Liberia has the highest proportion of out-of-school children in the world. In fact, it is currently expected to be the last country on earth to achieve universal education. The south-east of Liberia has the worst educational outcomes in the entire country, meaning that children born in this region have the lowest chance in the world of learning to read and write.
Earlier this year, as part of the Partnership Schools for Liberia program, Street Child began working with the Liberian Government to improve education quality in this forgotten region of Liberia.
The six counties in Liberia's south-east – Maryland, Grand Kru, River Gee, Sinoe, Grand Gedeh, and River Cess – are extremely poor and marginalized. Poor infrastructure has left them isolated, and the road network is unpaved, thick with mud, and often impassable in rainy seasons. It can take three days to travel a distance of 700km to reach Maryland, via a circuitous route around the far north-west of Liberia.
In River Gee, Grand Kru, and Maryland, 65% of the population lives in food poverty. Gold mining is one of the few livelihoods available, and children as young as seven or eight can be seen working in the small-scale mining sites.
'When I see young boy children come to the market to buy a shovel, I know they are going to the mines,' says Hawa, a market woman in Maryland. 'Sometimes I try to talk them out of it, but they will just go somewhere else to buy a shovel. They should not be going, but some of them don’t have a choice.'
This context will be a new challenge for Street Child, but the sheer number of children at risk means it cannot continue to be ignored. We will be working in both urban and rural areas, each with its own significant difficulties.
In urban settings, there are simply not enough schools to cater for the number of children. Many classrooms are dangerously overcrowded and in the worst cases, children are missing out on education altogether.
'We want to take all the children, because we want them to get an education, but the rooms are too small,' said the Principal of one public elementary school in Harper. 'There are too many children and not enough learning materials for effective teaching. It is a problem for us.'
In rural settings, the problem is the opposite. Enrolment and attendance is generally low across the rural schools. Teachers and principals report that many communities place little value on education. Early marriage, domestic duties, and teenage pregnancy further reduce the number of girls attending school.
Those few children who do attend school are unlikely to receive a quality education. Poor infrastructure, a lack of trained teachers, and a lack of essential materials hinder even basic learning. Many schools can use only a small number of the classrooms available, because of leaks in the roof, damaged flooring, and a lack of desks and benches.
Going forward, Street Child hopes to change all this. We will be working with local government, school leadership, teachers, and local communities to improve children’s learning by tackling the social as well as educational issues that affect children’s lives in this forgotten corner of Liberia.