Ellen Outlines Obstacles to Liberia’s Education Sector in New Book


Monrovia – The education sector of Liberia continues to be considered a messy system failing to provide Liberian students the required quality befitting a 21st century system despite huge international donations and domestic budgetary support to the sector.

Even President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has on many occasions voiced her frustration over the poor state of the sector but with more than 10 years in power, little improvement in the sector has not been able to put it on the right track.

In a new book sponsored by the Open Society Foundations entitled: “Partnership Paradox The Post-Conflict Reconstruction of Liberia’s Education System” President Sirleaf expressed that the post-war reconstruction of Liberia’s education sector has been a passionate commitment of her presidency; and one of the strongest motivations of her political and personal life.

In a foreword of the book, President Sirleaf stated  -“The story of that reconstruction is told in these pages by people who lived through it, people who were in part responsible for the successes and failures of that effort. They forged partnerships locally, nationally, and internationally, partnerships that moved forward the process of rebuilding an education system that had been all but destroyed by years of bloodshed”.

The Liberian leader indicated that the authors of the book recounted the triumphs and difficulties that characterized those partnerships giving it the title Partnership Paradox.

“I hope that those who read it, policymakers and educators working in Liberia and in post-conflict reconstruction around the world, will find inspiration and warning in the stories told here”, said the President.

Persistent challenges

President Sirleaf declared that there are challenges still facing the education sector naming capacity as the biggest of the challenges.

“The single biggest challenge we face is lack of capacity. Without capacity, strategic vision is minimal; without capable leadership, systemic and programmatic implementation are lacking. I sought out Liberians from the Diaspora to lead many of our ministries. I thought I had identified the right leaders and was disappointed, as were our citizens and our donors, with some of my early choices”, President Sirleaf stated in the book.

She also named other challenges as the public works infrastructure including lashing rains washing out rural roads, making transportation and travel for oversight impossible; the rains also limiting cell phone usage for many months of the year.

These conditions, President said made civil servants not able to communicate with or visit the districts; district education officers are not able to visit village schools.

Added President Sirleaf “We were not able to easily gather the data needed to undertake needs assessments. My government has addressed some of these issues but many continue to plague us. Our schools also lack qualified teachers. We had to clear the salary lists of “ghosts,” and retrain and constantly upgrade our teachers”.

Lack of qualified teachers

The President said the country relied on American, Ghanaian, and Nigerian teachers in the classrooms to teach English, mathematics, and science and with unqualified teachers, the country cannot have high quality graduates from its schools.

Equipment to run schools said another issue President said hampered the progress in the sector indicating that teachers and students lack books, equipment, electricity, chalk, laboratories, and even furniture in some cases.

Continued President Sirleaf “We lack the infrastructure and systems to pay our teachers their salaries on a regular basis. There are few banks in the rural counties and few teachers have bank accounts. Finally, corruption and abuse are as pervasive in the education sector as elsewhere. We had ghost teachers on the payroll.

Some teachers demand money or sex in exchange for passing grades. We paid teachers through the district offices and some district officers extracted sums from teachers’ salaries. Corrupt administrators sometimes charged school fees when tuition was free”.

MoE lack of Oversight

The President is also blaming the level of corruption in the education sector to lack of oversight by the Ministry of Education.

Said President Sirleaf in the book “The West African Examinations Council examinations became corrupted early on. A lot of this corruption has to do with the lack of oversight from the ministry over the schools.

We have failed to pay sufficient attention to the situation at the school level. I hope that decentralization of the government’s decision-making authority will eventually ease some of these issues.

Counties and districts will have the funds and authority to manage the schools within their areas. The fiber optic cables around Africa will allow us to introduce new forms of communication to our outlying areas and schools”.

She applauded the support of international donors towards the education sector saying that some international donors were able to start up quickly to help the country meet some of its educational needs; others were not.

Resource flows, President said were very slow from multilateral and bilateral donors, compared with foundations that were relatively quick.

“We did not have adequate data or the ability to collect it to support donor requirements to secure funding approval. We had a very small budget for education in the early years in relation to the overall budget. I wondered if donors felt we were not serious in our commitment to education”, she further stated.

At the moment, President Sirleaf says education accounts for 14 percent of the national budget and the Education Pooled Fund, a multi-donor pool of funds, capitalized by the Open Society Foundations and the Government of the Netherlands, was an innovative mechanism to support critical needs in the sector.

Returning to normalcy

President Sirleaf has assured that her plan for the education sector is to return to normalcy where children will be taken off the streets and kept in schools.

“One overriding goal in a post-conflict situation is a return to normalcy. Getting children off the streets and into schools that function well enough to keep them there is a primary step in this direction. I see a technical education sector producing skilled men and women for future jobs in the petroleum sector, engineering, agricultural economics, and information technology”, she assured.

She says she wants a system that produces well-qualified citizens who can enter the labor market with the skills needed to lift Liberia into the world of technology, engineering, modern agriculture, and other sectors vital to national recovery and development.  

She also wants such a system to make it possible for girls as well as boys to finish secondary school and go on to community colleges or university.

To achieve the goal set by President she believes that the country must invest in a higher quality corps of teachers, put textbooks and reading material in every school and must find ways through early childhood education for all children and a parallel literacy and numeracy program for their parents, especially the mothers, to introduce reading to all children before they enter school and commit to ensuring that children are able to read and comprehend what they read at grade level by the end of grade.

In her final comments, President Sirleaf said “Finally, I see a top-rated university comparable to what we had before the wars; and community colleges throughout the counties so that students do not have to leave their homes and families to travel to Monrovia to study.

I invite all Liberians and our many friends and partners throughout the world to join with me in realizing this vision, for the sake of the nation’s precious children and young people”.

The book was published in December 2015 and the editors are Christopher Talbot and Aleesha Taylor. The book contains 15 chapters and authors’ documentation of their experience forms the core of this volume.