MONROVIA, LIBERIA–Liberia is one of the poorest countries in the world and has an education system to match. According to the Liberian Demographic and Health Survey, in rural areas, 66% of 15– 24-year-old women are illiterate. Additionally, just 20% of children who enrolled in first grade went on to complete twelfth grade. Civil War and Ebola have not helped. Improving education outcomes required a bold approach and in 2016 the Government of Liberia introduced Partnership Schools for Liberia (PSL), a public/private partnership designed to revolutionize learning across the country.
The program is working and after just nine months an independent study showed a 60% increase in learning overall. It is a multi-pronged policy approach that aims to transform lesson delivery; teacher absenteeism and training; class sizes and instructional design.
More importantly, PSL is an initiative designed by and lead by Liberians – men and women alike. I am a school area supervisor and am on the frontline of the changes being made across the country. I used to be a government teacher, then a Bridge PSL teacher, and now I am a Bridge PSL area supervisor and in my role I monitor schools and coach teachers. I ensure teachers are there, that they are delivering the lessons and that they are using the new model.
This is a change to how schools worked previously in Liberia. Most teachers were left without training or support. My role would not have existed and if schools were in remote, hard to reach locations there would have been no checking of what was being taught and how or whether children were learning.
On a school visit, I will assess a teacher very closely and then give them feedback. I will then watch the teacher again to see if they have improved. For example, I was monitoring a teacher recently and she was not fully using the signals to let pupils answer questions. She was continuing with the lesson too quickly. I told her to use the signals and to pause and wait for children to respond to questions.
Teachers are always engaging pupils and teaching. They are there, in the class with their teacher guides. It is so different. They are so well prepared and are focusing on their children. There was less teaching before. I remember from when I was a teacher.
There can be many competing priorities for a child’s and a family’s attention. Understanding the importance of education and making sure a child is in school does not always come naturally. It’s not surprising when previously school meant crowded classrooms and little learning.
When I visit a school, if there is a child absent for two or more days I contact the parents by phone or I visit their house. I find out why the child is not in school. If the child is not sick or something serious I tell the parents the importance of their child being in school every day. Some parents are happy to express how their children are learning in the school. Before, nobody would contact parents to ask why a child was absent. I talk to parents about how they can help improve learning and behaviors.
Before Bridge PSL arrived, sometimes children would get beatings, but that made them frightened and did not help them to learn. It was bad for improving children’s minds. Now I am showing teachers and parents how to treat children with more respect and to change their behavior in better ways. The teachers are glad to get feedback as it helps them to learn from their mistakes.
If I see an issue I set SMART objectives with the principle. Usually, we choose the top five issues in a school. For example, in one school there was not enough drinking water for everybody. I helped resolve that issue by meeting with parents and teachers and together they raised money to buy fresh water and a new water tank for the school. I feel so proud because I am a teacher trainer and helping improve schools. My friends know that I have done really well and have an important job for not only the communities I serve but for Liberia.
There are so many girls who cannot read and write when they see me coming through the places and helping teachers to be even better, I am a role model. They will see what a girl can be, and they will work hard. The commitment and dedication of people like Lovetta is showing what is possible in communities. Many families live in poverty but the dreams they have for their children are those of all parents. Education is the way they will be realized.
Lovetta David, 29, is an area supervisor for schools in Monrovia. Her story was told to Ben Rudd, director at Bridge Academies
Photos courtesy Bridge Academies: 1) Students; 2) Lovetta David; 3) Girl reads under tree