“We’ve Achieved Much Under My Leadership” -Education Boss Clarifies Assertions that Ministry Not Doing Enough
By Rancy S. Teewia
Coming hot on the heels of President George M. Weah’s recent impromptu visit to several schools within the Montserrado Consolidated School System (MCSS) where the Liberian leader lamented the deplorable learning conditions at the schools, saying he had been deceived into believing all was well while some of his officials have not done much to change the sorry state of education within the public schools, Education Minister Sonii has clarified that the Ministry of Education under his leadership has achieved a lot.
Making his position clear on the assertion from President Weah who was genuinely shocked at the deplorable condition at several MCSS schools that he visited last week and lamented that people have been deceiving him while doing nothing for the schools, Minister Sonii stated during a Ministry of Information press briefing during the week that he has achieved much during his stewardship of the Ministry.
“We have to be mature on every statement we make. We have to find solution,” Education Minister Ansu Sonii said when he addressed the regular Press Conference of the Ministry of Information Culture Affairs and Tourism (MICAT), a day after President George Weah issued him a 72-hour ultimatum to renovate the D. Twe High School, and accused him of not working.
Minister Sonii who refuted claims that he and his deputies ‘are doing nothing’ recounted the many achievements of the Ministry of Education under his stewardship, including upgrading of the educational level from scratch to excellence at the level of the West African Secondary School Exams otherwise referred to as WASSEC.
Providing an overview of some of the achievements of the Ministry of Education under his aegis, Minister Sonii hailed the strategic cooperation between the Government of Liberia and the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), which has led to the GPE approving US$5.6 Million to construct 66 classrooms for early childhood learning to be attached to existing schools.
“Ladies and gentlemen under the GPE, I have an application that has just been approved for Five million, six hundred thousand United States dollars. And the Global Partners for Education have just approved it for the construction of 66 classroom for early childhood learning to be attached to existing schools so that as when the population increases, we don’t throw any student out,” he narrated, noting that through the Global Partnership, the Ministry of Education has distributed health kits to the schools, and encourages the schools to keep the soap well and use it for the purpose intended – to ensure the wash their hands,” Minister Sonii asserted.
“My request to the teachers is to encourage the students to wear their masks for their own protection. If COVID does not destroy your life, you will take it home to your parents – to the ones you love and it may kill them,” Minister Sonii stated.
The Education Minister further advised that the health kits given to schools by the ministry must be properly managed to the expectation of the donors, adding that besides the health kits, the Ministry through the assistance of the Global Partnership for Education has developed a first class studio at the Ministry of Education to be complemented by radio and TV so that when students miss their lessons, they will tap into it.
“These are some of the things that we are doing and someone tells me we are doing nothing,” he further refuted. He said, “300 of our best teachers are quarantined, so we want to make our schools sophisticated that lessons missed can be recovered.”
Minister Sonii disclosed further that the Ministry is working on providing students with what he called “talking pen”.
A talking pen, he said, is a pen-like material that is a bit bigger; but contains a server with 32 small kids’ books recorded in it, comprising reading, pronouncing words, and singing small songs.
This server, he narrated, has a large volume that one can play and be heard aloud from a distance, and bragged, “This education Ministry headed by this minister is spearheading that.”
According to Ministry Sonii, the ‘talking pens’ with the books are not intended for students in Monrovia; they are for places where there are difficulties for students to get access to books for reading, especially the early childhood group. And all of the schools are going to get access to those servers as well.
Minister Sonii maintained that the classrooms are important to the development of early child learning, so that by the time a child is six years, he or she should be in first grade. He further assured that the educational platform is bound to change and is on its course of changing, and that the ministry believes that Liberia will get there under his stewardship.
Other key achievements
Regarding the regional examinations that is mandatory for West African students, Minister Sonii said Liberia under his administration has done remarkably well due to key policy decisions that saw a drop in the number of students in the WASSEC, but performing considerably more than previous years.
“Let me tell you what resulted in that; in 2018 the number of students that registered for WASSEC were less than those that registered for 2019 and those that registered for 2019 were less than those that registered in 2020,” he said.
The Education Ministry boss explained that in 2020, 40,000 students registered for the WASSEC exams, with 39,000 actually sitting for it. “Never before has 81 percent of that number that walked into the Exams hall passed at least one subject,” he exclaimed, saying, “Previously it was not that case; there were 146 schools in 2018 since students start taking the exams.”
The success of the results, Minister Sonii noted, was based on the strategy that the ministry applied to reduce the number of students sitting the regional exams, adding “This is what makes you a responsible Minister, you are a problem solver – you are not complaining.”
Prof. Sonii further explained, that the number of schools sent for WASSEC “dropped to 44 schools in 2019 and in 2020, the number dropped to 16 schools. “I don’t think that by 2021 going forward, we will send schools that will sit the exams and all its students will fail. That should not happen,” he said.
Speaking about the government’s bilateral scholarship, an initiative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Education Ministry boss pointed out that his ministry has the responsibility to do due diligence to screen those they are awarded government scholarships to so that they should truly be scholars.
Accounting for those Liberian scholars studying abroad, Minister Sonii said, “We have 47 students who are studying medicine and medical sciences, 21 students who are studying natural life sciences, and 29 students who are studying Information Technology (IT) while 55 students are studying Engineering of all sorts.”
He also disclosed that eight students are doing social sciences and 23 others accounting and other kinds of disciplines. “These are what we have done, and you tell us we have done nothing,” he said.
Education Minister Sonii, a former Dean at the University of Liberia, indicated that 32 of those studying abroad returned with master’s degrees in their respective disciplines and that the Ministry sent their names to the Civil Service Agency and Ministry of Labor for placement so that they will give back to the society.
Concerning the difficulties experienced by those sending their children to private schools, the Minister appealed to private schools to have consideration on parents who are sending their children to schools considering the state of the economy, and then explained the government’s scheme to ensure that.
Meanwhile Deputy Education Minister Latim Da Thong, who was also at the occasion said, consistent with President Weah’s pronouncement that the Ministry should procure 100,000 chairs, authorities at the Ministry are in the procurement process of the chairs.
He explained that The Ministry will put out a national bid for Liberian firms since the chairs are to be produced locally. He put the cost of producing the chairs at about $1.5 million United States dollars, which he noted will not be only about chair-making but will also help to empower Liberian businesses.
“We don’t want anyone from outside to come and fix these chairs, we have good carpenters around and we’re going to spread the contract; we are not giving one hundred thousand chairs to one person, because we have so many qualified Liberian carpenters,” Minister Da Thong stated.
It can be recalled that President George at the end of his tour of public schools last week expressed grave disappointment with the dilapidated and deplorable conditions of public schools in the country. He vented out his dissatisfaction at the D. Twe High School after visiting four other schools of the Monrovia Consolidated School System (MCSS), including the Williams V.S. Tubman High School, the Demonstration High School, the Newport High, and the Boatswain Junior High School.
During President Weah’s January 13, 2021 tour of key MCSS schools in Monrovia, Education Minister Sonii openly apologized to President George Weah for the embarrassment caused during the President’s visit to the D. Tweh High school located in the Borough of New Kru Town on the Bushrod Island, Monrovia.
President Weah had condemned the learning condition of students at the D. Tweh High School, terming the learning environment as “unacceptable”.
The Liberian leader also decried the condition of students across the Monrovia Consolidated School System (MCSS) when he visited five public schools across Montserrado County and gave the MOE 72 hour ultimatum to address the issue.
“This is unacceptable, these kids deserve better learning facilities,” said President Weah.
He challenged the students to remain focused, cautioning them to take their studies seriously as it is the surest way of becoming future leaders of the country, including the President.