New York, NY
As Liberia looks toward a new future with the inauguration of its new president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a key component of the reconstruction and future of the country is largely missing. Education remains a huge gap in Liberia, the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children found in a recent visit to the war-ravaged country.
“Education was the number one priority of nearly every Liberian we met,” says Lori Heninger, director, Education in Emergencies Initiative, who led the delegation. “A whole generation of young people has missed out on even the most basic education; they know how important it is to catch up and learn so they can be active members of Liberia’s rebuilding and its future. But at this point, adequate education is simply not available to them.”
Nearly all Liberians were displaced during the 14-year civil war, during which 80 percent of the nation’s schools were damaged or destroyed. Although it’s been two years since the end of the war, the adult literacy rate—38 percent—is higher than the literacy rate of children for the first time in the country’s history. “This is disastrous for Liberia’s future and must be addressed immediately,” Heninger says.
Trained teachers are scarce; many who fled to a neighboring country or into the displaced persons camps are reluctant to return to their jobs because salaries ($17/month) are typically late, or not paid at all. In many communities, Liberian parents make huge sacrifices to pay school fees for their children and organize to provide incentives to help unpaid teachers stay in their posts.
“The good news is that the incoming government appears committed to working hard to improve the country’s education system,” Heninger said. “When the Women’s Commission met with President-elect Ellen Johnson Sirleaf she expressed strong support for doing what needs to be done to ensure that Liberia’s young people get the chance to learn.”
In the conflict to post-conflict transition, the United States must continue funding for education in Liberia.
The Women’s Commission also recommends: