In the run-up to the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child – a landmark international agreement on the basic human rights of all children – UNICEF is featuring a series of stories about progress made and challenges that remain. Here is one of those stories.
MONROVIA, Liberia, 11 January 2010 – As Liberia slowly recovers from a 14-year-long civil war, its educational system retains some of the lawlessness that reigned during the conflict.
Paying for grades
Lorinah, a 15-year-old girl from Kakata, Liberia, says that throughout the country, students and teachers often bribe each other for better grades.
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“An even bigger problem,” Lorinah says, “is teachers exploiting female students for grades.”
According to many students she interviewed, both practices are common, and Liberia’s Director for Secondary Education admitted as much: “It is true sometimes students buy grades to enable them to be promoted to the next class,” she told Lorinah.
But poorly-paid teachers who use the bribes to supplement their salaries were to blame as well, Lorinah said.
Bright mind, dim future
“I want to be an engineer and be a part of the reconstruction of my country,” says Emmanuel, 16, from Monrovia, Liberia.
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But despite finishing first in his class in high school, Emmanuel will not be attending school next semester. After his one-year scholarship to technical school ended in June, he realized he could not afford to continue.
“My mother is a classroom teacher and she makes about $100 a month, or $1200 a year,” Emmanuel said.
By happenstance, that is exactly how much a year of engineering school costs. But his mother needs to pay rent, buy food, and pay school fees for Emmanuel’s younger sister.
“She’s doing her best, but it just doesn’t seem to be working. It’s heartbreaking,” Emmanuel said.
Monrovia radio workshop
In August, Emmanuel and Lorinah were participants in a week-long radio production workshop for seven young people from Liberia. UNICEF Radio – in partnership with UNICEF’s ‘Back on Track’ programme on Education in Emergencies and Post-Crisis Transition, UNICEF Liberia and Talking Drum Studios – conducted the workshop with three boys and four girls chosen from around the country.
The youths learned how to record, edit, write and produce a radio story of their own.
Lorinah said she’d never paid teachers for grades, but she knew students who did.
“It is bad, because they will not be able to meet the challenge,” Lorinah said, referring to the challenge of higher education. Most of all, Lorinah called for teachers who had sexual relationships with their students to be dismissed. “As a young woman I feel very bad, because it can damage the lives of girls,” she said.
Emmanuel’s story talked about what it is like to be a motivated, bright young man in Liberia without the means to continue studying.
One of Emmanuel’s professors tried to encourage him. “This is a post-war country and people are facing the global [economic] crisis,” the professor said. “You can’t be complacent.”
He told Emmanuel to apply for more scholarships from the ministry of education: “If you go through with that with the requisite grade point average, I think you can be there as an engineer and you will be a prospect for your country.”
UNICEF Liberia will broadcast all of the youth’s stories to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the CRC.
The CRC grants children the right to a quality education, among other rights.
This was the second in a series of workshops conducted by UNICEF Radio and the Back on Track programme. Their aim: to bring young people’s perspectives into the debate around education in emergencies and post-crisis situations – and to commemorate the CRC.
Meanwhile, UNICEF’s Liberia programme continues to work with community radio programmes throughout the country to involve the new youth journalists in its programmes, empowering young people by giving them the chance to broadcast their voices throughout Liberia.