By Molley V. Paasewe – Writer, Education Columnist
The Ministry of Education is the sole arm of the government of Liberia tasked to provide quality education for all and prepare future leaders who are capable of handling the task of nation building, protecting national heritage and enhancing the socio-economic growth and development for the sustenance of the Liberian state. Once prided as a citadel of learning for West Africa, Liberia’s enviable Education sector took a huge nosedive as a result of the civil conflict. To improve the sector, the government of Liberia took a radical reform approach by introducing in 2016 its flagship Partnership for Schools (PSL) program which has now been transformed to the Liberia Education Advancement Program (LEAP) under the George Weah-led government. Three years down the line, the Ministry of Education has confirmed that one of its LEAP implementing partners, Bridge Liberia, is performing beyond expectations.
“When we allow partners to take over our school, it means they are worthy and capable to deliver. Bridge is collaborating with the Ministry of Education to the extent that they are meeting all of our benchmarks. As you can see today, they are closing just in time to meet the deadline set by government. From our end, we are doing our side of the partnership by properly monitoring these schools through our CEOs and DEOs to ensure standards are maintained,” Mr. Bleetan intoned.
“If Bridge had not come here to help us provide free education, your children would most likely not be graduating today. These are the future leaders of Liberia- our next generation of engineers, medical doctors, lawyers, superintendents, county and district education officers, lawmakers and presidents. Continue sending your children to school because when you no longer able to provide, they will be there for you,” Maxine Bleetan, the Director of Communications at the Ministry of Education, noted.
Addressing local government authorities, parents, students and guests at the Sanoyea Elementary Public School Closing Program in Sanoyea, Bong County over the weekend, where 41 early learners graduated from preschool and 42 students graduated from the sixth grade, Mr. Bleetan said Bridge is doing wonders as a dedicated LEAP partner, and as such, the Ministry of Education will have no option but to extend its program to cover the entire country.
Cautioning parents in particular, Bleetan frowned on the practice of early age marriage, a traditional norm which he said is negatively impacting education, especially for girls children. “Stop giving your children out to town chiefs and paramount chiefs in early age marriage. These are our future leaders. They need to be in school. Whatever it takes, support your children by sending them to school.”
To the graduating class and students of Sanoyea Elementary Public School, the MOE Director noted that to succeed in life, one must undergo difficulties. Speaking on the theme: “ Taking the Mess to Get the Best”, Bleetan said, the process of obtaining quality and affordable education involves lot of sacrifices which will yield tangible fruits in the long run.
For his part, Bong County Education Officer Armah Varfee praised Bridge for the significant level of progress, hoping that the program would be replicated in every district across Bong County. He however frowned on traditional practices that impede learning, specifically calling out parents for taking their children out of formal education schools to send them to bush schools, thus disrupting their learning cycle.
Speaking on behalf of the parents, Mr. James Kaine heaped praises on the Ministry of Education and Bridge Liberia for bringing light into the lives of Sanoyea citizens. “As you can see from the special performance of our Kindergarten graduates, these children are making good progress. We are very proud of their performance. Before Bridge came here, our children could not even read well,” Mr. Kaine narrated.
Providing an update about Bridge operations in Liberia, Country Director Griffin Asigo said the program has significantly improved the reading capability of its students. “For the last three years, less than 60 percent of our readers could read more than 20 words per minute. After three years, only six percent are still struggling. This is very significant improvement.”
Asigo further noted a marked improvement as it relates to teacher quality. “When we took over, we found out that most of the teachers could not read most of the materials that the students were supposed to be reading. So we came in and did assessments, followed by teachers training, which improved our teachers capacity to teach better. Now we are confident to say that teachers at Bridge schools can teach our children better.”
The Bridge Liberia head said although the Ministry of Education is trying it’s best to get most of the teachers on payroll, a good number of them are still not on payroll. “So it’s a slight morale killer within the classroom, as it affects performance. It becomes a problem to get teachers that are not on payroll to stay in class”.
Another challenge, he said, has to do with capacity. “Most parents are now sending their children to school because our schools are teaching the children. This has created huge influx of enrollment, and we don’t have enough space to accommodate them.”
Working relationship with the MOE
The Bridge CD confirmed a harmonious partnership with the Ministry of Education. “We’ve been working together to enhance quality output among our teachers through trainings and assessments. Within the framework of our MOU, the government of Liberia is supposed to provide the teachers and have them on payroll, and as well monitor and supervise the program; while we provide the tools for education. But the issue of getting all teachers on payroll is still a challenge; as we all know, due to the current economic challenges facing the country. With the exception of the Sanoyea Elementary Public School that now has all teachers on payroll, many schools are still struggling to have teachers on payroll. This has made us to get more involved by paying stipends to the teachers to encourage them to remain in the classroom.”
Asigo also confirmed that the Liberia program is at a takeoff point where, with the right things in place, it will soon compete with other international Bridge schools that had never experienced civil war, Ebola and other harsh economic conditions.
The Sanoyea Public School was established in the 1980s. The school has served many children in the community as well as its surrounding environment. Since the beginning of the school up to 2016, there were some challenges. The school lacked adequate textbooks, teachers and other learning materials. There was not enough stationery and learning aids to enhance students’ understanding, especially visual learners, school authorities confirmed.
In 2016 the school was incorporated into Liberia’s Education Advancement Program (LEAP), Liberia’s flagship education policy designed to transform learning outcomes for Liberia’s children. The programme was designed and is led by the Ministry of Education. Its focus is to improve the learning outcomes for the children of Liberia and includes teacher training; lesson development; supplementary materials and technology.
Bridge was invited to support the learning aspects of Sanoyea School. Things started to improve for the school. Teachers received extra training and now spend more time teaching. There are always sufficient textbooks, stationery, students learning materials and teaching aids. The learning hours have increased from five hours to eights hours daily. The learning has become more students-centered. Both teachers and principal are constantly supported through teacher observation which happens daily where feedback is provided for continuous improvement.
“These improvements have meant that children in the community now want to come to school, enrollment has risen from 277 in 2015 to 408 in this academic year. The changes have been particularly helpful for the girl students of Sanoyea. From the first year of the program in 2016 to this year enrollment of girls has increased from 117 to 195,” David Kezeli, Principal of Sanoyea Elementary Public School disclosed.
Bridge currently operates 68 schools in 10 of the 15 counties in Liberia.
“As for me, I thank God for Bridge and this government because I don’t know how my children would have gone to school. And I am so happy that my little daughter who graduated from K2 today can read so well. We are really blessed,” Madam Josephine Rennie of Sanoyea stated.