An explicit definition of inclusive education has not been found. The 2010 education sector plan sets out to ensure that all school-age children receive and complete primary education as a main policy goal. It further specifies that the provision includes girls, individuals with special needs, vulnerable children, and children with ‘manageable’ emotional behavioural disorders and learning disabilities.
According to the 2011 Education Reform Act, highly gifted students and physically and mentally challenged learners are entitled to special education. The government subsidizes one school for the blind and a few non-government schools for physically disabled children. However, full geographical coverage is not guaranteed.
The 1986 Constitution of the Republic of Liberia enshrines the rights to equal access to education opportunities and facilities for all citizens (Art. 6). It lays special emphasis on mass education in order to eradicate illiteracy. It further prohibits discrimination on grounds of ‘ethnic background, race, sex, creed, place of origin or political opinion’ (Art. 11[b]).
Liberia launched a five-year National Action Plan on Disabilities in 2018. In relation to education, it calls for teaching sign language at all education levels and for financial assistance for social and security welfare. Disability is still a barrier to education. While the 2017–21 education sector plan notes that most children with disabilities do not attend school, no education policy on children and young people with disabilities has been adopted. Developing an inclusive education policy and guidelines for children and young people with disabilities has been identified as a component of the student well-being programme for supporting children with disabilities.
The 2006 Policy on Girls’ Education, revised in 2013, intends to improve girls’ and women’s access to vocational training, science, technology and continuing education to provide them with adequate labour market skills. It recognizes the role of special education in addressing the challenges faced by girls with disabilities. The 2011 Education Reform Act builds on its premises and aims. It aims to increase school scholarships for girls and sets as a specific objective the promotion of gender equity and equality throughout the education system. Against this backdrop, a programme implemented by the Ministry of Gender and Development provides 200 scholarships for vulnerable girls aged 12 to 16 attending boarding schools. The Special Girls’ Education Initiative is a night school programme with a flexible curriculum allowing pregnant teenage girls, mothers and other women who drop out of school to receive education. As highlighted in the 2017–21 education sector plan, even though current policy allows girls to attend night school when they are pregnant, pregnant students often leave schools.
Gender inequality is also addressed through specific cross-sector measures targeted, for instance, at improving toilets and water supply at schools or at reducing sexual and gender-based violence. To eradicate gender violence at school, the Ministry of Education published the Code of Conduct for Teachers and School Administrators in 2014.
Ethnic and linguistic groups
According to the Education Reform Act, the primary language of instruction is English; one local language is recommended to be taught at the basic education level, while French is introduced in secondary schools. The 2010 education sector plan established mother tongue-based bilingual education programmes in communities where children do not speak English in the home or community.
School fees and the indirect cost of education are the main barriers to school access and completion. Even if public primary education is nominally free, early childhood education in traditional public schools implies the payment of fees. By contrast, schools under the Partnership Schools for Liberia (PSL) programme are free of charge and non-selective in access. The school feeding programme is an initiative established nationwide to encourage enrolment. The programme intended to provide meals for at least 200,000 students and take-home rations for 10,000 adolescent girls. The intervention in favour of girls was intended to bridge the gap between male and female enrolment. In order to replace school fees, the Ministry of Education, in partnership with the Global Partnership for Education, has provided annual school grants to support access to basic education.
Coordination across sectors
The Ministry of Education was restructured according to the 2011 Education Reform Act. The National Education Advisory Board was set up to promote participation in the design and development of national education policies and programmes and to ensure the latter incorporate local and regional inputs.
Under the Ministry of Education, the Division of Special and Inclusive Education holds the responsibility for managing and monitoring special education provision. The director reports to the assistant minister for science, technology, vocational and special education. The 2018 National Action Plan on Disabilities calls for transforming the Division of Special and Inclusive Education into a bureau with an assistant minister.
Dealing with girls’ education, the Girls Education Unit within the Ministry of Education is in charge of awareness raising, documenting and reporting cases of gender-based violence in education.
Coordination across government levels
The 2011 Education Reform Act introduced a county school system, emulating the Monrovia Consolidated School System. A County School Board for each county was also established to facilitate, monitor and oversee the operation of all schools and ensure the implementation of education programmes. District school boards have been established within each county consolidated school system, each of which has direct supervision of schools.
School management was outsourced to private entities through the PSL programme between 2016 and 2019. Multiple non-state actors have been contracted to run public primary and pre-primary schools and receive funding on a per-pupil basis for the daily management of the schools. PSL schools are public. With reference to inclusion in access to PSL schools, the evaluation report on the programme has not revealed any statistically relevant difference between the proportion of students with disabilities in PSL schools and and that in control schools.
Building child-friendly school infrastructure, especially in disadvantaged areas, is part of the 2017–21 education sector plan.
The review of the current curriculum includes special education, school health (including comprehensive sexuality education and infectious diseases), alternative education and gender experts.
The Bureau for Teacher Education under the Ministry of Education oversees pre-service and in-service teacher training. The 2011 Education Reform Act establishes a minimum qualification level, teacher recruitment and licensing. In 2014, the ministry developed the Code of Conduct for Teachers and School Administrators to set standards and regulate misconduct, and in 2015 it designed the Educator Management Policy to reform the entire sector.
As pointed out in the 2017–21 education sector plan, teachers are often not qualified, in particular to teach students with disabilities. At the same time, teachers do not have access to in-service training opportunities. Specific interventions have been conducted to address the country’s shortage of qualified teachers. The Liberia Teacher Training Program II, for instance, implemented by FHI 360, developed capacities to train current and future teachers. It has strengthened the capacity of the Ministry of Education, district offices and the Rural Teacher Training Institute, developed learning materials and curriculum standards, and designed a plan to encourage women to enter the teaching profession.
Developing an educator management policy is one of the priorities for teacher education in the 2017–21 education sector plan. The objective is to develop and pilot a strategy to encourage teachers moving to remote areas, for example through location allowances. The plan also calls for making in-service training mandatory and for a review of the existing in-service training modules, including school health and special education for teachers of primary schools. Within the PSL programme, private contractors are allowed to impart teacher training.
The shortage of women in the teaching profession is another issue, one which has been proposed to be tackled through financial incentives and specific training.
Liberia does not publish a regular education monitoring report.
The 2017–21 education sector plan aims to revise the school census and to identify new indicators, for example to monitor children and young people with disabilities. Currently, school census data on special education includes only physical disability and has been reported not to be reliable.