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LIBERIA: COTAE EXPRESSES GRAVE CONCERN OVER PREVAILING HARDSHIP 

By Socrates S. Saywon –

The Coalition for Transparency and Accountability in Education (COTAE) through its National Coordinator Anderson D. Miamen expresses very grave concern over the prevailing hardship parents and students are currently facing with the hike in tuition and other fees in the country.

Addressing a press conference at COTAE’s offices Wednesday, November 17, 2021, in Monrovia, Miamen said: “During these challenging economic conditions, when many persons are already struggling to address their basic needs (food, clothing, access to electricity, shelter, etc.), it is mindboggling that access to education has become significantly hindered, mainly due to arbitrary hike in tuition and other fees by private school operators. The most appalling of all is the fact that services provided by a majority of these institutions do not commensurate with various astronomical fees charged, from time to time,” Miamen indicated.

He said COTAE is even more astounded by recent comments attributed to a Deputy Minister at the Ministry of Education that the Ministry lacks the power/authority to determine or regulate tuition and other fees charged by private schools in the country. Such statement attributed to a ranking official of the MOE is not only untrue but extremely troubling and hope-dashing, as it leaves poor Liberian parents and students at the mercy of private school operators, many of whom have proven to be more concerned about maximizing profit from education rather than helping the government to fulfill its statutory obligation of education to her citizens.

It can be recalled that, on Thursday, November 11, 2021, while addressing the Press and the Public at the Ministry of Information’s weekly Press Briefing in Monrovia, the Deputy Minister of Education for Administration, Amb. Latim Da-thong announced that the Liberian Government, through the Ministry of Education has no authority to regulate fees charged by Private Schools in the CountryAgain, such a statement is not only unfortunate but undermines the very essence and existence of the Government, especially the Ministry of Education and other actors overseeing Education-related activities in the Country.

He said contrary to the Deputy Minister’s comments, the New Education Reform Act of 2011 clearly mandates the Government of Liberia, through the Ministry of Education to manage and regulate both public and private schools in the Country. The oversight and regulatory responsibilities of the Ministry of Education are clearly outlined in relevant chapters and provisions of the New Education Reform Law of Liberia. Chapter 1.4.1 (under general provisions) says that the Act “shall apply to and cover the establishment, management and supervision of All Schools within the Republic of Liberia, including but not limited to all public, private, faith-based, and boarding schools, with the only exceptions, provided for in Section 1.4.2 being military training centers and police/security training institutions.

Functions Of The Ministry Of Education

Additionally, under Chapter 2.2.1 (Functions of the Ministry of Education), count f says that: MOE is to Coordinate the education programs administered by the government, the private sector, and faith-based educational institutions to ensure uniformity and Affordable Access and opportunities to education. Count “g” also says that MOE is to Facilitate and ensure accountability in the educational sector in line with recognized and Government-approved regulations and administrative practices and procedures. More importantly, Chapter 9 (Education Financing) outlines in count “g” that Tuitions and Fees charged by Private and Faith-based Schools shall be in accordance with the Guidelines established by the Ministry. On top of these is the globally approved Abidjan Principles, adopted in 2019 that consolidates all right to education-related laws and treaties. The Principles Highlight States obligation to adequately fund and provide public education and regulate the involvement of private actors in the education sector.

With the above-mentioned legal frameworks, COTAE National Coordinator indicated what then is the Ministry of Education’s reliance when it says it does not have the authority and power to regulate fees charged by private school operators? How can the Ministry impose penalties on schools for violating certain mandates, determine and regulate timelines for school opening and closure; determine minimum qualifications for teachers in private and public schools, but at the same time argue that it does not have the authority to regulate fees charged? How will the Ministry and Government ensure affordability of tuitions and other fees of private schoolsas provided for in the New Education Reform Act of 2011, if it claims to have no say in what they charge? What an irony!

Many More Questions Linger

COTAE through its National Coordinator asked: Is the Ministry of Education saying that Private School Operators are now powerful than the State to the extent that they cannot be regulated, especially fees charged in country with many poor students and parents Liberia?

Is the Ministry of Education telling Liberians and the World that private school operators can charge just any fees, even if it means undermining the “affordable access” requirement and the Right to Education, which is a fundamental Human Right that States are obliged to defend, uphold, and fulfill?

Has the Ministry lost the regulatory war to so-called power hands and actors in the education space so much so that it is making the public and partners believe that it has no power to regulate/control tuition and other fees charged by private school operators?

More so, could the Ministry of Education be validating citizens’ and stakeholders concerns about the apparent conflict of interest of some senior members of the current leadership who themselves run private Schools and Universities and are thus conflicted and unable to regulate themselves, especially in terms of fees charged?

How more ironical can this be, especially when this is counterproductive to the public interest.

Miamen indicated that as a longstanding partner and stakeholder in the education sector, COTAE wishes to remind the Government of Liberia, through the Ministry of Education that it has an obligation to at all times seek public interest and save them from the manipulative tendencies of profit-minded private school operators.

“Anything to the contrary will be tantamount to gross neglect of its responsibility to the people and global and regional commitment made to fulfill the Right to Education of its citizens.

“The Ministry cannot neglect its core responsibility to regulate fees charged by private school operators, in the name of not having the mandate/power to do so. Leaving poor parents and students entirely at the mercy of private school operators is as dangerous as exposing them to COVID-19, HIV and Aids, and other deadly diseases.

“And of course, it undermines and defeats the very essence and existence of the State and Government: to seek citizens foremost interest and protect them against private interest and the whims and caprices of unscrupulous individuals and groups in society, especially profit-mongers in the Education Sector. Let the Ministry of Education know that many parents who send their children to private schools do so because public schools are overcrowded and do not have the required space to accommodate the growing number of students in the country. So, private schools cannot be allowed to charge just any fees, as though there are adequate and well-funded public schools that can accommodate all school-going persons in Liberia, but choose private education for their children,” Maimen said.

COTAE’s Recommendations

Miamen further said COTAE urges the President of Liberia, George Manneh Weah to constitute an independent Committee, not headed by the Ministry of Education, to thoroughly investigate the hike in tuition and other fees charged by private schools. Such independent committee, comprising of representatives from civil society, media, lawyers, educators, and other professional bodies, will thoroughly investigate and report the facts and circumstances regarding hike in tuitions and other fees as well as its implications for the right to education in Liberia to inform appropriate government policy and decisions.

That the Legislature, especially the Committees on Education in the Senate and House of Representatives effectively exercise their oversight responsibilities effectively supervising activities of the sector. In part, this entails conducting their own investigations into the reported hikes in tuition and other fees by private school operators in Liberia to inform their decisions and actionsSuch arbitrary hike in fees, especially by private schools, undermine the right to education; the affordable access provided for in Chapter 2 of the New Education Reform Act of 2011; and professed commitments of these private school operators to complement the government’s efforts to increase access to education and eradicate illiteracy in the country.

As Government’s supervisory and regulatory authority over private and public schools cover all aspects of their operation, including fees charged for services, the Ministry of Education must perform her duties and stop giving flimsy excuses about not having the power/authority to determine fees charged by private schools.

That the Budget for Education is increased to at least 20% of the National Budget to allow for schools to receive the required materials and supplies to effectively and efficiently operate. The Incheon Declaration of 2015 and Darkar Framework of Action, endorsed by Liberia, must be upheld and fully implemented by the Liberian Government in increasing National Budgetary support to education, especially in the 2022 Budget.

The right to good quality, relevant and inclusive education must be protected in Liberia, especially in these difficult times when several parents and students cannot afford various fees charged, mainly by Private Schools. As public schools do not have the required space to accommodate the growing number of school-going population, the government cannot allow private schools to operate at will as though the decision of many parents to enroll their children into these schools is based on mere preference for private education.

Main Photo: COTAE National Coordinator Anderson D. Miamen

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