The President's plan for free education is failing in Gbarpolu County where teachers have no teaching materials, the buildings are in disrepair and the staff-to-student ratio at one school is 75 to 1. "Speaking to you, I am all in one at the Mecca Public School," Mr. R. Lincoln Johnson of the Mecca Public School in Gbarma District told the Heritage.
"I am the Registrar, the Secretary, the principal and at the same time the only teacher responsible for over 75 students."
There is a crisis at Mecca, Mr. Johnson said. Without adequate instructional materials at public schools, he said he fears his public school and many others in the district will not be able to compete with private institutions.
It can be recalled that Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf's government reintroduced the Compulsory Free Primary Education for public schools in the country. This initiative, which is aimed at reducing the financial burdens on parents and guardians at the early stage of their children education, thereby encouraging high enrollment of students, was also extended to the junior high division in 2011.
A few months into the new school year, teachers and students across the county are learning that free access to education does not mean equal access. The Ministry of Education's ratio, according to the Communication Director, Mr. Martin Bletyn, is one teacher to 45 students. This simply means that the Gbarma scenario is a total contradiction to the MOE's ratio of teacher to students.
Gbarma District is the third-most populated district in Gbarpolu County with 15,972 inhabitants, according to the census conducted by the Liberia Institute for Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LISGIS) in 2008. "This is something to really talk about. As you quite aware, no human being will survive without food and so as we; the teachers can't work without teaching materials. Just imagine, there aren't enough dusters, what more will be enough? In the last distribution, there were 26 dusters for all 26 public schools across the district, meaning, one school to one duster," said Mr. Johnson.
Since the reopening of schools in September, he stated that he (Johnson) has not been able to get any teachers' roll book from the county's education office. "If you think I am lying, go and ask the County Education Officer, she will confirm all that I have said. We can't continue to run the school in such a manner," Mr. Johnson said.
The Mecca Public School administrator pointed out that the issue of inadequate teachers at the various public schools, especially in the leeward counties, is another major problem. "The issue of instructional material is there, but one cardinal issue is the lack of adequate teachers in our government school system. Speaking to you, I am all in one at the Mecca Public School . I am the Registrar, the Secretary, the Principal and at the same time the only teacher responsible for over 75 students," he further stated.
Mr. Johnson also termed as mischief, the building structures in which the schools are being operated in. He called on the Ministry of Education to help improve the learning structures. However, when contacted via mobile phone, the Ministry of Education through its County Education Officer (CEO), Madam Korlu Okwumuo declined to comment.
During the visit of this writer in the county, she informed him that she was in Monrovia attending a meeting. And again, when our reporter returned to Monrovia, she said she was too busy to talk. "I will call you later when I am free, but I am running after things now," Madam Okwumuo said.
But upon many more attempts to speak with her on these outstanding issues, she perpetually refused to answer her 0886808521 number.