New Liberian President Seeks to Rehabilitate Country's Education System

Article excerpt

Finding teachers still country's main hurdle.

ATLANTA

Troubled by the difficulties of training teachers in Liberia, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf says she hopes to attract them from U.S. colleges and universities.

Sirleaf envisions the Liberian Education Trust as a way to help repair a country devastated by two civil wars. The trust seeks to raise money so that the West African country can build 50 schools, train 500 teachers and offer 5,000 scholarships to students, principally girls. While efforts to restore the country's infrastructure are well underway, Liberia still faces obstacles in finding teachers.

"Recruiting teachers remains a challenge," Sirleaf told Diverse while on a trip to the United States. "The output from the universities has not produced enough teachers. We do have a teacher training college, but the institutions that were built specifically for this purpose were destroyed during the war."

Liberia's 'Iron Lady' was in Atlanta to deliver the commencement address at Spelman College and to accept an honorary degree from the historically Black college for women.

Founded in 1822 for freed slaves, Liberia declared its independence from the United States in 1847, becoming modern Africa's oldest republic. But the country was engulfed in civil war from 1989 to 1996, and again between 1999 and 2003. During that time, student enrollments plummeted and many schools were pillaged and destroyed. Those schools left standing were woefully overcrowded, according to media reports.

The country has not quite recovered.

Such destabilization led to nearly half of Liberia's school-age children not attending school. Recognizing that education is the key to the country's redevelopment efforts, Sirleaf abolished public school tuition fees and returned the tuition fees that private schools had previously paid to the government As a result, Sirleaf says, school enrollment increased by about 40 percent, especially among girls.

Liberia's cash-strapped central government has struggled to support the nation's higher education institutions, pushing the financial burden onto students and their families, concludes a two-year-old report by the country's minister of education. "The education system in Liberia has always been one of the weakest in sub-Saharan Africa, due to lack of resources, weak government commitment, poor infrastructures, and very weak economic and institutional overall context," the report states. …