By Molley Paasewe
Liberian Writer, Education Columnist
Liberia’s once enviable education system got so bad after the protracted civil war that President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf who became Liberia’s first postwar democratically elected chief executive, was forced to admit that the sector was a complete “mess” after all 25,000 candidates sat and failed the entrance exams of the University of Liberia in 2013.
The students’ failure, said Madam Sirleaf at the time, did not come from the university, but rather from the schools that prepared them. “The result is alarming,” Sirleaf then declared. To remedy the situation, former President Sirleaf took a radical approach to improving pre-tertiary education by introducing in 2016 the Partnership Schools for Liberia (PSL) program, which the government at the time hoped would change the morbid education situation from “mess to best”.
Though heavily criticized at the time for utilising the private sector amidst others, the PSL program made very positive impact on teachers, work behavior, enrollment, and most importantly – learning. According to a baseline report which was further corroborated by another report from the Center for Global Development, while PSL had significant startup costs, it raised student learning by 60 percent.
When President Weah took over the helm of state from his predecessor in January 2018, he not only inherited a bad economy and a dilapidated health sector, but a dismally-performing Education Sector. The only potential light was PSL. Yet, keenly intent on attacking the nation’s grave education situation from the root, the new government fully committed itself to improving the sector.
“The improvement of our education system is and shall remain a constant and major priority during my administration,” President George M. Weah declared during his first State of the Nation address in January 2018. Seven months later, the Ministry of Education would restructure and rename the PSL to the Liberia Educational Advancement Program (LEAP), with the aim of increasing accountability and collaboration.
LEAP is the newly branded public-private partnership that the Ministry of Education now has, with seven local and international education service providers.
By September 2018, the success of the Weah government’s radical approach to educational transformation became self-evident when Liberian legislators openly called for expansion of the LEAP program to more government schools.
According to the Senate Committee Chair on Education, Dallas Gueh, who spoke at the occasion of the opening of a County Education Officer Summit held in Monrovia on September 11, 2018, “it cannot be fair that some government schools are performing well – thanks to benefitting from the program – while other government schools not in the program lag behind with students learning slowly, if at all.”
Under the LEAP program, students are experiencing real-time improvements as opposed to non-LEAP school goers. In the first instance students under the LEAP program have access to free uniforms, while the tidiness of students and the tardiness of instructors are supremely prioritized.
On the other hand, LEAP instructors have access to modern technology which improves learning as opposed to their counterparts in traditional government schools.
Today, in all LEAP schools, teachers use tablets to teach their students; their lesson plans are embedded in those tablets, lesson packages and they have access to modern libraries which makes their job easier, efficient and effective than ever before.
LEAP teachers are more engaged with their students as they have absolutely no lesson planning to do after school hours. Teachers are therefore relaxed and focused on struggling students and other extracurricular activities because their tablets are programmed with lessons for their next class.
The Innovation has brought a sigh of relief to many LEAP teachers including Jackson Hammer, who is assigned at one of the LEAP schools. “After 3pm daily I have no other work to do but to get to focus on other activities that are important to me as my lessons are already set up for teaching the next day and I know they are great lessons. This is a true turn around in education. We love the program.’
Students too do not have to go looking for books. Thousands of books are being delivered as part of the programme. All aligned with the Government curriculum. This is unprecedented, as in the past, students rarely had access to enough textbooks and if they did, they were often not grade level appropriate for the students reading them and were not targeted at the lessons they were being taught.
Monitoring and Evaluation
Admittedly, the issue of monitoring the performance of classroom teachers has been one of the major setbacks of Liberia’s education sector. But with the LEAP program, technology makes it easier to track teachers and know whether or not they are devoting time to their classrooms. “Once a teacher syncs in his computer in the morning, his or her location and every other detail such as the lesson they are teaching, the number of kids in the classroom and how well they are doing on the weekly tests will be automatically sent to a server in Monrovia. This makes the system better than the past when teachers were unaccountable and absent instead of devoting time to training their pupils,” says a LEAP school director.
LEAP providers, in consultation with CEOs and DEOs, also have learning and development officers who visit schools around the clock to know what is happening at those schools.
With all these positive developments, it is prudent that authorities at the Ministry of Education expand the LEAP activities to more schools across the country, because it is proven that students in LEAP schools are learning faster than their traditional school counterparts and that positive changes are taking place.
If Education must be taken from its messy dungeon to the heights of excellence, government must tackle the problem from the source; they have a programme that the international community is supporting, parents are supporting and that the Government has seen for itself, is delivering results. Our children must be adequately prepared to compete with their counterparts here and across the continent. Let’s take what we have and make it flower.