Over a thousand ghost names have been identified for removal from the Ministry of Education’s payroll, after the minister concluded vetting 47 percent of its workforce, based in Nimba, Bong, and Montserrado.
During the past several months, the ministry has been undergoing exercises meant to reform its payroll including testing all teachers and equipping its employees with biometric identification cards.
The 1,023 names, when removed from the payroll, will amount to annual savings of US$1.6 million, says Gbovadeh Gbilia, the assistant minister for fiscal affairs and human resources development. He says the ministry will reinvest the savings back into the education system.
Part of the reinvestment will mean using the savings to recruit additional teachers to join the official payroll. Gbilia said the savings are much needed at a time when the ministry is experiencing a dearth of teachers at schools.
“We’re starting out with a deficit of about 6,000-7,000 teachers that are not in the classrooms,” he said. “If we want to have a realistic ratio of students to teachers so a teacher is not overwhelmed by too many students running around and they can deliver the lesson, we are totally under that mark.”
Besides the scarcity of teachers, the ministry is also concerned about the quality of existing teachers, which is why the reform process is testing all teachers in basic mathematics, English, and pedagogy.
While the ministry has not yet evaluated all the results from the three counties, Gbilia said: “the reality is that some teachers are illiterate.” He paused, before adding, “Those are some of the teachers God blessed us with, for now.”
He said tests results revealed that some teachers could not even spell ‘Liberia’ or the name of their school.
“Now what do you expect that person to give to your child?” he said. “If they can’t spell ‘Liberia’ when that child stands up in front of a crowd and starts to spell the country of their origin, it’s not that the child is dull, but [the person] teaching the child is the one who miseducated the child.”
The National Teachers Association of Liberia, the largest teachers union in the country, has been a critic of some of the ministry’s reform efforts including the initiative to test all teachers. In Nimba, the union had urged its members to refuse to take the test for fear of being fired. Most teachers in Nimba, however, did take the test.
Gbilia found opposition to the tests to be misguided. “The test was not intended to fire anybody or to make redundant teachers. The test was to understand where a teacher is at, as far as capacity,” he said.
If teachers needed to be retrained, he said, the ministry would ensure that they received the training. For those who could not be trained, he had little tolerance.
“It’s a small percentage but they are illiterate, and they have to look at other fields to get into because there are other ways to get money,” he said. “You don’t have to be a teacher, though they may have a good heart and want to do better but they’re actually doing a disservice to the system and to somebody’s child.”
As the ministry is reforming its payroll, it is also implementing systems that will take a significant amount of funds to maintain, and Gbilia said it is unrealistic for the ministry to take over funding the project on its own at the moment.
“That’s not realistic, not even after 2017,” he said. “What we’re doing, we’re relying – as most institutions in government are – heavily on Liberia’s friends [including] our donors, our partners, our stakeholders that care about Liberian education.”
The vetting exercise for the first three counties was funded by USAID, but funding for the remaining 12 counties has pledged by Big Win Philanthropy.
Gbilia said no one donor has committed to funding the entire project. Rather they are committing to funding pieces such as the Open Society Initiative in West Africa’s pledge to invest in monitoring and evaluating the vetting process. The Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative is also a funder of the ministry’s reform effort.
“Though a lot of people may criticize [Education] Minister [George] Werner, he is extremely liked internationally, and he’s been able to raise a significant amount of money for the ministry to do operations that we as an institution don’t have the money to do,” Gbilia said about his boss’s success in raising funds for his initiatives.
Featured photo courtesy of Julien Harneis