Nearly 25,000 pupils at schools across Liberia have this year failed the end-of-school grade 12 exam which enables students to carry on to university. The failure of all candidates has focused a spotlight onto the country’s poor-performing education system. For every 100 children who enrol in primary school in Liberia, only 60 will complete their grade six and only 20 out of the 100 will then carry on and go all the way to the end grade 12. Even for those who complete school, officials admit that the standard of learning is not all it should be.
As the country celebrates 10 years of peace following the end of its last civil war, Liberia’s President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, has stepped in and had a meeting with university officials. Following these talks, the main state-run University of Liberia has agreed to admit 1,800 school leavers who failed the admission exam. In an interview with the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme, Ms Johnson Sirleaf explained that a higher standard had been set this year and this had lead to the mass failure of the students.
President says “total overhaul” needed for Ministry of Education
In her interview, the president said that school enrolments had “quadrupled” during the seven years of her government, but admitted that ensuring pupils received a “quality education” was a “more difficult task”. One problem is that many teachers only have a high school education themselves. Another issue is that English, the official language of Liberia, is often poorly taught. Only around a fifth of Liberians speak English as their first language, with the majority of the population speaking one of 20 local languages. A spokesperson from one university in Liberia explained that the mass failure of pupils was partly because most do not understand “the mechanics of the language”.
Earlier this year, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf spoke about the failing education sector and acknowledged that the Ministry of Education was “a big mess”. The president went on record as saying that a “total overhaul” was needed and a number of deputy and assistant ministers were replaced. However, experts say anyone in charge simply inherits a “broken system” and that education services in Liberia cannot improve until a thorough examination is undertaken of where state money is being spent and all “ghost teachers” or absent staff are removed from the payroll.
During an address to the nation on the anniversary of Liberia’s birth, the president stressed her government was committed to reforming the education sector, but warned it would require effort from all Liberians and appealed to her fellow citizens, saying “we cannot fix this alone”.