Site of the organization: UNESCO
Type of the publication: Report
Date of the publication: 2022
Although Liberia is witnessing relative sociopolitical stability, the challenging socioeconomic context, further amplified by COVID-19, may create tensions and fuel social unrest, especially among the youth.The population of Liberia was estimated to be over 5 million people in 2020 with forecasts predicting growth to 6.4 million by 2030. Population growth witnessed a boom after the war years. Growth has since steadied and is now anticipated to decrease. The population is character-ized by a high proportion of youth with 40 percent of the population in 2020 being under the age of 15. This contributes to a growing pressure on the education system, which is predicted to accommo-date an additional 483,000 children and youth by 2030. Furthermore, the popula-tion is distributed unevenly over the terri-torial space with two-thirds of the population currently living in Montserrado and the three counties that make up the North Central region.Liberia has enjoyed relative stability since the end of the civil war in 2003, and elec-tions since then have been deemed to be free and credible. However, elections are still recognized to be influenced by patronage practices, which have resulted in the population feeling neglected. In response, civil society in Liberia has been mobilizing as is evidenced in the growing number of demonstrations in the country pushing for reforms to address corrup-tion and improve political inclusion. Liberia is further particularly vulnerable to epidemics, such as the outbreak of the Ebola virus disease in 2014, while malaria continues to rank first in terms of the leading cause of morbidity and mortality.
While social indicators have improved over the years, they remain low and are marked by sharp location disparities. The population is observed to be overwhelm-ingly poor. In 2016, 50.9 percent of the population was estimated to be living below the poverty line, of which 71.6 per cent was in rural areas and 31.5 per cent in urban areas. Although improvements have been witnessed, the population still lacks access to basic utilities and facili-ties. The proportion of the population who has access to an improved water source increased from 66 per cent in 2007 to 85 per cent in 2019. High maternal mortality rates indicate an overall poor quality health system and limited access to healthcare services. Early childbearing is seen to be widespread and represents a major threat to girls’ education. Overarchingly, the human development index stood at 0.480 in 2019, positioning Liberia at 175 of 189 countries.
Early childhood education enrolment in Liberia
Liberia has one of the highest ECE enrolment rates in the region; however, it is driven by the high proportion of overaged children observed in pre-primary class-rooms, which has knock-on effects for the rest of the education system.ECE has been the responsibility of the Ministry of Education (MoE) since the promulgation of the Education Reform Act of 2011. However, access to this level is not fee-free as public ECE institutions are permitted to charge a capped fee amount. Furthermore, the government continues to commit very little financially to ECE. No development spending was allocated in 2020, whereas 14 per cent of the total salary expenditure was allocated to ECE teachers in the same year.Although ECE services are primarily offered by public institutions, the propor-tion of enrolment in public schools has declined since 2015 in favor of faith-based and private institutions. Gross enrolment in pre-primary was found to be 123 per cent in 2020 and was rela-tively consistent across socio demographic characteristics. Additionally, between 8 percent and 10 per cent of ECE learners were observed to repeat a year, which is a unique trend. Net enrolment was much lower than gross enrolment, at 58 per cent in 2020. Enrolment was affected greatly by the wealth quintile, signaling the existence of financial barriers to enrolling in ECE at the appropriate age. Overall, 82 per cent of learners enrolled in ECE are overaged, with rural populations being more over-aged than urban populations.
Decline in basic education
Access to basic education in Liberia has declined and is at risk of privatization, and expansion among private and faith-based providers is observed. The educa-tion structure in Liberia follows a 3–9–3–4 model with a parallel alternative educa-tion model providing accelerated learning opportunities as well as adult education for overaged students. Despite the large proportion of overaged learners observed across subsectors, the alternative educa-tion sector remains small. In 2020, 13,000 students were enrolled in alternative learning programmes, which represented just over 2 percent of primary enrolment.Public schools are the most prevalent providers at primary level; however, private schools represent the majority at the junior and senior secondary level. Furthermore, the total proportion of learners enrolled in public schools has decreased across all levels since 2015. Enrolment at primary level has also decreased from 89 per cent in 2015 to 82 per cent in 2020 – both in abso-lute terms and in terms of gross enrolment.
No development spending was allocated in 2020, whereas 14 per cent of the total salary expenditure was allocated to ECE teachers in the same year.Although ECE services are primarily offered by public institutions, the propor-tion of enrolment in public schools has declined since 2015 in favor of faith-based and private institutions
However, the gross enrolment ratio (GER) in both the junior and senior secondary level increased slightly, growing from 51 per cent to 54 per cent, and 36 per cent to 38 per cent, respectively. Net enrolment has remained stable over the same period, standing at 43 per cent at primary level, 14 per cent at junior secondary level, and 10 per cent at senior secondary level. Parity is observed in both GER and net enrolment ratio between male and females. However, locality and wealth cause large disparities in access across all subsectors, where populations in the richest wealth quintile exhibit a primary GER that is 56 percentage points higher than populations from the poorest quintile.The Children’s Law of 2011 enshrined the right of children with disabilities to an education. This law was followed by the Inclusive Education Policy in 2018. Between 0.43 percent and 0.74 per cent learners in Liberia are reported to have a disability, with disability type ranging by subsector. Some estimates put the proportion of school-aged children who have a disability as high as 15.3 per cent. When considering that an average of 0.53 percent of learners enrolled in 2020 had a disability, it is suggested that 97.45 per cent of school-aged children with disabili-ties in Liberia are out of school.An examination of the evolution of the schooling profile using administrative data in Liberia from 2015 to 2020 shows an improvement in transition rates coupled with a decrease in retention rates. Household survey data indicates equal levels of access for male and female learners in the first grade of primary; however, the gap grows between the sexes with ascending grades.
Sociodemographic and macroeconomic context
The Republic of Liberia is located in West Africa and covers an area of 111,369 km2. The country is bordered to the north-west by Sierra Leone, to the north by Guinea, and to the east by Côte d’Ivoire. Liberia has a coastline of 579 km in the south.Liberia has a humid, tropical climate characterized by two major seasons: a wet monsoon summer and a dry winter season. The coastal areas register high levels of rainfall of more than 5,000 mm per year. Forests make up 45 per cent of the land cover, and the country is recognized as a global hotspot for biodiversity (UNDP et al., 2018). Administratively, the country is divided into five regions, 15 counties, 73 electoral districts, and 136 administra-tive districts. Districts are further subdivided into third-level administrative divisions called clans.1 The county of Montserrado hosts Monrovia, the capital city. Each county is administered by a superintendent appointed by the President.2In terms of ethnolinguistic structuring (see Figure 1.2), the Liberian population comprises 16 ethnic groups, each with their own language that may be categorized into three main groups: Mandé (52 per cent), Kru (37.5 per cent), and Mel (9.2 per cent). The Mandé-speaking people are located primarily in the central and north-western regions of the Liberia area, while the Kru are mostly found in the south-eastern parts of the country, and the Mel (found in Sierra Leone) in the north and the coastal region of the north-west (Britannica, n.d.; Minority Rights Group International, 2020). The largest ethnolinguistic groups are the Kpellé (20.3 percent); followed by the Bassa (13.4 percent); and Grebo, Gio, Mano, and Kru (6 percent).
Natural hazards and climate
ChangeWhile Liberia is not regarded as a country at high risk of any major natural disasters, it is nevertheless prone to natural hazards such as floods, epidemics, sea erosion, storms, extreme temperatures, and insect Administratively, the country is divided into five regions, 15 counties, 73 elec-toral districts, and 136 administrative districts. Districts are further subdivided into third-level administrative divisions called clans. The county of Montserrado hosts Monrovia, the capital city. Each county is administered by a superintendent appointed by the President.2In terms of ethnolinguistic structuring, the Liberian population comprises 16 ethnic groups, each with their own language that may be categorized into three main groups: Mandé Figure 1.2Ethnolinguistic groups in Liberia, 2008, The impact on the population is sizeable, and over an estimated 1.6 million of people have been affected from 1990 to 2016 (Climate Change Knowledge Portal, c2021b). Natural hazards further have major damaging effects on human health, agri-culture, infrastructure, and the environment. The country is further vulnerable to climate change, which is ‘expected to result in more extreme weather situations with more intense temperatures as well as rainfall patterns entailing increased risks and severity of natural disasters’. Floods, a particularly recurrent natural disaster, are expected to worsen, especially along the coasts due to rising sea levels. Along with the projected increase in heavy rains, storm surges and erosion, natural hazards are expected to have major detrimental effects on both the population and infrastructure, which will lead to substantial economic loss following major damage to agricultural lands, livestock destruction, infrastruc-ture destruction [(including schools)] as well as human casualties.
Early childhood development and education
The early childhood agenda
Early childhood development (ECD) and care forms a key domain of the Education Agenda 2030 through sustainable devel-opment goal (SDG) 4.2 that seeks to ‘ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality ECD, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education’. This is founded on the under-standing that the first years of a child’s life are crucially important for physical, cognitive, social-emotional and lifelong development. Additionally, it is recog-nized that investing in the early years of a child’s education provides a higher rate of return in terms of human capital development than investing in later years (Heckman et al., 2009). However, despite widespread evidence, the ECE sub sector remains underfunded, with an average of only 1.9 per cent of education budgets in low-income countries dedicated to pre-primary (UNICEF, 2019). In this way, the ECE subsector often receives less attention and prioritization than other education subsectors and, generally, less is known about how well country-level systems are functioning. To remedy the situation in Liberia, this chapter considers the ECE sub sector specifically to diag-nose the main issues facing children in terms of access and quality to identify areas for target intervention, which will benefit young children and the develop-ment of the education system as a whole.
Early childhood development (ECD) and care forms a key domain of the Education Agenda 2030 through sustainable devel-opment goal (SDG) 4.2 that seeks to ‘ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality ECD, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education’
This chapter considers early learning opportunities in Liberia with a specific focus on ECE instead of ECD due to the limited nature of ECD programmes in Liberia, which are predominantly offered by the private sector. teachers across all ownership types. These responsibilities mirror those of the Bureau of Basic and Secondary Education, albeit at ECE level. This makes developing and implementing the curriculum, ECE teaching training, and ECE infrastructure all the responsibility of other departments in the ministry, namely that of curriculum development and school environment, which distributes responsibility.This institutional environment was augmented by the creation of the National Inter-Sectoral Policy on Early Childhood Development (NIPECD) in 2012, which sought to bring together the wide variety of actors and ministries necessary for providing access to integrated ECD services. As a mechanism of this coopera-tion, the NIPECD established the intermin-isterial committee and parallel commit-tees at the county, district and local levels. These committees are respon-sible for implementing the policy, coor-dinating partnerships, and monitoring progress across the various decentral-ized levels. As such, the NIPECD demonstrates the government’s commitment to providing access to educational services for children under 5 in a holistic manner, encompassing both nutritional and health services.
Overview of the national ECE context: Strong levels of institutional support for early learning
ECE is a clear government priority at policy level, however, access in public schools still requires payment of fees. The prioritization of ECE was made clear in the ERA of 2011:The Government of Liberia shall be committed to ensuring that provisions are made for all children to receive sound pre-first or ECE as being essential to the latter development and the rapid educa-tional advancement of children to the level of primary education and beyond. The Act mandates the establishment of ECE services across the country while simultaneously recognizing the unique role of development partners in the subsector. The Act outlines the respon-sibility of the government in supporting the subsector, which includes procuring teachers and assisting teacher colleges as means may allow. Before this intro-duction into policy, ECE was mainly the responsibility of international actors and communities who still retain a prominent role in the subsector. However, despite this policy commitment, ECE is neither compulsory nor free in the country. The policy environment for ECE in Liberia has developed substantially, begin-ning with ERA. The political and institu-tional arrangements of ECE were origi-nally outlined in ERA, which established the Bureau of Early Childhood Education for the first time. The Bureau’s core functions include designing, developing and implementing ECE programmes, issuing permits for ECE institutions, and main-taining relationships with schools and teachers across all ownership types. These responsibilities mirror those of the Bureau of Basic and Secondary Education, albeit at ECE level. This makes developing and implementing the curriculum, ECE teaching training, and ECE infrastructure all the responsibility of other departments in the ministry, namely that of curriculum development and school environment, which distributes responsibility.This institutional environment was augmented by the creation of the National Inter-Sectoral Policy on Early Childhood Development (NIPECD) in 2012, which sought to bring together the wide variety of actors and ministries necessary for providing access to integrated ECD services. As a mechanism of this coopera-tion, the NIPECD established the intermin-isterial committee and parallel commit-tees at the county, district and local levels. These committees are respon-sible for implementing the policy, coor-dinating partnerships, and monitoring progress across the various decentral-ized levels. As such, the NIPECD demonstrates the government’s commitment to providing access to educational services for children under 5 in a holistic manner, encompassing both nutritional and health services.
Data usage and availability: External sources consulted
There is limited data available from the government in terms of ECE quality; as such, alternative data sources are also considered in this chapter. Currently, the government does assess learning outcomes regularly at ECE level. In the absence of evidence from national assessment data, this analysis draws on the results of research undertaken in 2018 under the Early Learning Partnership (ELP) programme. It is a multi-donor trust fund managed by the World Bank with activities in 26 countries. In Liberia, Early Learning Systems Research (ELSR) was carried out by Oxford Policy Management to inform the second phase of the ELP programme. The research identified two key barriers to improving early learning: the high prevalence of overaged children in ECE classrooms and the low levels of teacher training in ECE, around which Phase 2 of the ELP programme was focused. Part of this research included using the Measuring Early Learning Quality and Outcomes (MELQO) tool. This tool was developed by UNICEF, UNESCO, the World Bank, and the Brookings Institute to promote ‘the feasible, accu-rate and useful measurement of children’s development and learning at the start of primary, and the quality of their pre-pri-mary learning environments’ (UNESCO, 2017: 7). MELQO is composed of two measurement modules: one aimed at measuring child development and early learning, entitled the MODEL, and the other focused on the quality of learning environments, entitled the MELE. The OPM (2018) research sampled 50 schools in eight counties, including 490 learner assessments, 278 parent interviews, 50 principal interviews, 50 teacher interviews, and 50 structured and 50 unstruc-tured classroom observations. It is important to note that this is not a repre-sentative sample and, therefore, findings should not be considered with this in mind. Secondly, this analysis considers research undertaken in 2021 using the Brief Early. Childhood Quality Inventory (BEQI) tool (Davis, Cassel, and Raikes, 2021). This is an observational and self-assessment tool of quality in a variety of early learning settings. BEQI includes both an observa-tion tool and a teacher or provider self-as-sessment. The tool captures compo-nents of play-based learning and interac-tions between teachers and children.
In Liberia, Early Learning Systems Research (ELSR) was carried out by Oxford Policy Management to inform the second phase of the ELP programme
Evolution of enrolment and capacity of primary and secondary
Structure of education in Liberia
Basic education is offered fee-free in Liberia. The Liberian education system is split into six subsectors: (i) ECE; (ii) basic education (comprising primary, junior secondary, continuing and adult education); (iii) senior secondary school (comprising academic and technical education); (iv) junior college and other post-secondary institutions; (v) colleges and universities; and (vi) intermediate insti-tutions of learning (comprising teachers’ education and vocational training).The structure follows a 3–9–3–4 system composed of three years of ECE, nine years of basic education (consisting of six years of primary and three years of junior secondary), followed by three years of senior secondary or technical or voca-tional education, and finally four years of university or another tertiary education programme. This structure is spelled out in the ERA of 2011, which replaced the Education Law of 2001. The ERA departed from the 2001 Law by redefining basic education to include both primary and junior secondary and expanding its provi-sion of free and compulsory education to include both levels (Liberia, 2011b). The system further stipulates exams at the Grade 9 and Grade 12 levels to determine promotion to higher educational levels as shown in Figure 3.1. The exams are admin-istered by the West African Examination Council (WAEC). In practice, there is also an exam at the end of the primary cycle; however, it is not reflected in the ERA.
Alternative learning programmes
Formal and alternative structures function in parallel in Liberia. Alternative learning opportunities were particularly important government efforts after the end of the civil war to help learners whose education was disrupted. Now, more than 15 years since the end of the war, Liberia is no longer operating in an emergency context, and alternative education programmes have been transferred from transitional to foundational programmes. Alternative learning programmes (ALPs) target a wide range of learners including overaged and adult learners. Alternative learning is split into three different programmes: alternative basic educa-tion, ALPs, and adult education . Alternative basic education targets older learners, aged 15–25 and already in the workplace, and combines lower basic education with leadership and livelihood development. While, ALPs target learners aged 8–15 who are already enrolled in basic education, but who are more than two years overaged for the class in which they are enrolled. This programme provides lower primary education in a three-year condensed cycle, which enables learners to transition back into the formal system or into the world of work. Adult education provides both primary and secondary education for adults over 18 and is generally administered through night school programmes. ALPs address the pervasive issue of overaged enrollment in Liberia. Formal education system, whether this be into the appropriate grade level for their age or to technical and vocational education and training (TVET) options.Learner eligibility, assessment and certification guidelines outline this process, which is based on both age and ability. At the end of each ALP level, learners are expected to do a summative assessment. If learners pass this assessment and are fewer than two years overaged for the next grade level (Grade 3 for Level 1; Grade 5 for Level 2; and Grade 7 for Level 3), they are expected to transition into the formal system. If learners are more than two years overaged for the appropriate grade level after passing the summative assess-ment, they progress to the next ALP level. Learners who graduate from Level 3 and are aged 15 or older are given the oppor-tunity to transition into adult education or a TVET programme, or are supported with transition into the workplace.An issue arises when there are 15-year-old learners in Level 1 or Level 2 programmes. Although they are not permitted under the learning eligibility guidelines to progress to a higher level, they also do not have the appropriate skills to transition into TVET programmes. Furthermore, adult educa-tion programmes are often less wide-spread than ALPs. Thus, learners over the age of 15 who want to complete the basic education cycle may find it diffi-cult to access ALPs.