the population in urban and rural have less connection to the internet. For Liberia to compete with other nations it must enhance it weak and under developed enabling environment, weak public utility, delayed expansion of transmission and distribution network to augment existing generation capacity.
In conclusion, the capacity to enhance education is weak at all level, thereby seriously undermining the effectiveness of growth and development in Liberia. Moreover, the COVID-19 outbreak resonates deeply at the heart of every government, national and international organizations and severely hampered the process of learning and enrollment in all institutions around the world especially, Sub-Saharan Africa region with fragile economic and education system. Sadly, it has put a halt to so many activities and nation’s progression. But, it should also be seen as an eye opener for many poor countries like Liberia who had always focus its attention on one form of education transmission. The system of Liberia should be re-studied and inclusive of long-term education plans for its young generation. On the over all, this pandemic has brought suffering, fear and death to populations everywhere, but its impact is not shared equally. Therefore, the family, government and international institutions in Liberia must collectively work together to ensure growth and advancement of every child’s education.
The need for sustainable education amongst the youth in Liberia must be considered crucial for development due to the fact that there is a direct nexus between education, employment and development; in that human capital may directly increase productivity making individuals with greater human capital more valuable and the society more respectable if more people are educated. Therefore, mechanism for delivering services to the young generation must be prioritized. Aside from war, even in pandemic, learning must not stopped. Education for children must be highlighted now amongst Liberia long-term plans in order to secure the future of Liberia; family structure must be revamp and strengthen in order to have an advance society. Considering the economic and political conditions in the country, it is now time to target human needs and capacity building. This can be done through sustainable education and accessible and adequate learning environment.
Education has a vital role in creating a fair and just society, building strong communities and developing knowledge based economy. Education is the route to equality of opportunity for communities and is able to release people potentials’ not only during their time at school/university but also throughout their working lives. The lockdown and economic suspension is going to cause huge interruption in students learning, disruption in internal assessments as it did in the time of the Ebola crises. In order to mitigate these negative impact compounds with the home radio learning procedures introduced, schools need resources to rebuild the education sector all around the country. Resources such as radios, textbooks, study guides and equipment for all children of Liberia; every school going age children in Liberia must be targeted as they are essential to the development of Liberia.
The 2010 Liberia Education sector framework has highlighted it goal and mission to provide all Liberians with the opportunity to access and complete affordable education quality, relevance and appropriateness that meets the needs of children and the nation, its aim to provide a system of education that is flexible, evolves with time and fully meets the needs and aspirations of the people individually and collectively as a nation. How it intends to do that is in the full text of the framework. To add up to what the government has aimed to do:
Firstly, the government needs to take into consideration the natural environment and governance structure. Good environment yield positivity. In order for a student to focus and accomplish his aim and objectives, access to food, safe drinking water, electricity and clean and health environment is essential. If the child’s need to come back from school and go to sell, or sleep in the dark, his output is most likely to be hindered. The Government needs to first make sure every child has the right to safe environment and equal opportunity.
Secondly, the school environment needs to be safe for every child. Due to the fact that they are different types of learner, it is essential for the school system to set up an atmosphere that is accessible to all learners; with trained and adequate teachers and teaching style. There must be criteria for the selection of teachers. The social environment is one of the main contributors to children’s education. The better the environment is, the quicker it is for children to learn. To add up, family relevance in pupil’s life is also very essential. The family needs to acknowledge that they are an essential source in society. In the study of sociology, an institution central to social life includes the universality of family, the inevitable variation of family forms, and the necessity of the family for integrating individuals into social worlds. Therefore, family institution needs to be reshaped.
Thirdly, every teachers and students should be evaluated at the end of every school year. It is most likely that a child can be graduated without learning anything. That is why; constant evaluation must be implemented in all government and private institutions. The education sector should include in its long-term plan the introduction of e-learning model.
In summary, social and natural environment, the involvement of children in the lesson and classroom, how is the lesson thought in the classroom, what is thought, feedback and evaluation at home and at school must be taken into consideration in order to have a successful and strong education system.
Global Education Monitoring Report Team  ISBN:978-92-3-100239-7, 978-92-3-600069-5 (ara), 978-7-5191-1698-9 (chi)
Ministry of Education (Education Master Plan (2000) op.cit
Liberia Development Conference Anthology “Engendering Collective Action for Advancing Liberia’s Development” February 1&2, 2017, Monrovia, Liberia
Republic of Liberia: Appraiser of the 2010-2020 Education sector plan Monrovia January 2010
UNICEF, Challenge and Opportunities for Fulfilling the Rights of Children in War-torn Liberia: A Situation Analysis, Monrovia, November 2000
UNDP Poverty Profile of Liberia, UNDP, Monrovia, Liberia, January 2002
UNESCO- 2017 Sustainable Development Goal on education (SDG4)
Yu, M.K. (1991) Education. University of Science and Technology of China Press, Hefei, 317-318.
About the Author: Akiah Precious Glay holds a Doctorate in Sociology with Emphasis in Conflict Escalation, Selçuk University, Konya, Turkey, Master in Peace and Conflict Studies: Nicolaus Copernicus University Torun, Poland and the Kofi Annan Institute for Peace Studies, University of Liberia.