Monrovia — With the primary and secondary academic school year now in its third week today, Monday, September 17, some school-going children are still not in school, owing to financial difficulties being faced by their parents and guardians and despite the Liberian government's free and compulsory education.
This became visible on a Seventh Day Adventist school campus Friday, September 14, where our reporter bumped into four little girls between the ages of six and eight, who should be in school but are not, had gone to meet their friend, who was still school at that time. The kids had gone to see their friend unbeknownst to their parents.
This newspaper asked why they were not in school at that time of the day but had gone to see their friend, who was in school, one of the little girls replied: "Our ma ain't get money to send us to school."
When FrontPageAfrica approached the kids' grandmother, who lives in an old corrugated zinc shack, she said that she does not have money to send her grandkids to school as result of the present economic situation in the country.
"I have 13 grandchildren. These ones are not in school because no money to send them to school. Government school is far away for these children to walk there and the Paynesville Community School (PCS) is full. I am appealing to Oppong [President George Weah] to open school for the poor people's children because if I go ask for the school fees around here, they will tell me L$25,000. Where will I take that kind of money from to pay school fees for more than five children, when I am only selling palm nuts to be able to find food for them to eat? If Oppong can open free education for children, it will be better. We the poor people cannot afford to look for food and school fees for our children at the same time," Ma Bendu Malney, grandmother of the kids.
Grandma Malney disclosed that daily she spends L$400 to buy 10 cups of rice, which she cooks for her grandchildren and her to eat. So, she's not able to raise school fees to send them to school.
"Just calculate $40 times ten cups, and see the amount of money I spend on rice before talking about soup kind. Let Oppong just concentrate on opening free school, we can manage the feeding. I also want him to open a corridor for our youth to work, because my children voted for him, but they are sitting down home and doing nothing."
Before Oldma Malney could end her statement, Theora Ganta, a younger lady sitting and holding a toddler on her lap, jumped into the conversation. Ms. Ganta stated that last year they were paying L$4,500 but this year the fees climbed up to L$10,000 and now most parents don't that amount of money to send their kids to school.
"There is no money to even do first installment payment because we have to go sell water around before we eat. How many water bags I will sell before I get that kind of money? Even if I sell a whole barrel full of water, I cannot raise L$10,000 or L$15,000 to pay first installment for three children," Ms. Ganta said, sadly.
Ganta, herself a sixth-grade dropout, said she stopped at this level because she cannot be fighting for her children to be educated while at the same time be fighting for herself. She has just chosen to forego her own education now and concentrate on her children's education at the same time feed them.
Ellen Davies, a mother of five, was seen re-bagging coal -- which was in a US 100-pound parboiled rice bag -- into smaller polythene (plastic) bags while her three little girls where busied helping her to tie the plastic bags. Ms. Davies' three kids, too, are not in school.
"The hard time is not easy; my children are not in school. We have to tie coal before we eat. I really want my children to learn but no money to put them in school. I really feel bad seeing other children going to school. I can feel bad and be crying inside my heart, but what can I do?"
Ms. Davies further stated that her church, Mount Zion, has a school, which charges L$2,500 for registration and L$5,000 for a year's school fees. She stated that she has nowhere to get that kind of money from.
"The money I make from the coal selling is not even enough to feed the children and me. I want Oppong to bring free education because I voted for him. My voting card is still inside, so let him feel for us poor people. He promised to better our lives."
School Administration's Take
Schools, too, are feeling the pinch but in another way -- low school enrolment this academic year. Registrar Marie Mars of Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) High School, ELWA Junction, admitted to low enrolment rate as compared to last year's.
"Comparing last year's enrolment to this year, this year is very low at the moment. Last year, we had over 800 students. This year, we have not even reached 600 students yet, because the registration is very slow," said Mars.
She explained how parents are complaining that getting money off late is hard and that they want them as school administrators to give time to pay their children's fees.
"Our school fees are the same as last year; I do not know why parents are complaining. Even though the school fees are no different from last year, but getting money is not easy because things are getting harder. Presently, many parents have their children here in classes and they have met the full requirements. This is because parents have come and appeal for us to give them time to come up with the school fees."
She, however, said those students whose parents have appealed are old students.
SDA elementary division charges L$22,000, while junior high level is L$49,000 and senior high is L$51,000 and above.
However, authorities at Paynesville Community Junior High, which is publicly owned, they said that this year's enrolment is higher than last year.
"Last year, we had 1,418 students and this year, we have 1,434 students. Therefore, enrolment this year is higher than last year, maybe, because this is a public school," said Registrar Agnes Flomo.
According to Ms. Flomo, students do not pay tuition but only activity fee, which is L$425.00.
Gov't Free and Compulsory Education
Touching on the government's Free and Compulsory Education scheme, Registrar Mars said it has to be enforced as many parents cannot afford the money, at the moment, to send their children to private schools due to the financial constraints in the country. She is also appealed to the government to enforce its free and compulsory education program.
Minister of Education
Earlier this year at the Education Summit held in Margibi County, Education Minister Prof. Ansu Dao Sonii, did not mention free and compulsory education in his deliverables. He, however, indicated that one of his primary legacy goals would be to develop in six years, an irreversible foundation for Liberian education to fulfill its target of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) for Education 2030.
"This would require a restructure of the development framework for education delivery unit, shifting attention from knowledge only to a competence-driven platform for teaching, one that sets the pace for delivering employable life-long skills to posterity satisfying the human resource competence on the national development agenda," he had said.