MONWEH, River Cess – Jacob Beegar sits on a rattan chair under a palaver hut in Kporkon while his friends run around the hut. He seems unhappy. The 15-year-old should be in the 4th grade at the nearby Giemengbleh Public School in Kporkon Monweh District. But the school has been closed since 2020.
Report by Eric Opa Doue, with New Narratives
Instead, Jacob accompanies his uncle John Beegar every morning to help with the farm work. Jacob is the last of four children. According to his uncle because Jacob’s parents could not afford to train he Jacob and his siblings in school, he decided to take Jacob’s responsibility. Jacob two brothers are now married while his 17 years old sister according to his uncle is “in one of the gold camps making business.”
“My parents are poor and that was why I wanted to go to school to help them,” says Jacob. “But I don’t think it will happen because I am not going to school again. If the government don’t send teacher here, that mean I will be poor like my parents.”
Even before the school closed it was doing a poor job of teaching kids in this village.
“The school had just one teacher teaching more than one hundred and forty some more children,” according to John Beegar. “But the man was not getting payment from the government so he closed the school and left.”
River Cess County Education Officer Peter Knowlden says he met more volunteer teachers in the classrooms when he took over the county school system in June 2021. Knowlden says most of the volunteer teachers quit teaching because they were not captured on the payroll. Tough he was not clear as whether Jacob’s teacher was one.
Soon after the school building made of sticks with mud walls began to collapse. It sits now as a roofless ruin on the edge of the village, a testament to crumbling dreams of children and their parents here.
The closest school is in BoeGeezaye, a 54 minute motorbike ride away. Jacob’s uncle does not have the $LD1000 it costs each day to send his nephew. Neither do other families here. Jetta Wee, 10, and Blessing Duo, 11, are among other kids sitting under the palaver hut with Jacob instead of school. Other children moved to Boegeezay to sta with some family members while others went to Buchanan to continue.
Like Jacob, twenty-four-year old Alex Zodehgar is an eleventh grade dropout who owns and runs a motorbike spare parts shop in Yarpah Town. He wanted to become a Medical Doctor but he says the system could not permit him.
“I feel bad because if I could be a medical doctor I was going to save many people’s lives.” Says Zodehgar. “And through the school system I was not able so I decided to do business. I blame the school system because whenever you go to school there is no good teacher, we sit and we return home with nothing.”
Zodehgar two children are attending the Yarpah Town Public School, the same school he dropped from. But he has a plan to relocate his children upon graduation from elementary.
“Where I never reached, I want my children to reach so they can continue my dream,” says Zodehgar. “That is while in focusing on my business and at the same time making sure that they go to school.”
Number 4 of the 16 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals calls for Free Education for all, and it is considered so important by the International Community
10 years since a Front Page Africa/New Narratives investigation found the River Cess education system was in chaos with as many as 45 students stuffed in classrooms without furniture or windows, too few teachers in too few schools, little has improved.
The problem is exacerbated by the continuing economic constraints of the country. In 2012 the education system was allocated $40m from the national budget for the entire country. In 2022 it is $19,763.
Records from the office of the County Education Officer show that there are 115 public schools in five education districts in the county. Also, it is reported that about 400 government teachers are assigned in the county.
On the 5th of January 2022, River Cess’ County Education Officer (CEO) Peter Knowlden wrote the Director of Human Resource at the Ministry of Education to put “a hold” on the salaries of 50 teachers he claimed had abandoned the classroom and were still receiving their regular monthly salaries.
Knowlden, in an interview with New Narratives says he had earlier convened a meeting in Cestos in October 2021 where some of these teachers were in attendance. According to him, he told them to “come home to return to the classrooms or be deleted from the payroll.”
“Some of those guys had been out of the classroom for more than 10 years,” Knowlden said. “If they do not come back, we will not delete them but the law will delete them.”
River Cess is divided into five education districts; namely, Central ‘C’ #1, and 2, Timbo, Monweh and Yarnee. In other to find out the facts and circumstances surrounding the CEO’s assertion, an investigation was launched in three of the five districts, beginning with Central ‘C’ #1. There are District Education Officers (DEOs) assigned in each of these districts charged with the responsibilities to monitor and supervise. These DEOs are supposed to submit monthly reports to the CEO for onward conduction to the ministry of Education.
The DEOs made it appear as though the teachers abandoned their duties for which they are being paid for on their own. But that was not the case. Documents in our possession show that majority of the teachers who left the county left with the approval of their supervisors, the DEOs.
How and did the teachers leave?
Central ‘C’ # 1.
There are seven teachers from Central ‘C’ # 1 who are on the list of teachers who reportedly abandoned their duties. Four of them including John Toby, Psalm Toby, Solomon D. Weh and Roosevelt Autridge all from the Nyorwein Public School located in Gbloseo Town were contacted.
John Toby: Toby on December 30, 2020, right after the Senatorial Bi-Election in River Cess, wrote the office of the then District Education Officer Peter D. Wilson, asking for sick leave. He was granted permission by Wilson to take the leave. On December 15, 2021, Toby filed in his resignation as teacher. The resignation was received by Wilson 21 days before the CEO filed the complaint to the Ministry of Education. Toby now works in the office of Senator Wellington Geevon Smith of River Cess.
Psalm Toby and Roosevelt Autridge: On May 11, 2018, Psalm Toby wrote the office of the District Education Officer, requesting for ‘Study Leave’ (AA Program). That same year,Autridgealso asked for ‘study leave.’ Both Autridge and Psalm were authorized to leave.
Solomon Hweh: Hweh wrote the DEO’s office on January 6,2021 asking for Study Leave and he was also permitted.
All of these were confirmed by Peter D. Wilson the District Education Officer of Central ‘C’ #1. According to him the teachers and he agreed that they will return to the county to serve upon their graduation.
“They went to study to come back but they have over stayed and that was not the agreement,” Wilson says. “They schools are empty and they are in Buchanan doing nothing that’s we took the decision to let the ministry know.”
Central ‘C’ #2
Ten of the 50 teachers on the list are from this district. Isaac Innis is the DEO here but he says he inherited the situation at hand because he took assignment here as DEO in June 2021. Innis was swapped with David Jarwoe who is now the DEO in Monweh.
Several schools are shut down here due to the lack of teachers coupled with other challenges. Some schools are being run by just a single teacher. One such is theGbouzohn Public school in Kploh.For two academic years (2019/2020 and 2020/2021)the school was closed due to the lack of teachers.
Jerome Toe, the only teacher assigned here was deleted from the payroll in 2018. After efforts to get his name back on government’s payroll did not yield any fruit, Toe closed the school and left the county.
He returned to reopen the school in November 2021 following calls from parents of students who were enrolled in the school before it was closed. Even though some of the students have become mothers while others are in gold mines; Toe says the current enrollment is about 150.
“My name was deleted from the Government of Liberia Payroll since 2018, when the IAA [Internal Audit Agency] came and I was not present during the time of the audit due to my illness,” Toe says. “When I was away the community usually cry because for the past two years children were not learning things were really down, so decided to come and the reception is still poor. Even charge them 500 [LD]for student to register is still coming slow; that making I alone to be in the classroom.”
Jerome Toe is the only teacher at the Gborwuzohn Public School. Photo Credit: Aaron Geezay
Vondeh Public School has anEdwin Garpue is the Chairperson of the Parents Teachers Association (PTA) at the VondehPublic School in Central ‘C’ #2: Photo Credit: Otis Gbotoe. enrollment of 163 students, but parents say for two weeks (May 20-June 2, 2022) there were no teaching and learning activities because the teachers here had left for a training workshop in Cestos.
Edwin Garpue is the Chairperson of the Parents Teachers Association (PTA). He says there were three government’s assigned teachers here but one of them was among the 27 who were retired in June 2021.
“The teachers told us that they were going for their salaries on the road to come back,“ Garpue said. “But I’m surprised to hear that they are attending training in Cestos. So like that, there will be no school here for the next two weeks or so.”
Edwin Garpue is the Chairperson of the Parents Teachers Association (PTA) at the VondehPublic School in Central ‘C’ #2: Photo Credit: Otis Gbotoe.
Zolay Public School in WheagarTown did not open for the 2021/2022 school year because there are no teachers: Photo by Eric Opa Doue. April 22/2022Other Schools captured in this region during time of this assessment (April 7 to 20, 2022) that did not operate this 2021/2022 school year due to the lack of teachers and other challenges are Gorzohn Public School, Dorbor Public School, Sawpue Public School, and Gbardiah Public School.
There are a total of 17 teachers who delinquently abandoned their duties, making it the district with the highest number in that category. Four of them including Gideon King, Enoch Sando, Adam Sawmadal and IshmealGlassco were contacted for comment.
King, Sando and Glassco all claimed that their leaving the county was approved by the then Residence DEO, Artcolston Dorgbein. Their claim was confirmed by Dorgbein. The DEO further alleged that King has since graduated and he is in Grand Bassa County teaching at the Liberia Agriculture Company’s School. Something he says contravenes the agreement that was reached between the office of the DEO and those who applied for study leave.
“The agreement was that you return to the county upon your graduation to continue your work,” says Dorgbein. “That was why we allowed them to leave and while out there they were still receiving their salaries.”
For Sando and Glassco, Dorgbein says they are not in school, the reason the reason for which they were awarded the opportunity.
Responding to inquiry, Adam Sawmadal who according to the document, supposed to be the Administrative Assistance in Dorgbein’s office says he left the county to further his education and the DEO Dorgbeinis aware.
“I did not just leave or abandon my duties as they have been saying,” says Sawmadal. “I told him that I was not coming back in the county to work. So I asked him to replace me or have my name deleted from the payroll.”
Timbo has 30 schools. Six are Faith Based and 24 public schools. Our survey uncovered that more than five of the 24 government schools are shut down because there are no teachers.
Zolay Public School in Wheagar Town did not open for the 2021/2022 school year because the two teachers previously assigned here were retired in June 2021 and are yet to be replaced.
Zolay Public School in Wheagar Town did not open for the 2021/2022 school year because there are no teachers: Photo by Eric Opa Doue. April 22/2022
Alongside the Zolay Public school are Mannah Beach Public School, Drawquiah Public School, Toboe Public andZadrune Public school that is shut down for challenges ranging from less or no teachers, to ramshackle infrastructures coupled with little or no teaching and learning materials.
Parmah Public School in Sendor Towndoes not exist; in fact, Sendor Town is a ghost town. It is said that one Andrew Garsaynee is the Principal and he has been reporting that the school had 400 students. This claim was confirmed by Ben Yalley who served as Acting DEO in Timbo during the suspension period of the DEOs.
Yalleyin his report, of which copy is in our possession states that the World Bank ((WB) through government of Liberia had been providing grant for Early Childhood Education (ECE) to the school from 2018 to 2022.
In 2018 the government of Liberia through the ministry of Education introduced a new policy for kindergarten kids in public schools across the country to pay L$3000 as school fees.
The new policy was said to have reduced the number of kids in Early Childhood Education (ECE) category since most parents in rural Liberia could not afford to pay the amount. As a result, the WB introduced what will be known as the “Early Childhood Education Grant” in five selected counties of which River Cess County is one. Under this grant, the World Bank through the Education Ministry pays US$10 or L$2000 for each kid in that category. So, if Administrators of the Parmah Public School have been reporting 400 ECE students for four years (2018-2022)as reported by Ben Yalley the then Acting DEO, then the administration of a school that doesn’t exist has over the years exploited US$16,000 from the World Bank through the Education Ministry.
The money is deposited in the school’s special account where the Principal and the Chairperson of the Parents Teachers Association (PTA) are the two signatories.
ArtcolstonDorgbein served as DEO in Timbo District during the period under review prior to his suspension on May 2, 2022. He was asked for clarity about the Parmah Public School which under his supervision has been shut down since 2018 but is still receiving grant and other supplies from government, but he says he cannot comment because he has been transferred to another district.
“If you want to find out anything about Central ‘C’#1 you can ask me but not Timbo,” Dorgbein says. “I have not seen the report to make my research, so I cannot respond to your query.”
Government has been providing School Grant for the Parmah Public School from 2018 to 2022: Photo by Eric Opa Doue. May 19, 2022
Following public outcry coupled with media reports highlighting how the school system is being messed up, the Ministry of Education through Minister Ansu Sonni launched an investigation in the county.The result of the ministry’s probe saw all DEOs and the Human Resource Officer in the offices of the CEO suspended for one month “without pay.”
Those suspended were Peter Wilson- Central ‘C’ # 1; Isaac Innis of Central ‘C’ #2, David Jarwoe of Monweh and CheyeeKpanwon of Yarnee.
Their suspension letters dated May 2, 2022 was under the signature ofJames Armah Massaquoi Acting Deputy Minister for Administration at the Ministry of Education.
According to River Cess County Education Officer Peter Knowlden, the action to suspend the DEOs was triggered by the discovery of 50 teachers who reportedly abandoned the classrooms but were still receiving their regular monthly salaries. Alongside the 50 teachers who abandoned the classrooms on the authorization of their respective district education officers, 27 others were retired in June 2021 and are yet to be replaced.
Upon hearing that the DEOs were suspended, many residents and civil society actors in River Cess hailed the Minister. According to them the action was in the best interest of the county. They went on to call on the minister to go beyond suspension.
Simon Outland the head of the River Cess’ Branch of the Civil Society Council of Liberia says in order to improve the River Cess School System, the Government through the MoE should take a tougher action not just a month suspension.
“I am not in support of the decision the ministry took, because one month is not sufficient,” Says Outland. “It should be one year or six months without pay.”
George Trokon a retired teacher and former president of the River Cess’ CSOs says because the government has not been punishing corrupt education officers, they continue to spoil the county’s school system.
“One month suspension is not sufficient; the schools have no teachers as we speak,” says Trokon.“The ministry should always be prepared to replace people and they are not doing it. You come you see so, so, C certificate holders teaching all the subjects.”
John Moore, a resident of Monweh in upper River Cess County wants the district education officers prosecuted for what he calls “act of corruption” they allegedly committed.
“Lots of schools have been broken down in this place that we can name to government,” John Claims.“I don’t know whether the Minister himself did his proper investigation before taking the decision he took.”
Despite calls from citizens for tougher actions against the DEOs, the ministry in June lifted the suspension of all those who were suspended. David Jarwoe of Monweh and Isaac Innis of Central ‘C’ #2 were sent back to their respective districts while Dorgbein formerly of Timbo is transferred to Central ‘C’ #1. CheyeeKpanwon from Yarnee is now the Residence DEO assigned in Timbo. Peter Wilson from Central ‘C’ #1 is transferred to Sinoe County while Jacob Kouviakoe the Human Resource Officer is now assigned in Grand Kru as Planning Officer.
The ministry’s recent action to lift the suspension of the DEOs is generating public concerns here in the county. Critics are saying the suspension was just a mere bluff from the minister. But the CEO says though the suspension has been lifted, investigation continues.
“Those findings, media reports and every other concern being raised by our people are being looked into,” sayKnowlden. “No matter where you are, if you are found liable for anything, you will be punished. But we have to work in line with the policy.”
Policy:Chapter 4, section 2.2h of Liberia’s Civil Service Standing Orders calls for a one month suspension without pay or dismissal for dishonesty in the conduct of Government Business.
Record shows that two of the 50 teachers hold Masters Degrees, 12 are Bachelor Degree holders, five ‘B’ and 20 ‘C’ Teaching Certificate holders, eight High School Graduates and three are below High School.
This story was a collaboration with New Narratives. Funding was provided by the American Jewish World Service. The funder had no say in the story’s content.