UNICEF correspondent Vivian Siu reports on the introduction of free primary education in Liberia.
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Free Primary Education: Better Future for Children in Liberia
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Vivian Siu: Six years after its brutal civil war due to a close, Liberia is still struggling to pick up the pieces. Ghostly shelves overlook the capital Monrovia and every present reminder of nearly 14 years of conflict that saw the almost total collapse of infrastructure. The country’s youth were worst affected, many were killed, many were orphaned, and many were recruited as child soldiers loosing childhood forever.
The education system too collapsed as various rebel groups swept through the country often targeting schools for recruits. Almost every child in every classroom has missed out on years of learning and now, they're desperately trying to catch up.
Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is well aware of the importance of education and is trying to undo the years of neglect. Her government has introduced free primary education for all and has tasked the Ministry of Education with providing it.
Since then, in the last three years, student enrollment has increased by almost 50%. But implementing free universal primary education in Liberia comes with its own challenges. Ganta, a small town on Liberia’s border with Guinea, was a scene of vicious battles during the war and like Monrovia, signs of the conflict are everywhere.
Thousands fled the fighting, no one went to school and everyone was affected. 16 year old Atleta Suomie and her family were among them. They fled the fighting in Ganta for the relative safety of Monrovia. Her mother died in childbirth on en route and she herself missed out on years of schooling.
Atleta: I was out of school from 2002, 2003 and 2004. I started school in 2005.
Vivian Siu: Thousands of children here have returned to school since the end of the war, even those who had passed school going age. As a result, the school quickly became overcrowded. Some classes move outdoors and what few teachers they were, were force to teach hundreds of students at a time. So, UNICEF through the Education Pooled Fund, made up of donations by the Dutch government and the Open Society Institute has been building and rehabilitating schools throughout Liberia.
Here in Ganta, work on a new child friendly school is progressing steadily and is expected to be completed this month. The design is based on sustainable techniques and on the job training for local builders’ means these techniques will enter in to the community.
Back at the crowded public school, students worked their way to through their science test. UNICEF and partners have placed special emphasis on girl’s education and as a result, girls now outnumbered boys here. A contradiction in male dominated West Africa where girls are often forced out of school and into early marriage.
Atleta’s flying through the questions despite crowded classes. She's a disciplined student who works hard and does well.
With a dedicated president, universal access to primary education, new teachers and new schools, Liberia is on the right track but it still has a long way to go and much more needs to be done before it is able to provide free quality education for all. It will require huge amounts of time, effort and investment but there is no other way. It is only through education that the youth of Liberia will be able to lift themselves out of their poverty to rebuild their country.
This is Vivian Siu reporting for UNICEF Television.
For more information go to unicef.org, unite for children.