MONROVIA – Liberia’s school system may likely experience low turnout of students in this 2022/23 academic year as reports across the country speak of schools, especially private schools recording abysmal registration of students who are returning to school just as parents are lamenting the extreme hardship in the country that has affected their source of income and purchasing power.
This trend, according to The Analyst report, may also affect the student enrolment index in Liberia that has already highlighted lower enrolment in various annual reports by international and donor organizations like the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Most of the schools visited by this paper are even contemplating not opening for the academic year due to the low turnout as doing so will make the administration to incur extra costs such as paying salaries of teachers and other workers without any enough funds to undertake the implication since tuitions and other fees are the main sources to run the institutions.
The Ministry of Education had set September 5, 2022 for full commencement of academic activities in all schools throughout the country but with about a week into the new calendar, schools are experiencing a serious drought plunging the administrators into a harsh dilemma.
“Last year we had 560 students and from the moderate tuition and fees we charged, we were able to maintain 18 teachers and 8 employees including 5 administrators and 3 janitors. This year we have not been able to register up to 100 students though we did a very marginal increment of tuition and fees so as to meet the challenges envisaged this year including salaries and the rising cost of running this school. Unfortunately we have been thrown backward with the sharp decline we are experiencing and academic activities should be in full swing by now”, a Principal of one of the private schools said..
Besides the economic crunch most of the parents are faced with, some of the schools out of perhaps poor calculations had increased their tuition and other fees, thus further putting more pressure on the parents and students. “I have three kids in that school and I paid an affordable fee but this year they doubled the fees beyond my capacity. I have decided to take them to the other school in the neighborhood. That means the school will be short of 3 students from their roster last year. I am not talking about others and I am quite sure not less than 10 parents may take similar decisions like me. So with this calculation, they may have lost up to 20 students if the others also follow me. So you see the decline and it may seriously affect them as well”, a retired civil servant told this paper.
Many parents blamed the government for the hardship they and their children go through every year because according to them, the government has failed to provide more learning facilities that are affordable compared to private institutions that are operating for profits. According to them there are few public schools at all levels and because of the non-availability appreciable number of public schools, parents are forced to send their children to private schools with higher fees and at times with low quality.
“Most of the problems we are going through have to do with the lack of enough public schools in the country and the government has to do something about it. We are forced to send our children to private schools because you hardly find government schools in communities and if you are lucky to find some, spaces are limited. What is frustrating is you are not guaranteed quality in most of the private schools. They increase tuition and fees without improving their services and facilities. So we pay higher costs for no quality in some cases”, Ma Theresa Gbeineetor, a single mother with 2 children who may not attend this year because she could not afford the new tuition and fees being introduced in the private school her children attended last year and wanted to continue there.
Another blame placed on the doorsteps of the government has to do with its failure to enforce its own directive to all private schools not to arbitrarily increase school fees without any justifiable reasons vetted by the Ministry of Education.
Amid the public outcry against the astronomic increase in tuition and fees by some private schools across the country, Minister of Education, Prof. D. Ansu Sonii who himself runs an expensive private school was cited by the National Legislature to answer the question why the schools were increasing their cost without any justification. The outcome of the parley between the lawmakers and Minister Sonii led the Ministry to set up a special task to curtail the increment but nothing was achieved.
“We were too disappointed in the Ministry of Education for its failure to take concrete actions to enforce the order mandating all schools not to increase their tuition and fees for no reasons but here we are here to face this dilemma. So there was no reason in the first place to set up a task force when schools have already opened”, Peter Johnson Jah II, a frustrated parent told this paper last week.
Efforts to reach authorities at the Ministry of Education to respond to most of the concerns raised by parents failed as calls placed to their phone and text messages sent were not returned.
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