As the continent celebrates Day of the African Child, Liberia looks inward at high out-of-school population
UNICEF and Government highlight need to sustain and bolster efforts to get more Liberian children inside the classroom
MONROVIA, Liberia, 16 June 2014 – Across Africa, countries are marking the Day of the African Child with a focus on the issue of out-of-school children. In Liberia, the day is one of reflection during which the Government, UNICEF and other development partners are asking themselves one very simple question: why do so many Liberian children of school-going age remain outside the classroom?
A recently released joint report by UNICEF and UNESCO found that the West and Central Africa region is home to the highest number of out-of-school children in the world. Liberia is among the countries where this problem is particularly acute.
“Despite multiple initiatives aimed at getting children to go to school and stay in school, this report finds that 70 per cent of Liberian children ages six to 11 are not enrolled in primary school,” said UNICEF Representative Sheldon Yett. “We also know that many Liberian children enrolled in school are over age for their grade levels, putting them at a greater risk of dropping out.”
According to the study, Liberia leads the region for percentage of primary school age children who are not enrolled in formal schooling. Meanwhile, and as in other countries, many students who are enrolled are not showing up regularly for class.
“The Government takes the findings of the UNICEF-UNESCO report very seriously,” said Liberian Minister of Education Etmonia David Tarpeh. “We know that the negative trends in primary school enrolment and attendance have multiple causes, including lack of adequately equipped and staffed schools, insufficient Government schools to accommodate the primary school age population and of course, the negative impact of poverty.”
UNICEF is playing a key role in the Government’s efforts to overcome obstacles to getting children to not only enroll in school, but to actually show up to class and remain in school. Thanks to a grant from the Government of Japan, the agency is building or rehabilitating 90 public primary schools in 11 of the country’s 15 counties. The Ministry of Education is selecting these schools and, after each school is completed, providing material and other support, such as textbooks.
Increasing access to structurally sound and child-friendly school buildings is just one part of the solution. After all, if children are not encouraged or motivated to attend those schools, the efforts are futile. Recognizing this, UNICEF is also involved in projects that aim to attract more school age children to the classroom, and to help older children excluded from school access an Alternative Basic Education (ABE).
An example is a joint programme with UNICEF, WHO, UNFPA, UNESCO and UN Women which targets out-of-school adolescent girls with a variety of empowerment initiatives. These include outreach to raise awareness of the value of an education, as well as literacy classes to help beneficiaries prepare to enter the formal education system.
“Adolescent girls are at a particularly high risk of dropping out of school, missing classes or being excluded from school altogether in Liberia,” said Minister of Gender and Development Julia Duncan-Cassell. “Factors that can lead to their exclusion include early pregnancy or lack of support for their education from parents, who may prefer girls stay behind to work in the home.”
As with any social problem, there is no simple solution to the issue of high numbers of out-of-school children in Liberia. The Day of the African Child is a time for each of us to reflect on what we can do to make sure every Liberian child receives the quality education needed to lead a happy, healthy and prosperous life.
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
About the Day of the African Child
For more information, please contact:
Adolphus Scott, Communications for Development Specialist,
Carolyn Kindelan, Communications Officer